Research stories

What killed the Neanderthals? Genesis of language and other top research news of the week

Impact Insider -Weekly Round Up of Trending Research

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No more survivor’s guilt—Bad luck may have killed the Neanderthals, not us

Many moons ago, when the world we now know did not exist, two species of humans walked the Earth—Homo sapiens (basically, us) and our “distant cousins”, the Neanderthals. Yet, only one survived and went on to do great (?) things in life. The Neanderthals were similar to us in appearance and even in behavior. So, what made them disappear while we survived? A commonly accepted theory was that we are partly responsible, as we were the “smarter” of the two. We locked horns with them for food and resources, and apparently, we won. A new study, however, found that it might be too early for us to be racked with survivor’s guilt. Scientists, in this study, challenged the popular belief that humans caused the extinction of Neanderthals. They claimed, in fact, that it may be sheer bad luck that the Neanderthals became extinct. Regardless, until we know the exact reason of the disappearance of Neanderthals, the debate continues.

How did man invent language?

Two children sit in two rooms connected over skype. Only, there is no audio. Before each of them are a set of motifs ranging from concrete objects, such as a hammer and a fork, to abstract concepts, such as “nothing”. These, they must communicate between them. Watching them, and a number of other pairs of children, are scientists from the Leipzig Center for Early childhood Development and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. The children are taking part in a series of studies by these researchers who wish to learn how the 6000+ languages in the world were born. How does language emerge in societies? As the children create gestures based on common experiences, then establish patterns, or a grammar, of their gestures as time progresses, the researchers witness a language taking its first steps. It has been believed in scholarly circles that languages grow and develop, becoming more structured and complex, as they are passed down through generations. But this coming of age of language remains to be studied.

Grow through what you go through—stress early on in life makes you live longer!

In a Nature study, scientists show that some stress early in life—at the cellular level—can improve stress resistance later in life, which can result in an increased lifespan. Oxidative stress, which happens normally with aging but also with stressful conditions, is the biggest cause of cellular stress, and it can be attributed to reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced by cells. The scientists used the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans as the model organism and found that some roundworms produced more ROS during early-stage development than others; and these roundworms went on to live longer! What’s interesting is that the epigenetic regulatory system responsible for these differences in ROS production is also sensitive to high oxidative stress—which means that there needs to be just the right amount of stress in order to see positive effects later in life. This exciting new study might open new doors to the treatment of age-related diseases!

Putting Solar Weather under a microscope

Parker Solar Probe – the little spacecraft- is soldiering through brutal conditions of space to gather startling and exciting data about the far-reaching plasma storms that occur at the Sun’s surface. These storms or solar explosions called Coronal Mass Ejections trigger the ethereal Polar Lights, but in the past, they have endangered spacecrafts and astronauts, and have prompted damaging magnetic storms (massive blackouts) on Earth. As they zip to earth with short warning time, it makes them very difficult to avoid- but fortunately the Probes’ instruments, developed Princeton University, detected their source, pathway and their acceleration. The Probes’ imager, WISPR, have caught pictures of the turbulent solar winds, and the very first images of cosmic dust-free zones, at least 2-3 million miles from the Sun. Maybe in a few years we can figure out the process by which different stars evolve, while also disseminate the fundamental events our stars can unleash.

Compost Funeral Homes: The Hill Everyone Should Want to Die On

What happens to us after we die? Well, not in the spiritual sense but rather, what are the options to dispose of a body? How can bodies be disposed of ethically? The US ‘deathcare’ company Recompose has one solution: human composting. With contained accelerated conversion methods using natural bacteria, they offer a new technique to allow decomposition of remains into a cubic yard of soil within 30 days, using only one-eighth the energy required for cremation, and radically reduced CO2 emissions compared to traditional methods. Washington state legislators have already given the go ahead for the funeral home prototype, which is expected to open in 2020. What with the global shortage of burial space and the looming climate concerns challenging the feasibility of cremations, this new technique might just be the most practicable solution to the dilemma of ethical final disposition.

Avantika Deo, Rachana Bhattacharjee, Sharang Kolwalkar, Indrani Das, Anupama Prakash

Image Credit:
‘Neanderthal’ Ian Dagnall Computing/Alamy Stock Photo
‘Language’, ‘Cells’, ‘Sun probe’ Shutterstock image
‘Skull’ Pixabay/Eliane Meyer

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