The First Neanderthal Family: Ancient Genome of 13 Individuals Show They Were Just Like Us in Many Ways:
Chagyrskaya Cave in the Alta Mountains of southern Siberia
Ancient genomes of 13 individual Neanderthals show they ate, slept, loved and died in the company of their kin and were connected to other groups that made up a Neanderthal population in Siberia. An international team mapped DNA from the bones of eight adult males and five children to shed fresh light on our ancient cousins. Their findings have provided the first snapshot of an actual family that lived 54,000 years ago. They include a father and his teenage daughter, along with a pair of second-degree relatives: a young boy and an adult female, perhaps a cousin, aunt or grandmother. The fascinating combination suggests they must have lived, and died, at around the same time, and together make up the largest known genetic study of Neanderthals to date. Further findings inform other hypotheses, such as that the DNA was mostly spread through traveling females, and that like humans, the bond of marriage, or pair-bonding as it is known in animals, of Neanderthal’s also saw women change social groups to live with her husband’s family. While this is only the beginning of our understanding of our ancient ancestors, we can finally start understanding our past social structures, and in turn, understand ourselves better.
Particle physics pushing cancer treatment boundaries:
Facility coordinator Roberto Corsini shows off a 40-metre linear particle accelerator at CERN which could push the boundaries of cancer treatment.
Researchers at Europe's science lab CERN are applying their specialty of particle physics to upend the limits to cancer treatment. The physicists here are working with giant particle accelerators in search of ways to expand the reach of cancer radiation therapy and to take on hard-to-reach tumors that would otherwise have been fatal. In one CERN lab, called CLEAR, facility coordinator Roberto Corsini has worked with researchers to create a machine that shoots very high energy beams of electrons (which produce negative charges) that may help combat cancer cells more effectively. The idea is to use these very high-energy electrons (VHEE) in combination with a new and promising treatment method called FLASH. This method entails delivering the radiation dose in a few hundred milliseconds, instead of minutes as is the current approach. This has been shown to have the same destructive effect on the targeted tumor but causes far less damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. This is mostly due to the high speed of the process which allows for more well-targeted laser cancer therapy to be possible without radiation spreading to other areas. Construction of the prototype for the FLASH machine is scheduled to begin next February, and patient clinical trials could begin in 2025.
Black Death immunity came at a cost to modern-day health:
Using DNA from the excavated remains of plague victims, including those buried in a London cemetery from 1348–1349, and from people who died earlier and later, researchers searched for evidence of how the Black Death pushed the immune system to evolve. Credit: MUSEUM OF LONDON ARCHAEOLOGY
A genetic variant that appears to have boosted medieval Europeans’ ability to survive the Black Death centuries ago may contribute to an inflammatory disease afflicting people today. Researchers used DNA collected from centuries-old remains to discern the fingerprints that bubonic plague during the Black Death left on Europeans’ immune systems. This devastating wave of disease tended to spare those who possessed a variant of a gene known as ERAP2, causing it to become more common, researchers reported on October 19. That variant is already known to scientists for slightly increasing the odds of developing Crohn’s disease, in which errant inflammation harms the digestive system. However, more recent research studying the remains of 516 people in London and Denmark who died between 1000 and 1800 (some alive during the black death) has suggested that variants of ERAP2 in our DNA have increased due to the presence of the black death. Some researchers argue that due to this new information that fatal ancient diseases have developed immunity towards the disease over time, but have led to greater susceptibility to more modern diseases. While the magnitude of the effect is unclear, there is much that we can still learn from past disease tragedies and from them discover more about our genealogical history as humans.