SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

268

The production of purposely made painted or engraved designs on cave walls-a means of recording and transmitting symbolic codes in a durable manner-is recognized as a major cognitive step in human evolution. Considered exclusive to modern humans, this behavior has been used to argue in favor of significant cognitive differences between our direct ancestors and contemporary archaic hominins, including the Neanderthals. Here we present the first known example of an abstract pattern engraved by Neanderthals, from Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar. It consists of a deeply impressed cross-hatching carved into the bedrock of the cave that has remained covered by an undisturbed archaeological level containing Mousterian artifacts made by Neanderthals and is older than 39 cal kyr BP. Geochemical analysis of the epigenetic coating over the engravings and experimental replication show that the engraving was made before accumulation of the archaeological layers, and that most of the lines composing the design were made by repeatedly and carefully passing a pointed lithic tool into the grooves, excluding the possibility of an unintentional or utilitarian origin (e.g., food or fur processing). This discovery demonstrates the capacity of the Neanderthals for abstract thought and expression through the use of geometric forms.

Concepts: Human, Thought, Neanderthal, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Gibraltar, Gorham's Cave, Engraving

111

In its largest outbreak, Ebola virus disease is spreading through Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. We sequenced 99 Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients in Sierra Leone to ~2000× coverage. We observed a rapid accumulation of interhost and intrahost genetic variation, allowing us to characterize patterns of viral transmission over the initial weeks of the epidemic. This West African variant likely diverged from central African lineages around 2004, crossed from Guinea to Sierra Leone in May 2014, and has exhibited sustained human-to-human transmission subsequently, with no evidence of additional zoonotic sources. Because many of the mutations alter protein sequences and other biologically meaningful targets, they should be monitored for impact on diagnostics, vaccines, and therapies critical to outbreak response.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Nigeria, West Africa, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Economic Community of West African States, Guinea

83

Titanosaurian sauropod dinosaurs were the most diverse and abundant large-bodied herbivores in the southern continents during the final 30 million years of the Mesozoic Era. Several titanosaur species are regarded as the most massive land-living animals yet discovered; nevertheless, nearly all of these giant titanosaurs are known only from very incomplete fossils, hindering a detailed understanding of their anatomy. Here we describe a new and gigantic titanosaur, Dreadnoughtus schrani, from Upper Cretaceous sediments in southern Patagonia, Argentina. Represented by approximately 70% of the postcranial skeleton, plus craniodental remains, Dreadnoughtus is the most complete giant titanosaur yet discovered, and provides new insight into the morphology and evolutionary history of these colossal animals. Furthermore, despite its estimated mass of about 59.3 metric tons, the bone histology of the Dreadnoughtus type specimen reveals that this individual was still growing at the time of death.

Concepts: Biology, Reptile, Mammal, Cretaceous, Sauropoda, Dinosaur, Titanosaur, Plesiosaur

61

The development field needs to be more serious about gender inequities and women’s empowerment. By ignoring gender inequities, many development projects fail to achieve their objective. And when development organizations do not focus on women’s empowerment, they neglect the fact that empowered women have the potential to transform their societies. I also review the Gates Foundation’s record on gender and propose some approaches to improve it.

Concepts: Female, Sociology, Management, Woman

55

Coffee is a valuable beverage crop due to its characteristic flavor, aroma, and the stimulating effects of caffeine. We generated a high-quality draft genome of the species Coffea canephora, which displays a conserved chromosomal gene order among asterid angiosperms. Although it shows no sign of the whole-genome triplication identified in Solanaceae species such as tomato, the genome includes several species-specific gene family expansions, among them N-methyltransferases (NMTs) involved in caffeine production, defense-related genes, and alkaloid and flavonoid enzymes involved in secondary compound synthesis. Comparative analyses of caffeine NMTs demonstrate that these genes expanded through sequential tandem duplications independently of genes from cacao and tea, suggesting that caffeine in eudicots is of polyphyletic origin.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Archaea, Organism, Chromosome, Coffee, Caffeine, Coffea

39

Galaxies congregate in clusters and along filaments, and are missing from large regions referred to as voids. These structures are seen in maps derived from spectroscopic surveys that reveal networks of structure that are interconnected with no clear boundaries. Extended regions with a high concentration of galaxies are called ‘superclusters’, although this term is not precise. There is, however, another way to analyse the structure. If the distance to each galaxy from Earth is directly measured, then the peculiar velocity can be derived from the subtraction of the mean cosmic expansion, the product of distance times the Hubble constant, from observed velocity. The peculiar velocity is the line-of-sight departure from the cosmic expansion and arises from gravitational perturbations; a map of peculiar velocities can be translated into a map of the distribution of matter. Here we report a map of structure made using a catalogue of peculiar velocities. We find locations where peculiar velocity flows diverge, as water does at watershed divides, and we trace the surface of divergent points that surrounds us. Within the volume enclosed by this surface, the motions of galaxies are inward after removal of the mean cosmic expansion and long range flows. We define a supercluster to be the volume within such a surface, and so we are defining the extent of our home supercluster, which we call Laniakea.

Concepts: Galaxy, Big Bang, Redshift, Milky Way, Large-scale structure of the cosmos, Hubble's law, Observable universe, Edwin Hubble

33

Taxi services are a vital part of urban transportation, and a considerable contributor to traffic congestion and air pollution causing substantial adverse effects on human health. Sharing taxi trips is a possible way of reducing the negative impact of taxi services on cities, but this comes at the expense of passenger discomfort quantifiable in terms of a longer travel time. Due to computational challenges, taxi sharing has traditionally been approached on small scales, such as within airport perimeters, or with dynamical ad hoc heuristics. However, a mathematical framework for the systematic understanding of the tradeoff between collective benefits of sharing and individual passenger discomfort is lacking. Here we introduce the notion of shareability network, which allows us to model the collective benefits of sharing as a function of passenger inconvenience, and to efficiently compute optimal sharing strategies on massive datasets. We apply this framework to a dataset of millions of taxi trips taken in New York City, showing that with increasing but still relatively low passenger discomfort, cumulative trip length can be cut by 40% or more. This benefit comes with reductions in service cost, emissions, and with split fares, hinting toward a wide passenger acceptance of such a shared service. Simulation of a realistic online system demonstrates the feasibility of a shareable taxi service in New York City. Shareability as a function of trip density saturates fast, suggesting effectiveness of the taxi sharing system also in cities with much sparser taxi fleets or when willingness to share is low.

Concepts: City, United Kingdom, English-language films, New York City, New York, Collective, Rush hour, Congestion pricing

29

Ebolavirus disease causes high mortality, and the current outbreak has spread unabated through West Africa. Human adenovirus type 5 vectors (rAd5) encoding ebolavirus glycoprotein (GP) generate protective immunity against acute lethal Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV) challenge in macaques, but fail to protect animals immune to Ad5, suggesting natural Ad5 exposure may limit vaccine efficacy in humans. Here we show that a chimpanzee-derived replication-defective adenovirus (ChAd) vaccine also rapidly induced uniform protection against acute lethal EBOV challenge in macaques. Because protection waned over several months, we boosted ChAd3 with modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA) and generated, for the first time, durable protection against lethal EBOV challenge.

Concepts: Immune system, Human, Africa, Protection, Smallpox, Modified vaccinia Ankara

26

Firefly luciferase adenylates and oxidizes d-luciferin to chemically generate visible light and is widely used for biological assays and imaging. Here we show that both luciferase and luciferin can be reengineered to extend the scope of this light-emitting reaction. d-Luciferin can be replaced by synthetic luciferin analogues that increase near-infrared photon flux >10-fold over that of d-luciferin in live luciferase-expressing cells. Firefly luciferase can be mutated to accept and utilize rigid aminoluciferins with high activity in both live and lysed cells yet exhibit 10 000-fold selectivity over the natural luciferase substrate. These new luciferin analogues thus pave the way to an extended family of bioluminescent reporters.

Concepts: Enzyme, Light, Electromagnetic radiation, Quorum sensing, Firefly, Bioluminescence, Luciferase, Omphalotus olearius

20

The p value obtained from a significance test provides no information about the magnitude or importance of the underlying phenomenon. Therefore, additional reporting of effect size is often recommended. Effect sizes are theoretically independent from sample size. Yet this may not hold true empirically: non-independence could indicate publication bias.

Concepts: Statistics, Statistical significance, Statistical hypothesis testing, Effect size, Meta-analysis, P-value, Statistical power, Hypothesis testing