Human Arrival In Australia Pushed Back 18,000 Years

Thanks to Phil Krause for suggesting this post

We’ve long known that modern humans, or Homo sapiens, existed in Africa as far back as 200,000 years ago. Early humans in Australia were once thought to have arrived 47,000 years ago, signaling one of the later stops in the journey of human migration and one that would have required massive sea voyages.

A new discovery, recently published in the journal Nature, is challenging that, dating human arrival in Australia to 65,000 years ago, making Aboriginal Australian societies 18,000 years older than previously thought (although pending research on a rock shelter sitecould shift that downward closer to 10,000 years, if that pans out).

A team of archaeologists from the University of Queensland came to their conclusions by excavating a rock shelter in Majedbebe, a region in northern Australia, during digs conducted in 2012 and 2015. Among the artifacts found in the region were stone tools and hatchets, indicating an advanced understanding of weapon making. Similar hatches did not appear in other cultures for another 20,000 years, claimed the study’s authors.

“The axes were perfectly preserved, tucked up against the back wall of the shelter as we dug further and further,” one of the study’s authors, Chris Clarkson, told Australia’s Fairfax Media.

Previous methods of dating artifacts relied on a technique called radiocarbon dating. However, the technique is only capable of providing accurate dates as far back as 45,000 years ago.

To reach their conclusion that humans arrived in Australia 65,000 years ago, the researchers used an additional technique called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). The technique is applied to mineral grains and determines when it was last exposed to light, thus indicating to researchers how long an artifact has been buried.

The artifacts found by the archaeological team initially dated back only 10,000 years. As they dug further into the shelter, the found tools dating back 35,000, 40,000, and 65,000 years. Source: NatGeo

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Scientists can now clone thousands of genes in a single reaction

Things are about to speed up dramatically in genetic research, with scientists developing a new technique that can clone thousands of genes in a single reaction.

The new technology, called a LASSO probe, could be used to create libraries of proteins from DNA samples, speeding up the search for new drugs by replacing the tedious methods of gene cloning currently used….

….In this new study, the LASSO probe – which stands for “long adaptor single stranded oligonucleotide” – can capture and clone thousands of long DNA fragments and the researchers hope that the new technique will push the limits of what we can currently do.

“Our goal is to make it cheap and easy for any researcher in any field to clone and express the entire set of proteins from any organism,” said co-researcher Ben Larman from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Until now, such a prospect was only realistic for high-powered research consortia studying model organisms like fruit flies or mice.”

How does this new technique work?

A collection of LASSO probes were used to grab desired DNA sequences, you can think of it like the way a rope lasso is used to capture cattle. Instead of aiming for the spiky horns of a cow, the LASSO probe targets a DNA sequence up to a few thousand base pairs long – the typical length of a gene’s protein code.

The study is a proof of concept, with the LASSO probes used to capture over 3,000 DNA fragments from the E. coli bacterial genome. The results show the probes successfully captured around 75 percent of the gene they targeted.  Source: Scientists can now clone thousands of genes in a single reaction

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Peacock mantis shrimp

Peacock mantis shrimp are feisty little creatures best known for hammer-like appendages that help them dismember their enemies punch by punch. But after spawning, the mantis shrimp utilize their mitts for a more peaceful purpose: hauling a giant sack of eggs everywhere they go.

The anti-social creatures spend much of their hiding under rocks, so it isn’t easy to spot one in the wild. But that didn’t stop Italian photographer Filippo Borghi from nabbing this fantastic portrait while diving in Indonesia. The 5-inch crustacean protectively clutches a monstrous ball of eggs, its bulging alien eyes defiantly staring down the camera.

“I don’t know why this one wasn’t shy,” he says. “Maybe it was curious about the light of my strobe, or maybe it liked seeing itself in the mirror in my lens.”

Peacock mantis shrimp get their name from the brilliant shades of red, green and blue speckling their exoskeletons. They dine on mollusks, small fish and other bottom-dwellers in the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. These unusually intelligent arthropods live up to six years and mate for life. The male injects his sperm into the female, and she releases it with a clutch of eggs held together by a special glue, which she carries around on her thorax for an average of 40 days before they hatch. Sometimes, she even unloads a second clutch of eggs off on the dad. Source – Wired

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Epigenetics between the generations: Researchers prove that we inherit more than just genes

We are more than the sum of our genes. Epigenetic mechanisms modulated by environmental cues such as diet, disease or lifestyle take a major role in regulating the DNA by switching genes on and off. It has been long debated if epigenetic modifications accumulated throughout the entire life can cross the border of generations and be inherited to children or even grand children.

Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg show robust evidence that not only the inherited DNA itself but also the inherited epigenetic instructions contribute in regulating gene expression in the offspring. Moreover, the new insights by the Lab of Nicola Iovino describe for the first time biological consequences of this inherited information.

The study proves that mother’s epigenetic memory is essential for the development and survival of the new generation. Source: Epigenetics between the generations: Researchers prove that we inherit more than just genes

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NASA turns Boeing 747 into the world’s biggest flying telescope

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Researchers from China create graphene aerogel that converts sunlight into heat to produce water vapor at room temperature

Researchers at the Chinese Hubei University have designed a graphene aerogel film capable of producing water vapor at room temperature using only sunlight. The aerogel floats on the surface, where it heats up only a small part of the water column, ‘while the temperature of the bulk water is far below the boiling point’, the team explains.

Graphene aerogel assists water treatment image

This sunlight-harvesting graphene film could convert sea or wastewater into drinking water in places where fuel or access to electricity is limited. Desalinating seawater to make it drinkable usually means boiling it, and then collecting and condensing the steam. Heating water to its boiling point, however, requires quite a lot of energy, which is not always easy to come by. There are solar stills that desalinate water using only sunlight, but they’re slow and not always efficient enough to provide sufficient drinking water for a person’s daily needs.

The team showed that under simulated sunlight, the aerogel could heat up 100ml of water to 45°C, about 13°C higher than water without the aerogel. The material’s porous structure pumps the generated steam away from the surface, allowing water to evaporate 13 times faster than it would without the aerogel. Source: Graphene-Info

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Behold Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

An American space agency probe has returned the most detailed pictures ever of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The Juno spacecraft passed over the giant storm on Monday as it continued with its series of close passes of the gaseous world.

The pictures of the spot reveal the intricate nature of its swirls which encompass a region bigger than Earth.Juno’s instruments all acquired data during the pass which should now provide fresh insight on the storm. Source: Behold Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

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Brontosaurus is back! New analysis suggests genus might be resurrected

Thanks to Phil Krause for suggesting this post.

The Brontosaurus has been consigned to extinction not once, but twice – the second time when scientists concluded it was too similar to other long-necked dinosaurs to deserve its own genus.

Now the “thunder lizard” looks set to make a comeback, after a new analysis suggests that Brontosaurus specimens are sufficiently distinct from other species after all.

The team behind the findings hope they will trigger the resurrection of the Brontosaurus moniker, more than 100 years after it was discarded by academics.

“It’s a nice example of how science works. A new finding can overturn more than 100 years of beliefs,” said Emanuel Tschopp, who led the study at the Nova University in Lisbon.

The first Brontosaurus specimen was unearthed during the so-called “Bone Wars”, when rival scientists were competing to name as many new specimens as possible. The palaeontologist Othniel Charles Marsh hastily declared Brontosaurus to be a new genus in 1879, two years after naming another bulky long-necked specimen, the Apatosaurus (deceptive lizard).

The discovery of a third intermediate species cast doubt on the claim, however, suggesting the whole lot would be more sensibly designated as a single group. By 1903, the Brontosaurus had been relegated to A. excelsus, a subset of the Apatosaurus family – but to the present day it has lived on as a mainstay in popular culture.

“It’s like a scientific zombie that has kept shambling on for one reason or another,” said Brian Switek, author of My Beloved Brontosaurus and amateur palaeontologist based in Utah. “Partly, it’s just a wonderful name. It sounds big.” Source: Brontosaurus is back! New analysis suggests genus might be resurrected

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This is the ninth illustrated essay, in a series of twelve, describing some of the houses and places associated with Jane Austen, although it is not a comprehensive gazetteer.


(i) Dramatic Productions

Jane Austen’s novels have proved to be a rich mine of plots and characters, to be exploited by the film and television industry, across the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first century, as Table 1 illustrates. One of the perennial problems for directors, and producers, is where to shoot the location scenes, if the end result is not to consist purely of acting within studio sets alone. Location work has gradually become easier to achieve, with scientific advances in television technology and cinematography.

Table 1: Film and television productions of Jane Austen’s major novels




Sense and Sensibility (1811) 1995 (director, Ang Lee) 2008 mini-series (Morahan/Wakefield)
Pride and Prejudice (1813) 1940 (Garson/Olivier), 2005 (Knightly/Macfadyen) 1967 (Bannerman / Fiander), 1995 (Ehle/Firth)
Mansfield Park (1814) 1995 (Frances O’ Connor) 1983 (Sylvestra le Touzel), 2007 (Billy Piper)
Emma (1815) 1996 (Paltrow), 1972 (Godwin), 1996 (Beckinsale), 2009 (Garai)
Northanger Abbey (1818) 1986 (Schlesinger), 2007 (Jones)
Persuasion (1818) 1995 (Root/Hinds), 2007 (Hawkins/Jones) 1960 (Slater/Daneman), 1971 (Firbank/Marshall)

Fortunately, all of the private houses in Jane Austen’s novels are imaginary, though often fully described, so that almost any suitable grand house can be used for location filming. However, she bases some of the action in real towns like Bath, Southampton, Portsmouth or Lyme Regis. Across the passage of two hundred years, these towns have changed, almost, but not quite, beyond recognition.

(i) The Regency period

With a very tight frame, a modern picture of the medieval gates of Southampton, the sea wall of Lyme, or the Royal Crescent of Bath (1), can just about stand for their Regency selves, provided the inconvenient modern signs and street furniture are moved or hidden. As the reader can judge, the lawns in front of Number One, Royal Crescent, Bath, (1) can easily be populated by actors, with the ladies in filmy, fluttering Regency dresses, and the men in blue coats and white buckskin breeches. (2)

The Regency period, is so-called because it was during the reign of King George III (3), when his eldest son, George, Prince of Wales (4), acted as Regent, or “temporary monarch”. This was due to a period of intermittent and temporary bouts of madness in George III. Due to his incapacity to perform his constitutional duties, like formally signing legislation, or opening Parliament, the Regent took over this role. It lasted from 1811 to the death of George III in 1820.

This was a time of momentous political events, as the dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte was rising, from artillery officer to general, and from First Consul to Emperor, with supreme power over France. In the process, Napoleon conquered many of the countries of Europe, and as a result of invasion by the French, many of their citizens were killed or reduced to beggary.
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Carbon nanotubes mimic biology

Proteins in lipid membranes are one of the fundamental building blocks of biological functionality. Lawrence Livermore researchers have figured out how to mimic their role using carbon nanotube porins.

Using high-speed, atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM), the team showed that a new type of biomimetic channel—carbon nanotube porins (CNTPs)—also is laterally mobile in supported lipid membranes, mirroring biological protein behavior.

The research opens the door to use CNTPs as models to study membrane protein physics, as well as versatile and mobile components for artificial cells and hybrid systems that combine biological cells and man-made components.

Lipid membranes represent one the fundamental components of the architecture of life because they provide a versatile matrix for a variety of membrane proteins that can perform a variety of tasks including molecular recognition and signal transduction, metabolite transport and membrane remodeling.

The 2-D fluid nature of the lipid membrane not only allows it to adapt to a variety of shapes, but also permits membrane proteins to diffuse within this 2-D plane, enabling many important biological processe. Source: Carbon nanotubes mimic biology

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Shooting bullet into Gel in slow motion

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New DNA from a Neanderthal bone holds evidence of a lost tribe of humans

A femur discovered in a cave in southwestern Germany has provided researchers with firm evidence that a small population of humans left Africa and then vanished, long before the big migration that saw humans populate the globe. Signs of this mysterious early migration remained in the DNA of the Neanderthal who left the leg bone behind, revealing not only a previous tryst between the two hominin populations, but a sign that Neanderthals were far more diverse than we thought. A team of scientists led by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Tübingen in Germany used the DNA from the femur’s mitochondria to determine its relationship with other Neanderthals and modern humans.

Neanderthal and human history is a little complicated. So stick with us.

Neanderthals and humans are regarded as close cousins, either under the same species of Homo sapiens or a closely related species Homo neanderthalis.

Mitochondria – our cells batteries – contain a set of genes separate from the DNA bunched up inside our nucleus. Since mitochondrial DNA mutates in a fairly predictable, conserved fashion, we can measure and map its mutations to get a good idea of when two populations last shared them. Differences between our mitochondrial genes suggest we last shared a common ancestor a little over 400,000 years ago, though previous studies on nuclear DNA had estimated a split as far back as nearly 800,000 years ago.Another group of human cousins dubbed the Denisovans also split off from a group of Neanderthals roughly 400,000 to 450,000 years ago before they went wandering the Earth.

The thing to note is Denisovans have nuclear DNA that matches Neanderthals’ DNA more than our own. Which makes sense, since Denisovans probably split off from a Neanderthal population.But Neanderthals and modern humans have more similar mitochondria. More here: New DNA from a Neanderthal bone holds evidence of a lost tribe of humans

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This new type of well could solve water issues remote regions usually face

Thanks to Phil Krause and Daniel Robb for bringing this to our attention.


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Amazing Grace

John Newton (contemporary portrait)

“Amazing Grace” is a Christian hymn published in 1779, with words written by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725–1807).

Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction, but his life’s path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences that were often put into motion by his recalcitrant insubordination. He was pressed (conscripted) into service in the Royal Navy, and after leaving the service, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. He continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology.

Ordained in the Church of England in 1764, Newton became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns with poet William Cowper. “Amazing Grace” was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have simply been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper’s Olney Hymns but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the United States, however, “Amazing Grace” was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named “New Britain” to which it is most frequently sung today. Source – Wiki

Music video by Il Divo performing Amazing Grace. (C) 2008 Simco Limited under exclusive license to Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited

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Humans show no sign of a maximum age limit, says new study

Who wants to live forever – Highlander

Global life expectancy rates continue to rise, which poses the question: will the trend ever stop? New research reports there’s no sign of a fixed age limit for the human body, with human beings set to keep living longer and longer.

That’s based on a study of the lifespans of the longest-living individuals from the US, the UK, France and Japan for every year since 1968 – including Susannah Mushatt Jones, who died in New York in 2016 at the grand old age of 116.

The new paper, written by a team from McGill University in Canada, is partly a response to an analysis published last year that suggested there was a natural limit to the human lifespan, even if we might find ways to break through it. “We just don’t know what the age limit might be,” says one of the researchers, biologist Siegfried Hekimi. “In fact, by extending trend lines, we can show that maximum and average lifespans could continue to increase far into the foreseeable future.”

Hekimi and his colleague Bryan G. Hughes argue that the age limit plateau spotted by last year’s research – levelling off around 115 years old – could be a temporary one, and that similar plateaus and drops have been recorded in the past, even as the overall trend carries on upwards.If the same number crunching method had been applied in 1980, they say, it would have shown a plateau of 111 years or so. In other words, even though this type of statistical analysis suggests a levelling off, the top figure continues to rise.It’s all to do with how the numbers are interpreted, and don’t forget these researchers are dealing with the outliers in the statistics – not many of us live to 111 or 115.

Hekimi thinks it’s possible that humans could live to 150 years or beyond one day, perhaps with new breakthroughs in science or medical treatments to help us along. Source: Humans show no sign of a maximum age limit, says new study

I added the Queen song from the film Highlander just because I love it – Jim – Deskarati

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From DNA to Protein

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J.M.W. Turner

This excerpt is from a  documentary chronicling the rise of one of the greatest landscape painters of all time, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851), who rendered the subtle effects of light and atmosphere in revolutionary ways.

Other Turner related posts here.

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This essay is the eighth in a series of twelve, describing some of the places associated with Jane Austen, although it is not a comprehensive gazetteer.


(i) Medicine in the Early Nineteenth Century

Jane Austen’s health was deteriorating in her later years in Chawton Cottage. She was clearly unwell by early 1816, when she was forty-one. Her condition gradually declined, and she was frequently confined to bed through weakness, but made light of it, being glad that she “had scarcely any pain.”

Some effort is needed to grasp the nature of medicine in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century when Jane was ill. Anatomy was well-advanced, so that surgery for broken bones and superficial wounds was normally successful. In the absence of anaesthetics, surgeons were judged by the speed at which they could perform simple operations, and they were literally timed by a stop-watch.

The idea that bacteria or “germs” caused many infectious diseases was then unknown, and fifty years away, in the future. Illnesses due to malfunction of organs was still a mystery, because the general physiology of major organs like the liver, pancreas, kidneys, spleen, thyroid and adrenal glands was not understood. There was some suspicion of the scientific advances being slowly made, as illustrated by a popular contemporary of Jane Austen, the cartoonist James Gillray, (1757 – 1815), satirising the new development of vaccination.

It had long been known that milkmaids never seemed to develop the pockmarks of the skin disease “variola” or smallpox. It was theorised that the reason was because they became infected by “vaccinia”, the much milder disease, cowpox, from the cattle they milked. This theory was tested by deliberately giving patients a cowpox infection. A new medical term was invented, and “vaccinia- inoculation” became contracted to “vaccination” eventually becoming a general word, meaning inoculation against a wide variety of other illnesses.

Vaccination sounded like a very strange practice, but it was no worse than some of treatments used by doctors of the time, that were almost always useless or even harmful. Drinking seawater brought no benefits, and, if it was contaminated with sewage, it would cause illness. Blood-letting was still practised, often by “cupping” with wine glasses, and this was completely useless, and could lead to needless skin infections. Within the pharmacopaeia of compounds, to be prescribed as medicines, only a few were of any use. Opiates, like laudanum, (morphine) were freely available, and useful for pain relief, but were addictive.

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It’s amazing what you can make in your shed!

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Pyramid Construction

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