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February 3 2015

Bowhunting may have fostered social cohesion during the Neolithic


Bowhunting during the Neolithic period may have been one of the pillars of unity as a group of primitive human societies.

This is one of the main conclusions reached by a team of Spanish archaeologists with the participation of the SpanishNational Research Council (CSIC), which has analyzed the Neolithic bows found in the site of La Draga (Girona, Spain). The study has been published in the ‘Journal of Archaeological Science‘.

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February 3 2015

Did Neanderthals die out because of their weak jaws? Couldn't chew and digest tough, starchy foods


Neanderthals probably cooked their food before eating but would have struggled to eat root vegetables, according to a new study.

Geneticists have analysed ancient DNA from the remains of Neanderthals and another ancient human relative, the Denisovans.

They found that these prehistoric human ancestors lacked key genes needed to chew hard foods - just like modern humans alive today.

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February 3 2015

Did DNA links to disease actually help our ancestors?


Genetic variations associated with some modern ailments—psoriasis and Crohn’s disease, for example—are so old that they predate the evolution of Neanderthals, Denisovans, and contemporary humans.

Scientists are now asking why genetic susceptibilities for these ailments would persist for hundreds of thousands of years, afflicting our ancient ancestors—and us.

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February 3 2015

More evidence that musical training protects the brain


Scientists have found some of the strongest evidence yet that musical training in younger years can prevent the decay in speech listening skills in later life. "Musical activities are an engaging form of cognitive brain training and we are now seeing robust evidence of brain plasticity from musical training not just in younger brains, but in older brains too," said the study's leader.

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February 3 2015

What makes us altruistic – and what's it good for?


Two new books (1, 2) use the latest brain science to figure out what makes us behave selflessly – and also suggest practical steps for encouraging it

IN 1851, Auguste Comte, the French philosopher and father of sociology, coined the word altruisme (from the Latin for "others") as part of a drive to create a non-religious religion, based on scientific principles.

He defined it as "intentional action, ultimately for the welfare of others that entails at least the possibility of either no benefit or a loss to the actor", recognising it as one of the two most important findings of modern science, with the discovery of the motion of Earth.

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February 3 2015

A bit of altruism makes V-shaped flocks of birds possible


It seems like a job no bird would want. The leader of a V-shaped flock works the hardest, fighting strong air currents while others save energy by traveling in his wake. So why would any bird volunteer to be in front? From an evolutionary standpoint, helping others makes sense if all the migrants are related. But that’s not always the case with migrating flocks.


Alt: One good turn: Birds swap energy-sapping lead role

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February 3 2015

Groundhog Day: How Often Does Punxsutawney Phil Get It Right?


Every February, a small, furry mammal with buck teeth gets trotted out in front of a crowd in Pennsylvania to take part in a time-honored Groundhog Day tradition: If the beloved groundhog Punxsutawney Phil "sees" his shadow, the country is in for six more weeks of winter; if he doesn't, we're in for an early spring.

The prognosticating woodchuck saw his shadow today (Feb. 2), according to news reports. He also saw it last year, foretelling a brutal winter throughout the Northeast. But how often are Phil's shadowy forecasts accurate?

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February 3 2015

Ancient microbes formed Earth's biggest hoard of gold


Where there was life, there may be gold. Some of the oldest life forms may have played a crucial role in the formation of what's now the Earth's largest known gold reserve.

The process could only have taken place during a window of opportunity after life on land came to being and before it created the planet's oxygen-rich atmosphere. This means such gold deposits could not be formed today – but it potentially gives us a new way to find them.

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February 3 2015

Fill up your gas tank with bamboo?


2014 was a banner year for making automotive fuel from nonfood crops, with a series of major new production plants opening in the United States. However, producing this so-called cellulosic ethanol remains considerably more expensive than gasoline. So researchers are always on the lookout for new ways to trim costs. Now they have a new lead, a microbe that can use abundant nitrogen gas as the fertilizer it needs to produce ethanol from plants.

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February 3 2015

Can Sun and Wind Make More Salt Water Drinkable?


The oceans have long taunted those who thirst. Records dating to A.D. 200 show that sailors boiled seawater and used sponges to absorb fresh water from the steam. Today, desalination is more sophisticated: multistage flash distillation, reverse osmosis, electrodialysis, and more.

But one thing hasn't changed since the time of the ancient mariners: It takes a lot of energy to squeeze drinkable water from salt water.

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February 3 2015

Robots provide a personal touch at Japanese bank


Humanoid can communicate in 19 languages, determine customers' feelings from their facial expressions

Standing less than 23 inches tall and with only three digits on hands that are too big for his body, Nao is an unusual appointment at Japan's biggest bank.


Alt: Robots to help out at Mitsubishi UFJ branches

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February 3 2015

Lost comet lander Philae could wake up in May, say scientists


Sen—Philae, the lost lander that Rosetta planted on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, might get enough sunlight to wake up in March and make contact again in May or June, space scientists said today.

After its landing wowed the world in November, Philae beamed information back to Earth for a few hours before its batteries drained flat. It is now known that it skipped several times across the comet's surface—its anchoring harpoon having failed to fire—before presumably landing in a shadowy region that has been named Abydos.

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February 3 2015

How Can We Protect Mars From Earth, While Searching For Life?


The search for life on Mars presents us with many challenges – not the least of which is microbial contamination. How do we ensure that microbes from Earth don’t hitchhike all the way to the Red Planet and spread there? When a spacecraft is on the surface of Mars, what steps are needed to protect the environment from changes that could hurt any Martian life that is there?


Related: 'Adam and Eve of another planet': Briton bids to be first woman to give birth to MARTIAN

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February 3 2015

This Is What Our Sun Will Look Like 8 Billion Years From Now


Behold Jupiter's Ghost — a spectacular remnant of a star that was once quite similar to our own. Located 3,000 light-years away, it's a sneak preview of what our solar system could look like once our Sun enters into its death throes.

Our Sun is not big enough to go supernova. Stars with masses from 0.8 to 8 times that of our sun gradually expand during their end-stage, releasing their outer layers in the surrounding space.

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February 3 2015

Lava could have preserved the origins of life on the moon


Fossils on the moon may be our best bet for discovering the origins of life in our solar system. New experiments suggest that if the precursors to life arrived on Earth encased in a comet or asteroid, the moon could have preserved a record of it, despite being covered in lava at the time.

The simplest forms of life appeared on Earth some 3.8 billion years ago, but scientists still have no idea how. Since that crucial time, Earth's tectonic forces have destroyed almost all the rocks that might have kept records of the beginnings of life.

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February 2 2015

Mining the moon becomes a serious prospect


With an estimated 1.6 billion tonnes of water ice at its poles and an abundance of rare-earth elements hidden below its surface, the moon is rich ground for mining.

In this month's issue of Physics World, science writer Richard Corfield explains how private firms and space agencies are dreaming of tapping into these lucrative resources and turning the moon's grey, barren landscape into a money-making conveyer belt.

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February 2 2015

Our Inner Viruses: Forty Million Years In the Making


Each year, billions of people get infected with viruses–with common ones like influenza and cold viruses, and rarer ones like polio and Ebola. The viruses don’t stay all that long inside of us. In most cases, our immune systems wipe them out, except for a few refugees that manage to escape to a new host and keep their species alive. In some cases, the viruses kill their unfortunate hosts, and end their own existence as well. But in some exquisitely rare cases, viruses meld with the genome of their hosts and become part of the genetic legacy their hosts pass down to future generations.


Related: Jumping DNA and the Evolution of Pregnancy

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