SciCombinator

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

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Our understanding of when and how humans adapted to living on the Tibetan Plateau at altitudes above 2000 to 3000 meters has been constrained by a paucity of archaeological data. Here we report data sets from the northeastern Tibetan Plateau indicating that the first villages were established only by 5200 calendar years before the present (cal yr B.P.). Using these data, we tested the hypothesis that a novel agropastoral economy facilitated year-round living at higher altitudes since 3600 cal yr B.P. This successful subsistence strategy facilitated the adaptation of farmers-herders to the challenges of global temperature decline during the late Holocene.

Concepts: 3000 metres, Time, Charles Darwin, Archaeology, Human, Prehistory, Natural selection, Agriculture

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Knowledge of cognitive and neural architecture and processes that control eye movements has advanced enough to allow precise and quantitative analysis of hitherto unsolved phenomena. In this review, we revisit from a neuropsychological viewpoint Hering vs. Helmholtz' hypotheses on binocular coordination. Specifically, we reexamine the behavior and the neural bases of saccade-vergence movement, to move the gaze in both direction and depth under natural conditions. From the psychophysical viewpoint, neo-Heringian and neo-Helmholtzian authors have accumulated arguments favoring distinct conjugate (for saccades) and disconjugate (for vergence) systems, as well as advocating for monocularly programmed eye movements. From the neurophysiological viewpoint, which reports brain cell recordings during the execution of a given task, neo-Heringian and neo-Helmholtzian physiologists have also provided arguments in favor of both hypotheses at the level of the brainstem premotor circuitry. Bridging the two, we propose that Hering and Helmholtz were both right. The emphasis placed by the latter on adaptive processes throughout life cycle is compatible with the importance of neurobiological constraints pointed out by the former. In the meanwhile, the study of saccade-vergence eye movements recalls how much the psychophysical definition of the task determines the interpretation that is made from neurophysiological data.

Concepts: Retina, Eye, Human brain, Visual perception, Neuron, Nervous system, Psychology, Brain

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The distinctly human ability for forceful precision and power “squeeze” gripping is linked to two key evolutionary transitions in hand use: a reduction in arboreal climbing and the manufacture and use of tools. However, it is unclear when these locomotory and manipulative transitions occurred. Here we show that Australopithecus africanus (~3 to 2 million years ago) and several Pleistocene hominins, traditionally considered not to have engaged in habitual tool manufacture, have a human-like trabecular bone pattern in the metacarpals consistent with forceful opposition of the thumb and fingers typically adopted during tool use. These results support archaeological evidence for stone tool use in australopiths and provide morphological evidence that Pliocene hominins achieved human-like hand postures much earlier and more frequently than previously considered.

Concepts: Archaeology, Raymond Dart, Evolution, Australopithecus, Human, Australopithecus africanus, Tool, Human evolution

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Hundreds of papyrus rolls, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and belonging to the only library passed on from Antiquity, were discovered 260 years ago at Herculaneum. These carbonized papyri are extremely fragile and are inevitably damaged or destroyed in the process of trying to open them to read their contents. In recent years, new imaging techniques have been developed to read the texts without unwrapping the rolls. Until now, specialists have been unable to view the carbon-based ink of these papyri, even when they could penetrate the different layers of their spiral structure. Here for the first time, we show that X-ray phase-contrast tomography can reveal various letters hidden inside the precious papyri without unrolling them. This attempt opens up new opportunities to read many Herculaneum papyri, which are still rolled up, thus enhancing our knowledge of ancient Greek literature and philosophy.

Concepts: Medical imaging, Pompeii, Ancient Rome, Greek language, 79, Herculaneum, Mount Vesuvius

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Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are increasingly deployed at large scales and in open environments. Genetic biocontainment strategies are needed to prevent unintended proliferation of GMOs in natural ecosystems. Existing biocontainment methods are insufficient because they impose evolutionary pressure on the organism to eject the safeguard by spontaneous mutagenesis or horizontal gene transfer, or because they can be circumvented by environmentally available compounds. Here we computationally redesign essential enzymes in the first organism possessing an altered genetic code (Escherichia coli strain C321.ΔA) to confer metabolic dependence on non-standard amino acids for survival. The resulting GMOs cannot metabolically bypass their biocontainment mechanisms using known environmental compounds, and they exhibit unprecedented resistance to evolutionary escape through mutagenesis and horizontal gene transfer. This work provides a foundation for safer GMOs that are isolated from natural ecosystems by a reliance on synthetic metabolites.

Concepts: Protein, Organism, Virus, DNA, Genetics, Metabolism, Bacteria, Gene

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Climate-induced coral bleaching is among the greatest current threats to coral reefs, causing widespread loss of live coral cover. Conditions under which reefs bounce back from bleaching events or shift from coral to algal dominance are unknown, making it difficult to predict and plan for differing reef responses under climate change. Here we document and predict long-term reef responses to a major climate-induced coral bleaching event that caused unprecedented region-wide mortality of Indo-Pacific corals. Following loss of >90% live coral cover, 12 of 21 reefs recovered towards pre-disturbance live coral states, while nine reefs underwent regime shifts to fleshy macroalgae. Functional diversity of associated reef fish communities shifted substantially following bleaching, returning towards pre-disturbance structure on recovering reefs, while becoming progressively altered on regime shifting reefs. We identified threshold values for a range of factors that accurately predicted ecosystem response to the bleaching event. Recovery was favoured when reefs were structurally complex and in deeper water, when density of juvenile corals and herbivorous fishes was relatively high and when nutrient loads were low. Whether reefs were inside no-take marine reserves had no bearing on ecosystem trajectory. Although conditions governing regime shift or recovery dynamics were diverse, pre-disturbance quantification of simple factors such as structural complexity and water depth accurately predicted ecosystem trajectories. These findings foreshadow the likely divergent but predictable outcomes for reef ecosystems in response to climate change, thus guiding improved management and adaptation.

Concepts: Great Barrier Reef, Ecosystem, Coral reefs, Scleractinia, Coral bleaching, Coral, Algae, Coral reef

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That the speed of light in free space is constant is a cornerstone of modern physics. However, light beams have finite transverse size, which leads to a modification of their wavevectors resulting in a change to their phase and group velocities. We study the group velocity of single photons by measuring a change in their arrival time that results from changing the beam’s transverse spatial structure. Using time-correlated photon pairs we show a reduction of the group velocity of photons in both a Bessel beam and photons in a focused Gaussian beam. In both cases, the delay is several micrometers over a propagation distance of the order of 1 m. Our work highlights that, even in free space, the invariance of the speed of light only applies to plane waves.

Concepts: Quantum mechanics, Electromagnetic radiation, Speed of light, Spacetime, Physics, Group velocity, Light, Optics

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Resolving the molecular details of proteome variation in the different tissues and organs of the human body will greatly increase our knowledge of human biology and disease. Here, we present a map of the human tissue proteome based on an integrated omics approach that involves quantitative transcriptomics at the tissue and organ level, combined with tissue microarray-based immunohistochemistry, to achieve spatial localization of proteins down to the single-cell level. Our tissue-based analysis detected more than 90% of the putative protein-coding genes. We used this approach to explore the human secretome, the membrane proteome, the druggable proteome, the cancer proteome, and the metabolic functions in 32 different tissues and organs. All the data are integrated in an interactive Web-based database that allows exploration of individual proteins, as well as navigation of global expression patterns, in all major tissues and organs in the human body.

Concepts: DNA, Skin, Histology, Cell, Human anatomy, Proteome, Protein, Biology

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Palaeomagnetic measurements of meteorites suggest that, shortly after the birth of the Solar System, the molten metallic cores of many small planetary bodies convected vigorously and were capable of generating magnetic fields. Convection on these bodies is currently thought to have been thermally driven, implying that magnetic activity would have been short-lived. Here we report a time-series palaeomagnetic record derived from nanomagnetic imaging of the Imilac and Esquel pallasite meteorites, a group of meteorites consisting of centimetre-sized metallic and silicate phases. We find a history of long-lived magnetic activity on the pallasite parent body, capturing the decay and eventual shutdown of the magnetic field as core solidification completed. We demonstrate that magnetic activity driven by progressive solidification of an inner core is consistent with our measured magnetic field characteristics and cooling rates. Solidification-driven convection was probably common among small body cores, and, in contrast to thermally driven convection, will have led to a relatively late (hundreds of millions of years after accretion), long-lasting, intense and widespread epoch of magnetic activity among these bodies in the early Solar System.

Concepts: Venus, Earth, Solar System, Sun, Mars, Magnetic field, Pallasite, Planet