SciTech Briefs

Human-like fossils discovered deep in South African cave

In a paper published last Thursday in the journal eLife, scientists discussed fossils that belong to a past human ancestor which were recently discovered deep within a cave in South Africa. During the excavation, led by Lee Berger, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas, partial skeletons of males and females, young and old in age, were discovered. The species was named naledi and was grouped in the genus Homo, which is the genus of modern humans.

While scientists are not sure when Homo naledi existed in Africa, researchers believe it could have been up to three million years ago. Individuals of this species have small, modern-looking teeth, humanlike feet, primitive-looking fingers and a small braincase. The fossils appeared to be located in a burial chamber, indicating that Homo naledi may have practiced ritual behaviors, a trait that is usually associated with later humans. Scientists believe that the unexpected findings may reveal more about the emergence of modern day humans, as well as spark the re-evaluation of what it means to be a human.

Source: National Geographic

Smart immune cells allow neurons to heal themselves

Researchers at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy, located in Chapel Hill, have re-engineered immune cells that are capable of producing and distributing protein that can initiate the growth of damaged neurons. White blood cells were genetically altered to create glial cell-derived neurotropic factor (GDNF). GDNF is related to the growth of nervous tissue and has been found to promote the healing of damaged neurons. Studies have also shown that GDNF may be able to combat the progression Parkinson’s disease, a disorder that causes complications in bodily coordination and movement. Currently, no treatments exist to stop or reverse Parkinson’s disease.

By using white blood cells, the treatment evades the body’s natural immune response, allowing the cells to travel into the brain and deliver the protective proteins. In the near future, the scientists predict that their research will be incorporated into clinical practice. Details of their findings can be found in an online publication on PLOS ONE.

Source: ScienceDaily

Recent clinical trial suggests new blood pressure standard

According to a recent press release from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in Bethesda, Maryland, scientists have found that further reducing patient’s systolic blood pressure, the pressure from the contraction of the heart, under the currently recommended guideline may decrease the incidents of heart attack, stroke and death. In a study that started in 2009, one group received drugs that lowered blood pressure to 140 millimeters of mercury, while another group received drugs that lowered blood pressure to 120 millimeters of mercury.

Results showed that participants in the lower blood pressure group, when compared to the higher blood pressure group, were a third less likely to experience heart attacks and strokes. They also were nearly a quarter less likely to die. These statistics challenge clinical guidelines that healthy adults should have a blood pressure of less than 140 millimeters of mercury.
In the coming months, the NHLBI scientists will be working on publishing the results of their study.

Source: Science News

Killer Bees located in California are now migrating north

Since their arrival in California in 1994, Africanized honeybees have migrated as far north as the state’s delta region, as reported by researchers from the University of California, San Diego. During the 1950s, imported African bees mated with local populations of European honey bees, incorporating African genes that have promoted the survival of the hybrid offspring. Africanized bees have been found to possess advantages over non-Africanized bees, including better resistance to disease and parasites.

First introduced in Texas, the Africanized bees have spread to many of the warm coastal regions in the United States. With the advent of higher temperatures from global warming, scientists predict that the bees will gradually move further north. Their highly aggressive nature, which gave them the name “killer” bees, has caused concerns about the further migration of the Africanized bees. On the other hand, the advantageous traits of the Africanized bees have the potential to solve the issue of the diminishing honey bee population that is posing a threat to food production.

Source: Discovery News

Study says burning all fossil fuels will melt all of Antarctica

A group of German, American and British scientists have found that burning all the world’s fossil fuels would lead to the complete melting of the Antarctic ice-sheet, resulting in ocean water raising 50 meters in height. In their research, which is now published in the journal Science Advances, the scientists used computer models to account for environmental conditions, including warming air and ocean temperatures. They were able to conclude that there are enough fossil fuels to melt all of Antarctica. If all of this was burned, land that is inhabited by a billion people could someday disappear under water.

The scientists also investigated the effect of restricting the increase in global warming to a two degrees celcius increase, which is the goal currently being aimed for by many nations. In this scenario, countries would have time to adjust to the rising tide, which would then only increase by a few meters in the next thousand years. However, if all the fossil fuels are burned, sea levels could rise up to 30 centimeters within a mere decade.

Source: The Guardian

Latest models of Apple’s iPhone are released to public

Apple has unveiled its latest models of the iPhone, including the iPhone 6S as well as the iPhone 6S Plus. While the size and shape of the iPhones have stayed the same, the newer models are slightly heavier in weight compared to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The new phones also include sturdier glass and aluminum to prevent them from bending. Improvements in hardware were prioritized over the development of design, resulting in the improvement of processing power in the updated models.

One of the novel features of the upgrade is Apple’s 3D touch, which opens up menus of different options by recognizing two different pressures of touch. For example, when a user opens an image, a lighter touch can display a preview of the image, while a heavier touch displays the image on a fullscreen. Other new features include a 12-megapixel camera, and a rose gold colored iPhone. During the past weekend, Apple has allowed the public to preorder the new phones.

Source: CNET