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Twin Study Finds Genetics Affects Where Children Look, Shaping Mental Development

The image caption followsA new study co-led by Indiana University that tracked the eye movement of twins finds that genetics plays a strong role in how people attend to their environment. Conducted in collaboration with researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, the study offers a new angle on the emergence of differences between individuals and the integration of genetic and environmental factors in social, emotional and cognitive development. This is significant because visual exploration is also one of the first ways infants interact with the environment, before they can reach or crawl. “The majority of work on eye movement has asked ‘What are the common features that drive our attention?'” said Daniel P. Kennedy, an assistant professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “This study is different. We wanted to understand differences among individuals and whether they are influenced by genetics.”

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New Model Reveals Possibility of Pumping Antibiotics Into Bacteria

Researchers in the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Biochemistry have discovered that a cellular pump known to move drugs like antibiotics out of E. coli bacteria has the potential to bring them in as well, opening new lines of research into combating the bacteria. The discovery could rewrite almost 50 years of thinking about how these types of transporters function in the cell. “Having to rework the model and essentially rewrite the textbook on what we knew about the transporters will really change the way we think,” she says. “I’m actually going to teach this paper in our intro graduate course because it’s such a good story of how having a model in your head can limit your thinking and experiments and you really miss important things.”

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Bonobos Help Strangers Without Being Asked

A passer-by drops something and you spring to pick it up. Or maybe you hold the door for someone behind you. Such acts of kindness to strangers were long thought to be unique to humans, but recent research on bonobos suggests our species is not as exceptional in this regard as we like to think. Famously friendly apes from Africa’s Congo Basin, bonobos will go out of their way to help strangers too, said Jingzhi Tan, a postdoctoral associate in evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. The impulse to be nice to strangers is likely to evolve in species where the benefits of bonding with outsiders outweigh the costs, said Tan, now a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego. “All relationships start between two strangers,” Tan said. “You meet a stranger, but you may meet them again, and this individual could become your future friend or ally. You want to be nice to someone who’s going to be important for you.”

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Patrick Allard, Hannah Landecker and Amander Clark Awarded a John Templeton Foundation Grant

A UCLA research team led by Patrick Allard, assistant professor of society and genetics, has been awarded a $1.1 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation as part of the foundation’s funding efforts for research into genetics. The project’s co-leaders are Amander Clark, associate professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology, and Hannah Landecker, director of the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics, and professor of sociology, who uses the tools of history and social science to study contemporary developments in the life sciences, including epigenetics.

The big questions Allard and his UCLA colleagues will address concerns whether we all have the same chance to live healthy lives and how much power individuals have over their own health. To what extent is our health pre-determined not only by our parents’ health, but going back several generations? “We hope that our findings will help us better understand how environmental exposure information is transferred across generations,” Allard said.

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Teaching Bats to Say ‘Move Out of My Way’ in Many Dialects

Image result for batsWild fruit bats, living in crowded roosts, are exposed to calls from hundreds of fellow bats from birth. Most often these calls are made in response to unsolicited physical contact, and essentially amount to a crabby “move out of my way.” In a study published Wednesday in PLOS Biology, a team of Israeli researchers found that bat pups match their vocalizations to the group sounds they are immersed in, even if this “dialect” differs from that of their mothers. Human babies and toddlers pick up the utterances around them effortlessly. The ability, called vocal learning, is considered critical for our spoken language. But vocal learning has rarely been proven to exist in animals other than humans or songbirds, said Yossi Yovel, a neuroecologist at Tel Aviv University who led the study with graduate students Yosef Prat and Lindsay Azoulay.

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How Neanderthals Influenced Human Genetics at the Crossroads of Asia and Europe

Image result for western asiaWhen the ancestors of modern humans migrated out of Africa, they passed through the Middle East and Turkey before heading deeper into Asia and Europe. Here, at this important crossroads, it’s thought that they encountered and had sexual rendezvous with a different hominid species: the Neanderthals. Genomic evidence shows that this ancient interbreeding occurred, and Western Asia is the most likely spot where it happened.

A new study explores the legacy of these interspecies trysts, with a focus on Western Asia, where the first relations may have taken place. The research, published on Oct. 13 in Genome Biology and Evolution, analyzes the genetic material of people living in the region today, identifying DNA sequences inherited from Neanderthals. “As far as human history goes, this area was the stepping stone for the peopling of all of Eurasia,” says Omer Gokcumen, PhD, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. “This is where humans first settled when they left Africa. It may be where they first met Neanderthals. From the standpoint of genetics, it’s a very interesting region.”

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h7n9 Influenza Is Both Lethal and Transmissible in Animal Model for Flu

In 2013, an influenza virus that had never before been detected began circulating among poultry in China. It caused several waves of human infection and in late 2016, the number of people to become sick from the H7N9 virus suddenly started to rise. As of late July 2017, nearly 1,600 people had tested positive for avian H7N9. Nearly 40 percent of those infected had died. In early 2017, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, professor of pathobiological sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, received a sample of H7N9 virus isolated from a patient in China who had died of the flu. He and his research team subsequently began work to characterize and understand it. The first of those results are published today (Oct. 19, 2017) in Cell Host & Microbe. For the first time, Kawaoka says, his team has identified an influenza virus strain that is both transmissible between ferrets (the best animal model proxy for human influenza infections) and lethal, both in the animal originally infected and in otherwise healthy ferrets in close contact with these infected animals. “This is the first case of a highly pathogenic avian virus that transmits between ferrets and kills them,” Kawaoka says. “That’s not good for public health.”

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‘This Is Very Alarming!’: Flying Insects Vanish from Nature Preserves

Not long ago, a lengthy drive on a hot day wouldn’t be complete without scraping bug guts off a windshield. But splattered insects have gone the way of the Chevy Nova — you just don’t see them on the road like you used to. Biologists call this the windshield phenomenon. It’s a symptom, they say, of a vanishing population. “The windscreen phenomenon is probably one of the best illustrative ways to realize we are dealing with a decline in flying insects,” said Caspar Hallmann, an ecologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands. Hallmann is part of a research team that recently waded through 27 years’ worth of insects collected in German nature preserves. “This decline happened in nature reserves, which are meant to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning,” Hallmann said. “This is very alarming!”

“If you like to eat nutritious fruits and vegetables, you should thank an insect. If you like salmon, you can thank a tiny fly that the salmon eat when they’re young,” Black said. “The whole fabric of our planet is built on plants and insects and the relationship between the two.”

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