Meet Wilma: The First Neanderthal Model

September 19, 2008

wilma
“Wilma” was named after the character on “The Flintstones”, history’s most famous Neanderthal family

Okay, she’s obviously no Kate Moss but Wilma has already won over the hearts of the scientific community as for the first time a reconstruction of a Neanderthal’s face has been completed based on DNA evidence. National Geographic explains:

Artists and scientists created Wilma (shown in a photo released yesterday) using analysis of DNA from 43,000-year-old bones that had been cannibalized. Announced in October 2007, the findings had suggested that at least some Neanderthals would have had red hair, pale skin, and possibly freckles.

Created for an October 2008 National Geographic magazine article, Wilma has a skeleton made from replicas of pelvis and skull bones from Neanderthal females. Copies of male Neanderthal bones—resized to female dimensions—filled in the gaps.


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Walk into the Light – Science and the Near-Death Experience

September 14, 2008

near
The tunnel of light is the most common association with those who experience near-death

The question of what happens to us when we die has spawned books, songs, plays, and of course, religions. Our mortality has been a central concern of our daily existence throughout the history of human civilization. We understand that it is an end of sorts, but what kind of end? And what happens afterwards? There is no direct proof of anyone returning from the dead (Jesus’ death and resurrection rests on the gospels) and reporting to us what is on the other side. But we do have many instances of what is known as Near-Death Experience (NDE).

First popularized by Raymond Moody in his 1975 book Life After Life, NDE refers to both the physical and spiritual effects of impending death. The most common experiences include feelings of tranquility, warmth, and the presence of the proverbial “tunnel of light”. Some go as far as to suggest that they are drawn into the tunnel of light. These sensations are taken by many as proof of an afterlife.

Science is now trying to figure out what causes these feelings and what they really are and why so many people (at one count 8 million alone in the USA) experience NDE. One study group has launched AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) to look at patients who suffer cardiac arrest.

“Contrary to popular perception, death is not a specific moment,” said leader of the study Dr. Sam Parnia of the University of Southampton in the U.K. “It is a process that begins when the heart stops beating, the lungs stop working and the brain ceases functioning — a medical condition termed cardiac arrest, which from a biological viewpoint is synonymous with clinical death.”

Previous research suggests about 10 to 20 percent of people who live through cardiac arrest report lucid, well-structured thought processes, reasoning, memories and sometimes detailed recall of events during their encounter with death.

One study found that people who reported peaceful feelings, bright light and out-of-body experiences during a brush with death are more likely to have had difficulty separating sleep from wakefulness in their everyday lives. Both before and after their near-death experiences, these people often have symptoms of the rapid-eye movement (REM) state of sleep while awake.

The AWARE researchers want to find out what happens to the brain when a person’s body has started to shut down, whether it is possible for people to see and hear during cardiac arrest, and what’s going on during out of body experiences.


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DNA – Not Just For Lab Coat Wearing Nerds Anymore!

September 11, 2008

dna
Our DNA keeps telling us more and more about ourselves

In the 1983 movie Trading Places starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd, there’s a great scene in which the characters played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche get into a discussion about the age old question of what influences an individual more: heredity or environment. The two men decide to conduct an experiment using Murphy’s and Akroyd’s characters and the plot is set.

Even though this film was made only a quarter century ago, the contention of the debate seems a bit archaic in light of the exponential understanding we now have in regards to genetics. There was a time when suggestions that a person acted the way that they did because of their ancestry would be laughed at as “old wives’ tales”. Yet now we know better. Researchers keep isolating genes regulating all sorts of things from our health to our intelligence to our psychological state on an almost weekly basis. Our genes seem to be our lives as an open book.

Our genetic makeup is now even being marketed for our love lives. A company called GenePartner wants to match potential couples together according to how complementary their genetic makeup is with one another. This Swiss firm wants to:

evaluate singles and couples according to the potential union of their HLA genes, which help regulate immune response.

People may naturally be attracted to mates with HLA profiles different from their own, ostensibly guaranteeing the hybrid vigor of their offspring’s immune systems — and also providing a spark that will last through good times and bad.

“Proper age, similar life goals and ideas, education levels — all of these things have to fit. And on top of that, you need to be biologically compatible,” said Tamara Brown, managing director of GenePartner.

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It’s the end of the world as we know it….and I feel fine

September 10, 2008

Hadron
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is all set to start smashing atomic particles today

The media frenzy surrounding the Large Hadron Collider has hit fever pitch as today is the day when the first atomic particles are shot around the 27km track. Some scientists fear that the test could create tiny black holes that could put our planet’s existence in threat.

The world’s most famous theoretical physicist, Professor Stephen Hawking tut-tuts the notions of dangerous black holes being formed. Read Hawking’s take on today’s events (and the experiments to come) in Stephen Hawking’s £50 bet on the world, the universe and the God particle. Here’s an excerpt:

“If the LHC were to produce little black holes, I don’t think there’s any doubt I would get a Nobel prize, if they showed the properties I predict,” Professor Hawking told the Today programme. “However, I think the probability that the LHC has enough energy to create black holes is less than one per cent, so I’m not holding my breath.”

click here to read the rest of the article


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The Fountain of Youth May Have Just Been Discovered

September 3, 2008

dna sequence
The key to a longer life can be down to one simple gene

The Human Genome is unlocking all sorts of age-old mysteries and throwing up surprises on a very fast basis as scientists untangle the intricate strands of DNA contained in our bodies.

One of the most popular research forays has been into that of human longevity. Last month we learned that scientists halted the aging process in mice livers by stopping the buildup of harmful proteins in the organ’s cell. In even bigger news today, we learn that scientists have found the longevity gene. Two excerpts from the article:

FOR the first time researchers have identified a human gene firmly linked to ageing and longevity. People with a specific form of a gene are likely to live longer, healthier lives than those without it.

“What this article really emphasizes is what we all know anyway – if you want to live a long and healthy life, choose your parents carefully,” commented medical geneticist Bob Williamson, dean of Melbourne University’s Faculty of Medicine.

and:

Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, so is directly linked to a range of biological conditions such as carbohydrate metabolic which are indirectly associated with health and, thus, ageing.

Their findings – reported overnight in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – help explain the “Winston Churchill paradox”.

That is, that some people live long, healthy lives despite smoking, drinking and other behaviours known to cause life-threatening – and shortening – disorders like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Because of the complex role of insulin, the finding may also be the link between the ageing affects of cell and DNA-damaging “free radicals”, by-products of normal metabolism, and alow calorie diet which lowers the metabolic rate.


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The End is Nigh!

September 2, 2008

black hole
Are we about to be sucked into a series of black holes?

According to some scientists, the end of the world can come is as little as eight days from now when researchers at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland flick the switch on the atom smasher in the hopes of re-creating events similar to the Big Bang.

The fear here is that this giant atom smasher 300 feet below the earth will create millions of tiny black holes that can have an adverse affect (to put it lightly) on all of us.

Read the rest here


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Earliest Humans Had Neanderthal Qualities

September 2, 2008

skulls
On the left is a neanderthal skull from France and on the right is a modern human skull from Polynesia

Neanderthals are a hot topic in the world of archaeology. Recently on this site, we reviewed the long running debate on how the neanderthals disappeared so rapidly by asking whether they were the victims of inbreeding with early humans.

A new discovery in Ethiopia could lead to the conclusion that inbreeding occurred much, much earlier as we’re told that the earliest humans had neanderthal qualities. Here’s an excerpt:

The world’s first known modern human was a tall, thin individual — probably male — who lived around 200,000 years ago and resembled present-day Ethiopians, save for one important difference: He retained a few primitive characteristics associated with Neanderthals, according to a series of forthcoming studies conducted by multiple international research teams.

The extraordinary findings, which will soon be outlined in a special issue of the Journal of Human Evolution devoted to the first known Homo sapiens, also reveal information about the material culture of the first known people, their surroundings, possible lifestyle and, perhaps most startling, their probable neighbors — Homo erectus.

“Omo I,” as the researchers refer to the find, would probably have been considered healthy-looking and handsome by today’s standards, despite the touch of Neanderthal.

“From the size of the preserved bones, we estimated that Omo I was tall and slender, most likely around 5’10” tall and about 155 pounds,” University of New Mexico anthropologist Osbjorn Pearson, who co-authored at least two of the new papers, told Discovery News.

Pearson said another, later fossil was also recently found. It too belonged to a “moderately tall — around 5’9″ — and slender individual.”

Click here to read the rest of the article


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