UCLA » College » Life Sciences » Institute for Society and Genetics » News + Views

restless-development-bad-sleep-may-be-evolutionary-survival-tool-study-finds

Restless Development: Bad Sleep May Be Evolutionary Survival Tool, Study Finds

Poor sleep is often regarded as a modern affliction linked to our sedentary lifestyles, electric lighting and smartphones on the bedside table. However, new research suggests that fitful sleep could be an ancient survival mechanism designed to guard against nocturnal threats. The study, which tracked the sleep patterns of a modern-day hunter-gatherer tribe in northern Tanzania, found that frequent night-time waking and differing sleep schedules between the young and old ensured that there was nearly always at least one tribe member awake. “They tell an important part of the human evolutionary story because they live a lifestyle that is the most similar to our hunting and gathering past,” said Alyssa Crittenden, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and one of the study’s co-authors. “They sleep on the ground and have no synthetic lighting or controlled climate.” Of over 220 total hours of observation, there were just 18 minutes when all adults were sound asleep simultaneously. On average, more than a third of the group was alert, or dozing very lightly, at any given time.

The authors claim that the misalignment of sleep schedules of the young and elderly could be an evolutionary adaptation that kept our ancestors safe when sleeping in mixed-age groups.

Read the full article here.

Prelude to Global Extinction: Stanford Biologists Say Disappearance of Species Tells Only Part of the Story of Human Impact on Earth’s Animals

Image result for Bornean gibbonNo bells tolled when the last Catarina pupfish on Earth died. Newspapers didn’t carry the story when the Christmas Island pipistrelle vanished forever.

Two vertebrate species go extinct every year on average, but few people notice, perhaps because the rate seems relatively slow – not a clear and present threat to the natural systems we depend on. This view overlooks trends of extreme decline in animal populations, which tell a more dire story with cascading consequences, according to a new study that provides the first global evaluation of these population trends. “This is the case of a biological annihilation occurring globally, even if the species these populations belong to are still present somewhere on Earth,” said co-author Rodolfo Dirzo, a professor of biology.

Read the full article here.

First Big Efforts to Sequence Ancient African DNA Reveal How Early Humans Swept Across the Continent

The study of ancient human DNA has not been an equal opportunity endeavor. Early Europeans and Asians have had portions of their genomes sequenced by the hundreds over the past decade, rewriting Eurasian history in the process. But because genetic material decays rapidly in warm, moist climates, scientists had sequenced the DNA of just one ancient African. Until now.

This week, at the annual meeting of the Society for Molecular Biology & Evolution here, scientists announced that they had partially sequenced 15 ancient African genomes, with representatives from all over sub-Saharan Africa. And another group—whose work is still unpublished—has sequenced seven more ancient humans from South Africa. “[Finding] ancient genomes from Africa is pretty amazing,” says Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, a population geneticist at the University of Bern, who was not involved in either project.

Read the full article here.

Long-Term Sexual Intimidation May Be Widespread in Primate Societies

File:Baboons (3540212876).jpgAfter observing the mating habits of chacma baboons living in the wild over a four-year period, researchers have found that males of the species often use long-term sexual intimidation to control their mates. The findings suggest that this mating strategy has a long history in primates, including humans, and may be widespread across social mammals — especially when males of a species are typically larger than females.

“This study adds to growing evidence that males use coercive tactics to constrain female mating decisions in promiscuous primates, thereby questioning the extent of sexual freedom left for females in such societies and suggesting that sexual intimidation has a long evolutionary history in primates — a taxonomic group that of course includes humans,” says Alice Baniel at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France.

Read the full article here.

How Frogs Benefited From The Dinosaurs’ Extinction

The asteroid that hit Earth 66 million years ago spelled disaster for the dinosaurs. But scientists say they’ve found one silver lining to the mass extinction — turns out, it was really good for frogs. The resilient animals date back some 200 million years. And in the aftermath of the extinction event, they survived and thrived, taking advantage of an ecological vacuum other animals left behind. About 9 in 10 frog species today evolved from three frog lineages that survived the event, which occurred at the boundary between the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods, according to research published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

What this research shows, Wake says, is that frogs have the proven ability to “[take] advantage of opportunities — in this case [an] ecological vacuum that existed following the mass extinction.”

Read the full article her.

Congratulations, Class of 2017

Congratulations, Class of 2017.  Wishing each of you the best in your future endeavors!
-The Institute for Society and Genetics

Thousands of Genes Influence Most Diseases

Image result for genomeIn a provocative new perspective piece, Stanford researchers say that disease genes are spread uniformly across the genome, not clustered in specific molecular pathways, as has been thought. The gene activity of cells is so broadly networked that virtually any gene can influence disease, the researchers found. As a result, most of the heritability of diseases is due not to a handful of core genes, but to tiny contributions from vast numbers of peripheral genes that function outside disease pathways. Any given trait, it seems, is not controlled by a small set of genes. Instead, nearly every gene in the genome influences everything about us. The effects may be tiny, but they add up. The work is described in a paper published June 15 in Cell. Jonathan Pritchard, PhD, professor of genetics and of biology, is the senior author. Graduate student Evan Boyle and postdoctoral scholar Yang Li, PhD, share lead authorship.

Read the full article here.

Racism Aggravates Treatment-Resistant Asthma

an African-American girl uses an asthma inhalerRacial discrimination experienced by African-American children and young adults exacerbates a type of asthma known to be resistant to standard treatment, according to a study headed by researchers at UC San Francisco. The 576 study participants, who were African-Americans with asthma, aged between 8 and 21, were asked if they had been hassled, made to feel inferior or prevented from doing something “because of your race, ethnicity, color or language,” in situations including at school, getting medical care and getting services in a store or restaurant. Close to half (281) reported experiences of racial discrimination in any setting at some point in their lives. The researchers found that participants who reported that they had not experienced racial discrimination were close to twice as likely to have controlled asthma (37 percent) compared to those who said they did (21 percent). The average bronchodilator response was 1.7 per cent higher in the discriminated group.

Read the full article here.