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Humans Evolved by Sharing Technology and Culture

160202121246_1_540x360New findings from Blombos Cave show that Stone Age man in Africa exchanged technology to a large extent. The more contact between groups, the stronger technology developed. The exchange of tools can explain humans journey from Africa to Europe. “The pattern we are seeing is that when demographics change, people interact more. For example, we have found similar patterns engraved on ostrich eggshells in different sites. This shows that people were probably sharing symbolic material culture, at certain times but not at others” says Dr Karen van Niekerk, a UiB researcher and co-author.

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Chemical Used to Replace BPA in Plastic Accelerates Embryonic Development, Disrupts Reproductive System

Zebrafish embryosCompanies advertise BPA-free plastic as a safer version of products ranging from water bottles to sippy cups to toys. Many manufacturers stopped using bisphenol A, a chemical that is used to strengthen plastic, after studies linked it to early puberty and a rise in breast and prostate cancers. However, bisphenol S, or BPS, a common replacement for BPA in plastics, has also been linked to health risks. New UCLA-led research demonstrates some of the mechanisms that make BPS just as harmful as BPA. The study found that BPS speeds up embryonic development and disrupts the reproductive system in animals.

“Our study shows that making plastic products with BPA alternatives does not necessarily leave them safer,” said Nancy Wayne, the study’s senior author, a reproductive endocrinologist and professor of physiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Our findings are frightening — consider it the aquatic version of the canary in the coal mine.”

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Scientists Get ‘Gene Editing’ Go-Ahead

embryo freezing how longUK scientists have been given the go-ahead by the fertility regulator to genetically modify human embryos. It is the first time a country has considered the DNA-altering technique in embryos and approved it. The research will take place at the Francis Crick Institute in London and aims to provide a deeper understanding of the earliest moments of human life. The work will be led by Dr Kathy Niakan, who has spent a decade researching human development. Earlier this year, she explained why she had applied to edit human embryos: “We would really like to understand the genes needed for a human embryo to develop successfully into a healthy baby.”

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Y Gene Not Necessary for Assisted Reproduction of Mice

manoa-jabsom-mice-1The Y chromosome is a symbol of maleness, present only in males and encoding genes important for male reproduction. But a new study has shown that live mouse progeny can be generated with assisted reproduction using germ cells from males which do not have any Y chromosome genes. This discovery adds a new light to discussions on Y chromosome gene function and evolution. It supports the hypothesis that Y chromosome genes can be replaced by that encoded on other chromosomes. “Most of the mouse Y chromosome genes are necessary for development of mature sperm and normal fertilization, both in mice and in humans,” Ward said. “However, when it comes to assisted reproduction, we have now shown that in the mouse the Y chromosome contribution is not necessary.”

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UI Chemists Uncover How Key Agent Allows Diseases to Reproduce

UofIHumans have been successful at treating a host of diseases. Yet some continue to elude medicine’s best attempts. Now, researchers at the University of Iowa have revealed how these diseases replicate by tracing the precise steps through which they use a gene absent in humans, called thyX, to code an enzyme to produce thymine. In a paper published online Jan. 28 in the journal Science, the Iowa chemists break down each stage in a rapid-fire chain of chemical reactions showing how thyX and the enzyme it encodes are used in the diseases’ DNA-production cycle. The discovery could lead to the creation of non-toxic antibiotics that block the chemical reaction involving thyX, rather than relying on the current method of testing millions of drug compounds in the hopes of finding one that would faithfully kill each disease.

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How Severe Maternal Inflammation Can Lead to Autism-like Behavior

DNAIn 2010, a large study in Denmark found that women who suffered an infection severe enough to require hospitalization while pregnant were much more likely to have a child with autism (even though the overall risk of delivering a child with autism remained low). Now research from MIT, the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the University of Colorado, and New York University Langone Medical Center reveals a possible mechanism for how this occurs. In a study of mice, the researchers found that immune cells activated in the mother during severe inflammation produce an immune effector molecule called IL-17 that appears to interfere with brain development. The researchers also found that blocking this signal could restore normal behavior and brain structure.

The researchers hope their work may lead to a way to reduce the chances of autism developing in the children of women who experience severe infections during pregnancy. They also plan to investigate whether genetic makeup influences mice’s susceptibility to maternal inflammation, because autism is known to have a very strong genetic component.

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2016 | Soraya de Chadarevian – The Future Historian: Reflections on the Archives of Contemporary Sciences

ISG professor, Soraya de Chadarevian, has published a paper titled “The Future Historian: Reflections on the Archives of Contemporary Sciences” in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 55 (2016) 54-60

Historians working on recent science work close to where the archives are created or become accessible.
Based on this experience, the essay presents a reflection on the archives of contemporary life sciences. It
addresses three questions: firstly, what is special about the archival situation of contemporary sciences?
Secondly, which sources do contemporary historians use and what opportunities and challenges do they
offer? And finally, what potential changes to the archives of contemporary sciences are we witnessing?
The essay draws a distinction between, on the one side, the history of science when the actors are still
aliveda situation that presents a particular set of issues in respect to the available sourcesdand, on the
other side, questions relating specifically to the life sciences at the turn of the millenniumda period
which will eventually not be considered as ’contemporary’ any more. It reviews changes in scientific
practice, historiographical trends and archival practices and considers the place of paper records, digital
sources, material artefacts and oral sources in the archives of contemporary sciences. It argues that the
commercialisation and privatisation of science may prove a bigger problem for the future historian than
the shift to the digital medium. It concludes by welcoming the closer interactions between scientists,
historians, curators and archivists prompted by recent developments.

2015 | Soraya de Chadarevian – Human Population Studies and the World Health Organization

ISG professor, Soraya de Chadarevian, has published a paper titled “Human Population Studies and the World Health Organization.” in Dynamis 2015; 35 (2): 359-388

This essay draws attention to the role of the WHO in shaping research agendas in the biomedical sciences in the postwar era. It considers in particular the genetic studies of human populations that were pursued under the aegis of the WHO from the late 1950s to 1970s. The study provides insights into how human and medical genetics entered the agenda of the WHO. At the same time, the population studies become a focus for tracking changing notions of international relations, cooperation, and development and their impact on research in biology and medicine in the post-World War II era. After a brief discussion of the early history of the WHO and its position in Cold War politics, the essay considers the WHO program in radiation protection and heredity and how the genetic study of «vanishing» human populations and a world-wide genetic study of newborns fitted this broader agenda. It then considers in more detail the kind of support offered by the WHO for these projects. The essay highlights the role of single individuals in taking advantage of WHO support for pushing their research agendas while establishing a trend towards cooperative international projects in biology.