The Humanion Arkive Year Delta 2018-19
September 24: 2018-September 23:2019
 
The Arkives
First Published: September 24: 2015
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Palaeontology

Once upon a time there was life
How did it live how did it die or
How it grew young or old or how
It fought to live you ask dig out
Out the bones look for the marks

Munayem Mayenin: November 10, 2015

A University and a Zoo: What are They Trying to Do United

The spotted hyena from the collection of the Finnish Museum of Natural History. Image: Perttu Saksa

 

|| August 09: 2017: University of Helsinki News: Virve Pohjanpalo Writing || ά. There are many connections between Helsinki Zoo and the University of Helsinki. The university trains some of the best specialists in animal welfare, while deceased zoo inhabitants, may, end up at the museum, where they are of use to researchers. Founded in 1889, Helsinki Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world. It has collaborated with Helsinki University Museum for several decades. In this time, views on the proper treatment of animals have changed quite a bit, as have animal welfare decrees.

''Helsinki Zoo has been home to many sorts of species. Shared cages for various apes are a good example of how different the living conditions for the animals once were.'' says Mr Henry Pihlström, biologist and researcher at the Finnish Museum of Natural History. The exotic specimens in the bone collection at the museum include endangered species, as well as, species that are no longer found in the wild. Collection safaris for rare animals have been out of the question for a long time now and exotic specimens have primarily been received from private donators, who wish to be rid of the antelope horns on the wall of the family home or the skin in front of the fireplace and from Helsinki Zoo.

The fate of a spotted hyena, that performed at a Finnish circus before the wars, and eventually, ended up in the museum’s collection is a good example of how differently people used to think about animals. ''Animal-related stories are portrayals of their time. In the 1930s, hyenas were terribly abhorred and people called them cadaver diggers. After its circus career, our hyena met its end at Helsinki Zoo, shot in the head and it wasn’t the only one. We have done our best to glue the damaged specimen back together.''

Perhaps the most tragic and from the museum’s point of view, also, the most prolific, moment in the collaboration with the zoo, also, took place in the 1930s. The museum’s ape collection grew by nine specimens at once.

''There was a fire in the ape house at the zoo in 1938, and apparently, every single ape there died. The destruction was so complete that even the keepers were evidently not able to identify the bodies and many species in the donation received by the museum had been identified wrongly.'' Mr Pihlström says, recalling the now forgotten incident.

When Mr Pihlström’s team went through their old collections of vertebrates a year ago, they found other specimens received from the zoo, that were still lacking proper identification. ''Among other activities, we performed a thorough skeletal and dental examination of a giant kangaroo brought from the zoo and were able to definitely identify it as a red kangaroo.''

The inventory and repair of the bone collection continues this summer. ''We won’t be running out of treasures waiting for attention any time soon!'' The university has received research material and questions from the zoo, but the benefits are mutual. Specialists in biology and animal welfare are in demand at the zoo.

The zoo’s key tasks, by its own definition, are environmental education and species protection. According to Ms Kirsi Pynnönen-Oudman, scientific expert and general curator at Helsinki Zoo, a zoo biologist’s wish is to become redundant: if the populations in the wild were strong enough, zoos would not be needed in order to keep species alive. ''I have no desire to keep animals in cages, but there is no longer room in the wild for many of the world’s species.'' Ms Pynnönen-Oudman said in an interview for the university magazine.

''There is not one single European mink left in the wild in Finland.'' she says, to illustrate the fact. ''There are no suitable zones for them anymore and the American mink has probably brought the species to extinction. Sadly, there are many other examples from around the world.

''If cat plague strikes in the far east of Russia, leopards and tigers will be lost. Zoos can perhaps restore animals to the area.'' Ms Pynnönen-Oudman trained as an animal physiologist and she has, also, taught at the Department of Biosciences at Helsinki University. The Director of Helsinki Zoo, Ms Sanna Hellström, also, worked as researcher at the university’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine for a decade before taking up her current position.
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Synchrotron Light Used to Show Human Domestication of Seeds From 2000BC



 

|| July 14: 2017 || ά. Scientists from University College London:UCL have used the UK’s synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source, to document, for the first time, the rate of evolution of seed coat thinning, a major marker of crop domestication, from archaeological remains. Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, the authors present evidence for seed coat thinning between 2,000 BC and 1,200 BC in the legume horsegram, Macrotyloma uniflorum, a bean, commonly eaten in southern India.

By using the high-resolution X-ray computed tomography:HRXCT technique on Diamond’s I13-2 beamline, the researchers were able to measure the coat thickness throughout the entire seed. “Seed coat thickness is a great indicator of domestication, as thinner coats will mean faster germination of a seed when it is watered.” explains Dorian Fuller, Co-author on the paper. “But conventional methods of looking at the seed coat require breaking and destroying archaeological specimens.”

“Being able to look at the seed coat thickness without breaking the sample is possible by other methods, but you can only look at a spot on the seed.” adds Charlene Murphy, Co-author on the paper. “The beamline at Diamond has allowed us to look at the entire seed and has shown considerable variation within individual specimen’s seed coat thickness.”

This is the first time that HRXCT has been applied to entire archaeological seeds, with results suggesting that previous spot measurement thickness tests could be misleading. Of the twelve samples analysed, the seeds could be categorised into two distinct groups, thicker or wild type seed coats, with averages thicknesses above 17 micrometres and thinner ore more domesticated seed coats between 10 and 15 micrometres.

The results indicated that domestication of horsegram took place during the second millennium BC, with seed coats fair fixed in thickness by the early centuries AD. The findings show the potential for HRXCT to be used to look at a variety of domesticated grains and pulses, such as, peas.

Christoph Rau, Principal Beamline Scientist on I13, where the work was carried out, says, “The beamline is a unique tool and is involved in a wide range of applications from high resolution imaging of biological tissues to palaeontological research. In this case, the beamline has enabled the team to produce three-D images of the seeds with incredible micrometer scale resolution, without damaging their precious samples.”

“We’re continuing to work with Diamond to look at other interesting archaeological seeds and how they’ve become domesticated.” concludes Fuller. “Peas are a great example of this; wild peas are ejected from their pods naturally, but domesticated peas only leave the pod when the cultivator removes them, a quite symbiotic relationship.”

About I13: At 250 metres in length, I13 is Diamond’s longest beamline. It comprises two branchlines, which run independently of each other and provide complementary X-ray imaging techniques. The Diamond Manchester Imaging Branchline:I13-2 performs real space imaging and tomography in the 8-30keV energy range. For work like this, the beamline can image samples of 0.1-10 mm thickness at spatial resolutions that can extend a little beyond a micron.
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Ancient DNA Shows the Role of Near East and Egypt in Cat Domestication

Cat buried in a 6000 year old in Hierakonpolis, Egypt. Image: Hierakonpolis Expedition

 

|| June 25: 2017: University of Leuven News || ά.  DNA found at archaeological sites shows that the origins of our domestic cat are in the Near East and ancient Egypt. Cats were domesticated by the first farmers some 10,000 years ago. They later spread across Europe and other parts of the world via trade hub Egypt. The DNA analysis showed that most of these ancient cats had stripes: spotted cats were uncommon until the Middle Ages. Five subspecies of the wildcat Felis silvestris are known today.

All skeletons look exactly alike and are indistinguishable from that of our domestic cat. As a result, it’s impossible to see with the naked eye which of these subspecies was domesticated in a distant past. Paleogeneticist Claudio Ottoni and his colleagues from KU Leuven and the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences set out to look for the answer in the genetic code. They used the DNA from bones, teeth, skin and hair of over 200 cats found at archaeological sites in the Near East, Africa and Europe.

These remains were between 100 and 9,000 years old. The DNA analysis showed that all domesticated cats descend from the African wildcat or Felis silvestris lybica, a wildcat subspecies found in North Africa and the Near East. Cats were domesticated some 10,000 years ago by the first farmers in the Near East.

The first agricultural settlements, probably, attracted wildcats because they were rife with rodents. The farmers welcomed the wildcats as they kept the stocks of cereal grain free from vermin. Over time, humans and animal grew closer and selection based on behaviour, eventually, led to the domestication of the wildcat.

Migrating farmers took the domesticated cat with them. At a later stage, the cats, also, spread across Europe and elsewhere, via trade hub Egypt. Used to fight vermin on Egyptian trade ships, the cats travelled to large parts of South West Asia, Africa and Europe. Bones of cats with an Egyptian signature have even been found at Viking sites near the Baltic Sea.

“It’s still unclear, however, whether the Egyptian domestic cat descends from cats imported from the Near East or whether a separate, second domestication took place in Egypt.” says researcher Claudio Ottoni. “Further research will have to show.”

The scientists were, also, able to determine the coat pattern based on the DNA of the old cat bones and mummies. They found that the striped cat was much more common in ancient times. This is illustrated by Egyptian murals: they always depict striped cats. The blotched pattern did not become common until the Middle Ages.

This study was led by the Centre for Archaeological Sciences at KU Leuven and by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, in collaboration with the genetics lab at the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris and dozens of specialists from around the world who provided cat bones retrieved from archaeological sites. ω.

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Ancient Fossil Holds New Insights Into How It All is a Fin to Limb Fish Invasion of Land: Well It's a 340 Million Years Old Tale

 



|| June 23: 2017: University of Calgary News || ά. The fossil of an early snake-like animal, called, Lethiscus stocki, has kept its evolutionary secrets for the last 340 million years. Now, an international team of researchers, led by the University of Calgary, has showed new insights into the ancient Scottish fossil, that dramatically challenge our understanding of the early evolution of tetrapods or four-limbed animals with backbones. Their findings have just been published in the international research journal Nature.

“It forces a radical rethink of what evolution was capable of among the first tetrapods.” said Project Lead Professor Jason Anderson, a Paleontologist and Professor at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Before this study, ancient tetrapods, the ancestors of humans and other modern-day vertebrates, were thought to have evolved very slowly from fish to animals with limbs. “We used to think that the fin-to-limb transition was a slow evolution to becoming gradually less fish-like.” he said.

“But Lethiscus shows immediate and dramatic, evolutionary experimentation. The lineage shrunk in size and lost limbs almost immediately after they first evolved. It’s like a snake on the outside but a fish on the inside.” Using micro-computer tomography CT scanners and advanced computing software, Professor Anderson and study Lead Author Mr Jason Pardo, a doctoral student supervised by Professor Anderson, got a close look at the internal anatomy of the fossilised Lethiscus.

After reconstructing CT scans, its entire skull was shown, with extraordinary results. “The anatomy didn’t fit with our expectations.” explains Mr Pardo. “Many body structures didn’t make sense in the context of amphibian or reptile anatomy.” But the anatomy did make sense when it was compared to early fish.

“We could see the entirety of the skull. We could see where the brain was, the inner ear cavities. It was all extremely fish-like.” explains Mr Pardo, outlining anatomy that’s common in fish but unknown in tetrapods except in the very first. The anatomy of the paddlefish, a modern fish with many primitive features, became a model for certain aspects of Lethiscus’ anatomy.

When they included this new anatomical information into an analysis of its relationship to other animals, Lethiscus moved its position on the 'family tree', dropping into the earliest stages of the fin-to-limb transition. “It’s a very satisfying result, having them among other animals, that lived at the same time.” says Professor Anderson.

The results match better with the sequence of evolution implied by the geologic record. “Lethiscus, also, has broad impacts on evolutionary biology and people doing molecular clock reproductions of modern animals.” says Professor Anderson. “They use fossils to calibrate the molecular clock. By removing Lethiscus from the immediate ancestry of modern tetrapods, it changes the calibration date used in those analyses.”
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Let the Bones Speak: Significant Impacts: Causes, Consequences and Treatment of Prehistoric Head Injuries at the University of Winchester: April 27

Smallpox virus found in a child’s mummy changes our view of the history of the killer disease. Not much is known about the child mummy in the crypt of
the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius. The child was less than five years old, and, based on radio carbon dating, died some time between 1643
and 1665. Kuva: KC
 


|| April 16: 2017: University of Winchester News  || ά. How do we know what life was like thousands of years ago? One way is to study the remains, that ancient civilisations have left behind. ​​​​​​In a Talk, 'Significant Impacts: Causes, Consequences and Treatment of Prehistoric Head Injuries' at the University of Winchester taking place on  on Thursday, April 27, Dr Martin Smith, a Biological Anthropologist at the Bournemouth University, will discuss the important clues, that prehistoric human bones can give us about life at that time.

Recent advances in the understanding of how bones fracture, together with the re-examination of human remains from the past, have showed that serious head injuries were far more common throughout prehistory than previously realised. The Talks starts at 18:00 in Room 16, Medecroft, King Alfred Campus, University of Winchester, Sparkford Road, Winchester, Hampshire SO22 4NR. The talk is free to attend but booking is essential by emailing Louise.Curth at winchester.ac.uk.

Many of these injuries appear to have been inflicted in assaults with weapons, rather than accidents being the main cause. In his talk, Dr Smith considers what these head injuries might be able to tell us about human behaviour and conflict in the past, and also, the extent to which evidence for early surgery may be related to efforts to treat head wounds.

"Several recent studies have claimed that, despite the picture suggested by modern media reports, violence and conflict amongst human beings is on the decline. Such claims have been controversial, partly because they were difficult to prove.

However, there is a solution, which offers the chance to take a long view, using the most direct and unbiased source of evidence available,  the remains of past people themselves." said Dr Smith.

Regardless of how grim a view we might take from news reports of current events, the picture now being painted by our prehistoric ancestors' bones suggests that, in fact, there has never been a better time to be alive."

The talk forms part of the University's Centre for Medical History​ public seminar series, which is held once a month during the academic year and which this month coincides with the University's Research and Engagement Week, April 24-28, which showcases the research undertaken at Winchester.

For more information about the Centre for Medical History, please contact Professor Louise Hill Curth at louise.curth at winchester.ac.uk and for Research and Engagement Week. ω.

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Once Upon a Time in the Triassic Period 245 Million Years Ago Long Many Millions of Years Ahead of the Appearance of the Dinosaurs There Roamed the Earth a Carnivorous Reptile: Teleocrater Rhadinus: What Did They Look Like: They were Seven to Ten Feet in Length and Had Long Necks: Like Giraffe: Do You Want to Listen to the Story: Yes Go on: Their Tails were Long Too: What Did They Eat: Well, Told You They were Carnivorous: Go on Then: They Walked on Four Crocodile-Like Legs: Can We Go and See Them: Sure: Where: The Museum

Life reconstruction of the new species Teleocrater rhadinus, a close relative of dinosaurs, feasting on an ancient mammal relative,
Cynognathus, in the Triassic of Tanzania. Image: Natural History Museum:Mark Witton
 

 

|| April 15: 2017: University of Birmingham News  || ά. A new species of ancient reptile has been described by scientists at the University of Birmingham, filling a critical gap in the fossil record of dinosaur cousins and suggesting that some features thought to characterise dinosaurs evolved much earlier than previously thought. Described in a paper published in Nature, the carnivorous reptile, Teleocrater rhadinus, was approximately Seven-10 feet in length, had a long neck and tail and walked on four crocodile-like legs. It roamed the Earth during the Triassic Period more than 245 million years ago, pre-dating the first true dinosaurs by around ten million years.

It appears in the fossil record just after a large group of reptiles, known as archosaurs, split into a bird branch, leading to dinosaurs and eventually birds and a crocodile branch, eventually leading to today’s alligators and crocodiles. Teleocrater and its kin are the earliest known members of the bird branch of the archosaurs. The discovery overturns widely-held preconceptions by palaeontologists about the morphology of early dinosaur relatives, with many scientists, anticipating that such creatures would be smaller, bipedal and more ‘dinosaur-like’. ''Teleocrater fundamentally challenges our models of what the close relatives of dinosaurs would have looked like.'' says Professor Richard Butler from the University of Birmingham.

''Dinosaurs were amazingly successful animals. It’s natural to want to know where they came from and how they became so dominant. Teleocrater is hugely exciting because it blows holes in many of our classic ideas of dinosaur origins.'' Professor Butler says

All the specimens used to describe Teleocrater were collected from a rock unit, called, the Manda Beds, in the Ruhuhu Basin of southern Tanzania, Africa. Teleocrater fossils were first discovered in the region in 1933 by palaeontologist F. Rex Parrington and subsequently studied by Alan J. Charig, former Curator of Fossil Reptiles, Amphibians and Birds at the Natural History Museum, in the 1950s.

However, due to a lack of crucial bones, such as the ankle bones, Charig could not determine whether Teleocrater was more closely related to crocodylians or to dinosaurs. Unfortunately, he died before he was able to complete his studies. Re-examination of Charig’s specimens by Butler and colleagues, combined with the discovery of additional fossils by a US-led team in Tanzania in 2015, has finally allowed the surprising relationship between Teleocrater and its dinosaur cousins to be shown.

''It’s astonishing to think that it’s taken more than 80 years for the true scientific importance of these fossils to be understood and published.'' says Professor Butler.

Professor Paul Barrett from the Natural History Museum, one of the other main authors of the work on Teleocrater, said, ‘My colleague Alan Charig would have been thrilled to see one of ‘his’ animals finally being named and occupying such an interesting position in the Tree of Life. Our discovery shows the value of maintaining and re-assessing historical collections: many new discoveries, like this one, can be made by looking through museum collections with fresh eyes.

The research involved a team of international scientists from institutions including the University of Birmingham, the Natural History Museum, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales, the Field Museum, the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa, the University of Washington, Uppsala University, Sweden, the Russian Academy of Sciences and Kazan Federal University, Russia.

Funding was received by the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, a Marie Curie Career Integration Grant, a National Geographic Society Young Explorers grant, and the Russian Government Program of Competitive Growth of Kazan Federal University.

To avoid confusion, the authors of the paper are keen to stress the following: Teleocrater is NOT a direct ancestor of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs did NOT ‘evolve from’ Teleocrater. Teleocrater is NOT an ancestor of crocodylians and:or birds.
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Rapid Lake Shallowing Event Terminated Preservation of Miocene Clarkia Fossil Konservat-Lagerstätte

Fossil Taxodium leaves with ultrastructures preserved in the Miocene Clarkia deposit. Image: Yang et al


|| April 02: 2017: Chinese Academy of Sciences News || ά.  The world-renowned Miocene, 15 Million Year Old, Clarkia deposit in Northern Idaho, has earned many 'firsts': the first, and then the oldest, plant fossil DNA sequence ever reported, the first test of advanced biotechnology innovations, such as PCR and HPLC on geological material. Scientists from a wide range of disciplines around the world have been attracted to this classic example of extraordinarily preserved fossil deposits, Fossil Lagerstätte, that offered the finest plant material for studies of ancient environment and climates. However, the mechanism for this exceptional preservation has been elusive.

By quantifying a range of microbial lipids, known as glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers or GDGTs, a co-operative research group, Professor Liu Weiguo team from Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Professor Yang Hong’s team from Bryant University, USA, provides new insights into the mechanism of the preservation conditions of the Clarkia deposits. Scientists solved one of the long standing puzzles regarding the rare preservation of biomolecules in the world-renowned fossil deposits in Idaho.

The research demonstrated that some of the novel organic geochemical proxies, commonly used in Holocene studies, are applicable to immature Neogene sediments. The research team identified a previously unrecognised, geologically instantaneous drop by over 10m in the Clarkia Lake water level under a stable climatic condition.

The abrupt shallowing event permanently destroyed lake water stratification, causing a mass mortality of fish, which is recorded in a 30 cm transitional layer and switching the depositional conditions for Clarkia Fossil Lagerstätte from a conservation deposit to a concentration deposit.

The researchers proposed that the sudden and irreversible release of lake water was likely due to a physical geologic event, that altered the configurations of the lake basin drainage, given the volcanic history of the region.

"A sudden break in the original basalt lava dam downstream of the lake or a sudden damming and diversion of the main river drainages upstream would have caused the rapid fall of the lake water level, in a fashion, that is similar to the formation of the Miocene Clarkia Lake, although, the precise location, that was responsible for the event is yet to be pinpointed." said Professor Yang Hong.

The Clarkia Fossil Lagerstätte was formed during a time interval with high atmospheric CO2 concentration, which was believed to be similar to the present CO2 concentration increase caused mainly by anthropogenic carbon release, thus, offering the best analogy for the study of environmental change under the current global climate change.

This work published in the current issue of the leading Earth Science journal Geology. This project was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Key Funds of China, the NASA EPSCoR-RID grant, Bryant Summer Research Stipends, and the Smiley Research Endowment.
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Crete’s Late Minoan Tombs Points Way to Early European Migration


|| March 31: 2017: University of Huddersfield News || ά. Archaeogenetic researcher Dr Ceiridwen Edwards will compare ancient DNA samples from one of one of Europe’s earliest civilisations with contemporary Cretans. Researchers at the University of Huddersfield have visited Rethymnon in Crete, to collect samples from the late Bronze Age Necropolis of Armenoi, one of the world’s finest archaeological sites. DNA analysis of the ancient skeletal remains could provide fresh insights into the origins of European civilisation.

Dr Ceiridwen Edwards and PhD student George Foody were permitted to take bone samples and teeth from over 110 of the more than 600 skeletons discovered in the Necropolis, a rock-hewn burial site from the Late Minoan period, dating to more than 4,000 years ago. During their two-week visit, the Huddersfield researchers, part of a team, that included colleagues from Oxford University and the Hellenic Archaeological Research Foundation, also, took DNA swabs from more than 100 contemporary Cretans. They sought people, whose grandmothers were from Crete in order to analyse links to the Minoan period.

When the ancient DNA samples are compared with those of modern Cretans, there is the potential to find solutions to many issues surrounding the ancient migration of people and culture to an island where the Bronze Age Minoans and their successors the Mycenaeans laid foundations for later European civilisation and culture. “The Minoans are one of Europe’s earliest civilisations and research will affect the interpretation of a number of fields, archaeological, historical and social.” said Mr George Foody.

For example, fresh light could be thrown on the migration of the Mycenaeans to Crete and on the origins of the early script known as Linear B. Also, the DNA analysis might establish family relationships between the occupants of the tombs and it might be possible to establish the presence of a high status dynasty. “We are trying to establish family relationships within the necropolis itself, as well as see how the site compares to other Minoan sites and compare it to sites in mainland Greece.” added Mr Foody.

His PhD supervisor, Dr Edwards, is Senior Research Fellow in Archaeogenetics at the University of Huddersfield, which is home to the University’s Archaeogenetics Research Group. It has fully-equipped modern and ancient DNA lab facilities and studies the geographic distribution of human genetic variation, aiming to address questions from archaeology, anthropology and history.

The Research Group is the recipient of a £01 million award by the Leverhulme Trust, under its Doctoral Scholarships scheme, which will train 15 new evolutionary geneticists. George Foody, from Cork in Ireland, is one of the second cohort of doctoral trainees and his visit to Crete was part-funded by the Leverhulme Award. His PhD thesis will focus on the results of this research.

While the Huddersfield researchers and their colleagues were in Crete, there was considerable local media interest, including TV coverage. During her research career, Dr Edwards has studied DNA of archaeological samples from many species, including giant Irish deer, domestic horse, wild boar, domestic pig, brown bear and red deer, dating from 1,000 to 40,000 years ago. Her speciality has been the study of aurochs, the ancestors of domestic cattle, as well as ancient cattle breeds.

Under the Leverhulme doctoral programme, she is, also, supervising the University of Huddersfield PhD student Katherina Dulias, who is investigating the British Isles, with a focus on ancient DNA from Yorkshire, Dorset and Orkney.

Dr Ceiridwen Edwards received her B.Sc Hons in Genetics from the University of York in 1996 and an M.Sc. in Biomolecular Archaeology from the University of Sheffield in 1998. Her Ph.D completed in 2002 at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, involved the study of genetic variation in domesticated cattle and wild aurochsen using ancient and modern DNA analyses. Between 1999 and 2008, she was solely responsible for the Bioarchaeology Laboratory at Trinity College Dublin.

She was a Researcher in Ancient DNA Studies at the Research Laboratory for Archaeology, University of Oxford, for six years, 2009–2015, during which time she successfully applied for funding to set up an ancient DNA lab. She was appointed by the University of Huddersfield as a Senior Research Fellow in Archaeogenetics in June 2015.

The University of Huddersfield: The University of Huddersfield is an inspiring, innovative provider of higher education of international renown. It has a national reputation in enterprise and innovation and has been the recipient of the Times Higher Education’s University of the Year Award and Entrepreneurial University of the Year as well as a Queen’s Awards for Enterprise. In the 2015, the University was recognised with 5 star status by international ratings organisation QS Stars for teaching, internationalisation, employability and for facilities and access. The University of Huddersfield’s researchers are dedicated to solving the problems and answering the questions posed by industry, science and society as a whole. Our pioneering research is showcased by internationally-recognised centres of excellence, strategic industry relationships and a commitment to providing advanced facilities and equipment. The Chancellor of the University is His Royal Highness The Duke of York, KG, and the Vice-Chancellor is Professor Bob Cryan CBE.
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Whatever Your Field of Work and Wherever in the World You are, Please, Make a Choice to Do All You Can to Seek and Demand the End of Death Penalty For It is Your Business What is Done in Your Name. The Law That Makes Humans Take Part in Taking Human Lives and That Permits and Kills Human Lives is No Law. It is the Rule of the Jungle Where Law Does Not Exist. The Humanion

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Can You Still See My Bones and Tissues: I Lived 125-145 Million Years Ago in China: Confuciusornis Bird

|| March 23: 2017: University of Manchester News || ά. Researchers from the UK and China have found that living birds have a more crouched leg posture than their ancestors, who are generally thought to have moved with straighter limbs, similar to those of humans. The study, published in Nature Communications, highlights how birds shifted towards this more crouched posture.

Experts from the University of Manchester, the Royal Veterinary College and China’s Nanjing University studied the lower leg of a Confuciusornis bird, which was fossilised in volcanic ash and lake sediments in China 125-145 million years ago. They found that the fossil had amazingly well-preserved soft tissues around the ankle joint, including cartilage and ligaments.

“These soft tissues were not just preserved as an ashen replacement of the former tissue, as sometimes happens, rather, the structure of the tissues was preserved at a microscopic level.” said Professor Baoyu Jiang, a Co-author of the study from Nanjing University.

Imaging methods showed that the detailed anatomical preservation extended to the molecular level, with some of the original chemistry of the bird’s tissues remaining. In particular, the team found evidence of fragments of the collagen proteins that made up the leg ligaments, which matched the preservation at the microscopic tissue level of detail.

These findings tally with an expanding body of evidence that, under special conditions, some biological molecules, including even amino acids or partial proteins - can survive over millions of years in the fossil record.

“The preservation in this fossil was exceptional, and allowed us to resolve subtle but important chemical and structural details within this critical early species of bird.” said Professor Roy Wogelius from the University of Manchester, one of the collaborators on the project.

“The new information we gained about the anatomy of the cartilages and tendons show that this early bird had an ankle whose form fit an intermediate function between that of early dinosaurs and modern birds.” said Professor John R. Hutchinson from the Royal Veterinary College, who led the study.

“Overall, this reinforced other lines of evidence that the more crouched, zigzag limb posture of birds evolved gradually from early dinosaurs to birds, with even these early birds having limbs that were built and worked differently from those of living birds but were approaching the modern condition.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation of China, Leverhulme Trust, and the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council. It was enabled by international collaboration between many scientists from fields as diverse as palaeontology and ornithology, biomechanics, geology and geochemistry, medical imaging and physics, and shows how a combination of sophisticated technologies with fast-paced discoveries of spectacular fossils is revealing new insights into how major changes in anatomy, physiology and behaviour took place in animals.

The Paper.

About University of Manchester: The University of Manchester, a member of the prestigious Russell Group of British universities, is the largest and most popular university in the UK. It has 20 academic schools and hundreds of specialist research groups undertaking pioneering multi-disciplinary teaching and research of worldwide significance. The University is one of the country’s major research institutions, rated fifth in the UK in terms of ‘research power’ has had no fewer than 25 Nobel laureates either work or study there, and had an annual income of just over £01 billion in 2014:15.
ω.

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Prehistoric Ancestor of Leukaemia Virus Found in Bats

Image: University of Glasgow


|| March 11: 2017: University of Glasgow News || ά. Ancient DNA traces from the family of viruses that cause a rare type of leukaemia have been found in the genomes of bats, filling the 'last major gap' in retrovirus fossil record.‌‌‌ The research, which is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was conducted by the University of Glasgow and The Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, offers conclusive evidence that these viruses are between 20 and 45 million years old.

The findings represent the first concrete piece of evidence that the ‘Deltaretrovirus’ group has a truly ancient origin in mammals. The results, also, offer key insights to the characteristics of these viruses and will allow scientists to better understand them in the future. The Deltaretrovirus group, which includes T-lymphotrophic viruses, currently estimated to infect 15 to 20 million people worldwide, can cause a rare type of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma called ‘Adult T-Cell Leukaemia:Lymphoma:ATLL. Infection with this virus is very rare in the UK, however, and most people who carry the virus will not develop the disease.

It has long been thought that deltaretroviruses have infected humans since prehistoric times. However, because these viruses had no ‘fossil record’, their deeper origins have until now remained a mystery. Dr Robert Gifford from the MRC, University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, said, “The discovery of this viral sequence fills the last major gap in the fossil record of retroviruses. It provides a means of calibrating the timeline of interaction between deltaretroviruses and their hosts.

Importantly this finding could also be used as a tool for understanding the mechanisms that mammals have evolved specifically to counter the threat from these viruses. Understanding the history of these viruses will help scientists to better understand how they affect people and animals now and in the future.”

A team, working under researcher Dr Daniel Elleder at the Czech Academy of Sciences, identified the remnants of a deltaretrovirus in the genome of  bent-winged bats. The sequence was found to be integrated in a range of distantly related Minopterid species, demonstrating that it originated 20-45 million years ago.

The Prague team, worked with Dr Gifford to characterise the sequence. The team found an unusual and as yet, unexplained, feature of the virus, which is, also, present in contemporary deltaretroviruses. The discovery that this characteristic has defined deltaretroviruses for millions of years indicates that it is somehow key to their biology and could help scientists study them in the future.

The retrovirus fossil record is comprised of DNA sequences, that are derived from ancient retroviruses and have been ‘preserved’ in animal genomes. Over recent years, studies of these sequences have revealed the unexpectedly ancient origins of various retrovirus groups and in doing so, have helped scientists understand the long-term ‘evolutionary arms-race’ between retroviruses and mammals.

The paper, ‘Discovery of an endogenous Deltaretrovirus, in the genome of long-fingered bats’ is published in Proceedings. The work was funded by the Medical Research Council:MRC and the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports under the programme. ω.

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Please, Do Not Argue and Take This Neanderspirin

Dr Laura Weyrich. Image: University of Adelaide



|| March 10: 2017: University of Adelaide, Australia News || ά. Ancient DNA found in the dental plaque of Neandertals, humans' nearest extinct relative, has provided remarkable new insights into their behaviour, diet and evolutionary history, including their use of plant-based medicine to treat pain and illness.Published today in the journal Nature, an international team led by the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA:ACAD  and Dental School, with the University of Liverpool in the UK, showed the complexity of Neandertal behaviour, including dietary differences between Neandertal groups and knowledge of medication.

“Dental plaque traps micro-organisms that lived in the mouth and pathogens found in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, as well as bits of food stuck in the teeth, preserving the DNA for thousands of years.,” says Lead Author Dr Laura Weyrich , ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow with ACAD. “Genetic analysis of that DNA ‘locked-up’ in plaque, represents a unique window into Neandertal lifestyle, revealing new details of what they ate, what their health was like and how the environment impacted their behaviour.”

The international team analysed and compared dental plaque samples from four Neandertals found at the cave sites of Spy in Belgium and El Sidrón in Spain. These four samples range from 42,000 to around 50,000 years old and are the oldest dental plaque ever to be genetically analysed. “We found that the Neandertals from Spy Cave consumed woolly rhinoceros and European wild sheep, supplemented with wild mushrooms.” says Professor Alan Cooper , Director of ACAD.

“Those from El Sidrón Cave, on the other hand, showed no evidence for meat consumption but appeared, instead, to have a largely vegetarian diet, comprising pine nuts, moss, mushrooms and tree bark, showing quite different lifestyles between the two groups.

One of the most surprising finds, however, was in a Neandertal from El Sidrón, who suffered from a dental abscess, visible on the jawbone. The plaque showed that he, also, had an intestinal parasite, that causes acute diarrhoea, so clearly he was quite sick. He was eating poplar, which contains the pain killer salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin, and we could, also, detect a natural antibiotic mould, Penicillium, not seen in the other specimens.

Apparently, Neandertals possessed a good knowledge of medicinal plants and their various anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties and seem to be self-medicating. The use of antibiotics would be very surprising, as this is more than 40,000 years before we developed penicillin. Certainly our findings contrast markedly with the rather simplistic view of our ancient relatives in popular imagination.”

Neandertals, ancient and modern humans, also, shared several disease-causing microbes, including the bacteria, that cause dental caries and gum disease. The Neandertal plaque allowed reconstruction of the oldest microbial genome yet sequenced, Methanobrevibacter oralis, a commensal, that can be associated with gum disease. Remarkably, the genome sequence suggests Neandertals and humans were swapping pathogens, as recently as 180,000 years ago, long after the divergence of the two species.

The team, also noted, how rapidly the oral microbial community has altered in recent history. The composition of the oral bacterial population in Neandertals and both ancient and modern humans correlated closely with the amount of meat in the diet, with the Spanish Neandertals grouping with chimpanzees and our foraging ancestors in Africa. In contrast, the Belgian Neandertal bacteria were similar to early hunter gatherers and quite close to modern humans and early farmers.

“Not only can we now access direct evidence of what our ancestors were eating but differences in diet and lifestyle, also, seem to be reflected in the commensal bacteria, that lived in the mouths of both Neandertals and modern humans.” says Professor Keith Dobney, from the University of Liverpool.

“Major changes in what we eat have, however, significantly altered the balance of these microbial communities over thousands of years, which in turn, continue to have fundamental consequences for our own health and well-being. This extraordinary window on the past is providing us with new ways to explore and understand our evolutionary history through the micro-organisms, that lived in us and with us.” ω.

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Ancient Reptile Mystery Solved as Two Extinct Species Found to Be the Same

Image: Bournemouth University


|| March 08: 2017: University of Manchester News || ά. Ichthyosaurs, which are similar-shaped to dolphins and sharks but are reptiles, swam the seas for millions of years during the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. They were the first, large extinct reptiles, brought to the attention of the scientific world. Dean Lomax, a Palaeontologist and Honorary Scientist at the University of Manchester, working with Professor Judy Massare of Brockport College, New York, have studied 1000s of ichthyosaur fossils and have delved through hundreds of years of records to solve an ancient mystery.

Many ichthyosaur fossils were found in England, during the early 19th century but it was not until 1821 that the first ichthyosaur species was described, called, Ichthyosaurus Communis. This species has become one of the most well-known of all the British fossil reptiles. A sea of Ichthyosaurus fossils can be seen on display at the Natural History Museum, London. In 1822, three other species were described, based on differences in the shape and structure of their teeth. Two of the species were later re-identified as other types of ichthyosaur, whereas one of these species, called, Ichthyosaurus Intermedius, was still considered closely related to I. Communis.

In the years, that followed, many eminent scientists, including Sir Richard Owen, the man, who coined the word dinosaur, studied ichthyosaur fossils, collected from Dorset, Somerset, Yorkshire and other locations in England. Their studies and observations of Ichthyosaurus Communis and I. Intermedius resulted in confusion with the species, with many skeletons identified on unreliable grounds.

Dean said, “The early accounts of ichthyosaurs were based on very scrappy, often isolated, remains. This resulted in a very poor understanding of the differences between species and thus, how to identify them. To complicate matters further, the original specimen of Ichthyosaurus Communis is lost and was never illustrated. Similarly, the original specimen of I. Intermedius is also lost but an illustration does exist. This has caused a big headache for palaeontologists trying to understand the differences between the species”.

In the mid-1970s, Palaeontologist, Dr Chris McGowan was the first to suggest that Ichthyosaurus Communis and I. Intermedius may represent the same species. He could not find reliable evidence to separate the two species. Subsequent studies argued for and against the separation of the species.

In this new study, the duo have reviewed all of the research for and against the separation of the two species. This is the most extensive scientific study ever published, comparing the two. The duo confirm that the species are the same and that features of Ichthyosaurus Intermedius can be found in other ichthyosaur species, including I. Communis.

In recent years, the duo have described three new species and have provided a reassessment of historical species. Their work has provided a far superior understanding of the species than has ever been produced.

Dean Lomax is a multiple award-winning palaeontologist, science communicator and author. He has travelled around the world and worked on many fascinating projects from excavating dinosaurs in the American West to discovering new fossil hunting locations and describing new species of extinct marine reptiles in the UK. An Honorary Scientist at the University of Manchester, Dean is passionate about communicating palaeontology and actively engages with traditional and social media. He has written two books, numerous scientific papers and many popular articles and regularly appears on television, most recently as series advisor and recurring on-screen expert presenter for ITV’s Dinosaur Britain. Dean is also the patron of the UK Amateur Fossil Hunters organisation.

The University of Manchester, a member of the prestigious Russell Group, is the UK’s largest single-site university with 38,600 students and is consistently ranked among the world’s elite for graduate employability. The University is also one of the country’s major research institutions, rated fifth in the UK in terms of ‘research power’. World class research is carried out across a diverse range of fields including cancer, advanced materials, addressing global inequalities, energy and industrial biotechnology. No fewer than 25 Nobel laureates have either worked or studied here. It is the only UK university to have social responsibility among its core strategic objectives, with staff and students alike dedicated to making a positive difference in communities around the world. Manchester is ranked 35th in the world in the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2016 and 5th in the UK. The University had an annual income of almost £01 billion in 2015:16. ω.

Image of Dean Lomax: Dean Lomax

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The World’s Oldest Fossils of Micro-Organisms Unearthed From a Time When Mars Had Liquid Water on Its Surface

Haematite tubes from the NSB hydrothermal vent deposits that represent the oldest microfossils and evidence for life on Earth.
The remains are at least 3,770 million years old. Image: Matthew Dodd:University of Leeds
 

|| March 02: 2017: University of Leeds News || ά. Remains of micro-organisms at least 3,770 million years old have been discovered, providing direct evidence of one of the oldest life forms on Earth. An international research team has found tiny filaments and tubes formed by bacteria encased in quartz layers, which contain some of the oldest sedimentary rocks known on Earth. Their study, published yesterday in Nature, describes the discovery in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt:NSB, in Quebec, Canada. Study Co-author Dr Crispin Little, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, played an important role in determining that the filaments and tubes were made by biological organisms rather than through non-biological processes, such as temperature and pressure changes in the rock.

Dr Little said, "These fossils are made of haematite, a form of iron oxide or ‘rust’ and they have the same characteristic branching of iron-oxidising bacteria found near other hydrothermal vents today. The tubes and filaments were found inside structures, called, concretions, which are believed to be products biological decay. When we compared these specimens with those found in younger rocks from Norway, the Great Lakes area of North America and Western Australia, we found them to be mineralogically identical.

The fact that we found these fossils in the NSB, which is believed to have formed part of a habitat for Earth’s first life forms between 3,770 and 4,300 million years ago, suggests these are the remains of one of Earth’s oldest life forms." Prior to this discovery, the oldest microfossils reported were found in Western Australia and dated at 3,460 million years old but some scientists think they might be of non-biological origins.

The newly-discovered haematite structures were discovered alongside graphite and minerals such as apatite and carbonate, which are found in biological matter including bones and teeth and are frequently associated with fossils.

The researchers also found that the fossils co-occur with spheroidal formations, which usually contain fossils in younger rocks, suggesting that the NSB haematite most likely formed when bacteria that oxidised iron for energy were fossilised in the rock.

First Author Matthew Dodd, from UCL Earth Sciences and the London Centre for Nanotechnology, said, "Our discovery supports the idea that life emerged from hot, seafloor vents shortly after planet Earth formed. This speedy appearance of life on Earth fits with other evidence of recently discovered 3,700 million year old sedimentary mounds that were shaped by micro-organisms.

These discoveries demonstrate life developed on Earth at a time when Mars and Earth had liquid water at their surfaces, posing exciting questions for extra-terrestrial life. Therefore, we expect to find evidence for past life on Mars 4,000 million years ago, or if not, Earth may have been a special exception."
ω.

The Paper: ‘Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates’, by M.S. Dodd, D. Papineau, T. Grenne, J.F. Slack, M. Rittner, F. Pirajno, J. O’Neil, C.T.S. Little, is published online by Nature on Wednesday 1st March 2017 DOI: 10.1038/nature21377.

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South African Caves and Modern Humans: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Exhibition Showcases Groundbreaking Discoveries: The Exhibition Runs Throughout 2017

The view of the ocean from Pinnacle Point’s cave PP13B. At the time Middle Stone Age people lived
there, the ocean was several kilometres away.
 

|| February 25: 2017: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University: South Africa News || ά. Over the past decade, archaeologists have discovered critical information about our species in the caves along South Africa’s southern Cape coastline. Inter-disciplinary teams of researchers from Arizona State University in the United States, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and many other institutions have been collecting archaeological, botanical, geological, climate-related and other data in and around the Pinnacle Point caves near Mossel Bay, where it is believed that a small group of humans survived an Ice Age between 195,000 and 123,000 years ago and could very likely be the ancestors of everyone alive today.

They have also uncovered an array of evidence that suggests modern humans first developed intellectually along this space of coast: artefacts found show that they used fire to engineer weapons out of stone, used red ochre for purposes of decoration and perhaps even read the lunar cycles to know when the tides would be low enough to forage for shellfish. This advanced intellectual development may have played a key role in the survival of our species. These groundbreaking findings are now being showcased in a unique exhibition at NMMU, titled 'Point of Human Origin'. It was formally launched on February 13 at a closed event at the university’s Exhibition Centre on NMMU’s Second Avenue Campus and will be open to the public from February 14 until the end of the year.

The exhibition is based on the research undertaken through the South African Coast Palaeoclimate, Palaeoenvironment, Palaeoecology and Palaeoanthrolopology project:SACP4 project which is led by palaeoanthropologist Professor Curtis Marean, a world leader in his field, from the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation, Templeton Foundation, and Hyde Family Foundations, United States. Marean is an Honorary Professor at NMMU.

NMMU Botany Professor Richard Cowling, an internationally-acclaimed researcher, is a Co-principal Investigator in the project. In 2015, Cowling established the Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience at NMMU, which is linked to the SACP4 project.

What is also groundbreaking about the SACP4 project and likely to set a precedent for other major archaeological explorations, is that the research group is not just relying on its own limited understanding to tell the story about how things were. Instead, they are using advanced technology to recreate the palaeoscape, the ancient landscape, based on the archaeological artefacts they find, along with the flora and fauna in the area.

They then create a model of the behaviour of Stone Age humans by 'releasing' them as 'agents' within this computer-simulated landscape, checking how they may have gone about foraging for the available food resources.

“We are using the agent-based model to develop hypotheses about how people would have reacted to resources, how they would have obtained them, the success rates of their hunting, how they would have moved around, how many people would have lived and foraged in a 10km radius and the optimal group sizes for hunting.” said Cowling. “This is a very different approach and it is a world leader in that sense.”

A number of articles about SACP4 have been published in the world’s leading science publications, among them Science, Nature and Scientific American. The exhibition includes a recreation of part of Pinnacle Point’s cave PP13B, the handiwork of Bayworld exhibit builder Marvin Carstens, who has over 20 years’ experience in exhibit building, including being contracted by National Geographic and various museums and institutions, to design and create both static and interactive exhibitions.

For this exhibition, Carstens has also recreated a number of artefacts found in or near the caves, including the skull and horns of a prehistoric buffalo. Dr Erich C. Fisher, an Assistant Research Scientist at the Institute of Human Origins at ASU and an expert in archaeoinformatics, computational archaeology, provided many of the photographs on display as well as several videos. He also co-created the exhibition’s touch screen virtual tour of one of Pinnacle Point’s excavation sites.

Apart from photographs, information panels and video footage about the caves, visitors can access additional information via their mobile phones, at the exhibition’s 'augmented reality' points. Marean, Cowling, NMMU Dean of Arts Professor Rose Boswell as well as Dr Peter Nilssen, who co-discovered the caves, will participate in a panel discussion at the launch, in which they will debate how and why the human ability to co-operate evolved.

“There were so many people who all contributed passionately to this exhibition.” said exhibition curator Christelle Grobler, of NMMU’s Archives and Exhibition Centre.  The exhibition, housed at NMMU’s Exhibition and Archives Centre on the university’s Second Avenue Campus, is open to the public from 09:00-16:00 on Mondays to Fridays. The exhibition will run until the end of the year. ω.

On the image: researchers Professor Curtis Marean, a Palaeoanthropologist from Arizona State University and Honorary Professor at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, together with Professor Richard Cowling and Dr Alastair Potts, Director and National Deputy-Director of NMMU’s Centre for Coastal Palaeoscience, provided extensive research content for NMMU’s. Point of Human Origins'  exhibition. Images: NMMU

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What Would You Find If You Went to a Museum in Some North American Country: A 400 Million Year Old Gigantic Extinct Monster Worm

An artistic reconstruction showing Websteroprion armstrongi attacking a fish in the Devonian sea: Left: Right: Photograph showing the holotype of armstrongi.
Image: Left: Luke Parry: Right: James Ormiston
 

|| February 21: 2017: University of Bristol News || ά. A previously undiscovered species of an extinct primordial giant worm with terrifying snapping jaws has been identified by an international team of scientists. Researchers from the University of Bristol, Lund University in Sweden and the Royal Ontario Museum studied an ancient fossil, which has been stored at the museum since the mid-1990s and discovered the remains of a giant extinct bristle worm, the marine relatives of earthworms and leeches. The findings are published today in Scientific Reports.

The new species is unique among fossil worms and possessed the largest jaws ever recorded in this type of creature, reaching over one centimetre in length and easily visible to the naked eye. Typically, such fossil jaws are only a few millimetres in size and need to be studied using microscopes. Despite being only knows from the jaws, comparison with living species suggests that this animal achieved a body length in excess of a metre. This is comparable to that of 'giant eunicid' species, colloquially referred to as 'Bobbit worms', which are fearsome and opportunistic ambush predators, using their powerful jaws to capture prey such as fish and cephalopods, squids and octopuses and dragging them into their burrows.

Lead author Mats Eriksson from Lund University said, "Gigantism in animals is an alluring and ecologically important trait, usually associated with advantages and competitive dominance. It is, however, a poorly understood phenomenon among marine worms and has never before been demonstrated in a fossil species. The new species demonstrates a unique case of polychaete gigantism in the Palaeozoic, some 400 million years ago."

Co-author Luke Parry from the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, added, "It also shows that gigantism in jaw-bearing polychaetes was restricted to one particular evolutionary clade within the Eunicida and has evolved many times in different species."

The specimens were collected over the course of a few hours in a single day in June 1994, when Derek K Armstrong of Ontario Geological Survey was dropped by helicopter to investigate the rocks and fossils at a remote and temporary exposure in Ontario. Sample materials, from what proved to belong to the Devonian Kwataboahegan Formation, were brought back to the Royal Ontario Museum, where they have been stored until they caught the eyes of the authors.

David Rudkin from the museum said, "This is an excellent example of the importance of looking in remote and unexplored areas for finding new exciting things but also the importance of scrutinising museum collections for overlooked gems."

The species has been named Websteroprion armstrongi. This honours Armstrong, who collected the material and bass player Alex Webster of Death Metal band Cannibal Corpse, since he can be regarded as a ‘giant’ when it comes to handling his instrument.

Luke Parry said, "This is fitting also, since, beside our appetite for evolution and paleontology, all three authors have a profound interest in music and are keen amateur musicians."

Paper: 'Earth’s oldest 'Bobbit worm': gigantism in a Devonian eunicidan polychaete' by Mats E. Eriksson, Luke A. Parry & David M. Rudkin in Scientific Reports. ω.

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Ancient Fossil Reveals the First Evidence of Live Birth in Animals Thought to Lay Eggs

Reconstruction of Dinocephalosaurus showing the rough position of the embryo
within the mother Dinghua Yang
 

|| February 14: 2017: University of Bristol News || ά. The first ever evidence of live birth in an animal group previously thought to lay eggs exclusively has been discovered by an international team of scientists, including a palaeontologist from the University of Bristol. The remarkable 250 million-year-old fossil from China shows an embryo inside the mother. Live birth is well known in mammals, where the mother has a placenta to nourish the developing embryo. It is also very common among lizards and snakes, where the babies sometimes 'hatch' inside their mother and emerge without a shelled egg.

Until recently, the third major group of living land vertebrates, the crocodiles and birds, part of the wider group Archosauromorpha, only laid eggs. Egg laying is the primitive state, seen at the base of reptiles, and in their ancestors such as amphibians and fishes. The new fossil is an unusual, long-necked animal called Dinocephalosaurus, an archosauromorph that flourished in shallow seas of South China in the Middle Triassic. It was a fish-eater, snaking its long neck from side to side to snatch its prey.

The embryo is inside the rib cage of the mother, and it faces forward. Swallowed animals generally face backward because the predator swallows its prey head-first to help it go down its throat. Furthermore, the small reptile inside the mother is an example of the same species. Lead Author of the study, Professor Jun Liu from Hefei University of Technology in China, said, "We were so excited when we first saw this embryonic specimen several years ago but we were not sure if the embryonic specimen is the last lunch of the mother or its unborn baby.

Upon further preparation and closer inspection, we realised that something unusual has been discovered. Further evolutionary analysis reveals the first case of live birth in such a wide group containing birds, crocodilians, dinosaurs and pterosaurs among others and pushes back evidence of reproductive biology in the group by 50 million years. Information on reproductive biology of archosauromorphs before the Jurassic period was not available until our discovery, despite a history of 260 million years."

Evolutionary analysis shows that this instance of live birth was also associated with genetic sex determination. Professor Chris Organ, another author from Montana State University, added, "Some reptiles today, such as crocodiles, determine the sex of their offspring by the temperature inside the nest. We identified that Dinocephalosaurus, a distant ancestor of crocodiles, determined the sex of its babies genetically, like mammals and birds."

This new specimen from China rewrites our understanding of the evolution of reproductive systems. Professor Mike Benton, another Co-author from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, said, "The analysis of the evolutionary position of the new specimens shows there is no fundamental reason why archosauromorphs could not have evolved live birth.

This combination of live birth and genotypic sex determination seems to have been necessary for animals such as Dinocephalosaurus to become aquatic. It’s great to see such an important step forward in our understanding of the evolution of a major group coming from a chance fossil find in a Chinese field."

This piece of work is part of wider collaborations between palaeontologists in China, the United States, the UK and Australia.

Paper: 'Live birth in an archosauromorph reptile' by J. Liu, CL Organ, MJ Benton, MC Brandley and JC Aitchison in Nature Communications. ω.

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Ancient DNA Shows Genetic Continuity Between Stone Age and Modern Populations in East Asia

Right: Exterior of Devil’s Gate, the cave in the Primorye region near the far eastern coast of Russia.
Left: One of the skulls found in the Devil’s Gate cave from which ancient DNA used
in the study was extracted. Image: Elizaveta Veselovskaya:Yuriy Chernyavskiy
 

|| February 02: 2017: University of Cambridge News || ά. In contrast to Western Europeans, new research finds contemporary East Asians are genetically much closer to the ancient hunter-gatherers that lived in the same region eight thousand years previously. Researchers working on ancient DNA extracted from human remains interred almost 8,000 years ago in a cave in the Russian Far East have found that the genetic makeup of certain modern East Asian populations closely resemble that of their hunter-gatherer ancestors. The study, published today in the journal Science Advances, is the first to obtain nuclear genome data from ancient mainland East Asia and compare the results to modern populations.

The findings indicate that there was no major migratory interruption or 'population turnover', for well over seven millennia. Consequently, some contemporary ethnic groups share a remarkable genetic similarity to Stone Age hunters that once roamed the same region. The high 'genetic continuity' in East Asia is in stark contrast to most of Western Europe, where sustained migrations of early farmers from the Levant overwhelmed hunter-gatherer populations. This was followed by a wave of horse riders from Central Asia during the Bronze Age. These events were likely driven by the success of emerging technologies such as agriculture and metallurgy

The new research shows that, at least for part of East Asia, the story differs, with little genetic disruption in populations since the early Neolithic period. Despite being separated by a vast expanse of history, this has allowed an exceptional genetic proximity between the Ulchi people of the Amur Basin, near where Russia borders China and North Korea and the ancient hunter-gatherers laid to rest in a cave close to the Ulchi’s native land.

The researchers suggest that the sheer scale of East Asia and dramatic variations in its climate may have prevented the sweeping influence of Neolithic agriculture and the accompanying migrations that replaced hunter-gatherers across much of Europe. They note that the Ulchi retained their hunter-fisher-gatherer lifestyle until recent times.

“Genetically speaking, the populations across northern East Asia have changed very little for around eight millennia.” said senior author Andrea Manica from the University of Cambridge, who conducted the work with an international team, including colleagues from Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Korea  and Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin in Ireland.

“Once we accounted for some local intermingling, the Ulchi and the ancient hunter-gatherers appeared to be almost the same population from a genetic point of view, even though there are thousands of years between them.” The new study also provides further support for the ‘dual origin’ theory of modern Japanese populations: that they descend from a combination of hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists that eventually brought wet rice farming from southern China. A similar pattern is also found in neighbouring Koreans, who are genetically very close to Japanese.

However, Manica says that much more DNA data from Neolithic China is required to pinpoint the origin of the agriculturalists involved in this mixture. The team from Trinity College Dublin were responsible for extracting DNA from the remains, which were found in a cave known as Devil’s Gate. Situated in a mountainous area close to the far eastern coast of Russia that faces northern Japan, the cave was first excavated by a soviet team in 1973.

Along with hundreds of stone and bone tools, the carbonised wood of a former dwelling, and woven wild grass that is one of the earliest examples of a textile, were the incomplete bodies of five humans.

If ancient DNA can be found in sufficiently preserved remains, sequencing it involves sifting through the contamination of millennia. The best samples for analysis from Devil’s Gate were obtained from the skulls of two females: one in her early twenties, the other close to fifty. The site itself dates back over 9,000 years, but the two women are estimated to have died around 7,700 years ago.

Researchers were able to glean the most from the middle-aged woman. Her DNA revealed she likely had brown eyes and thick, straight hair. She almost certainly lacked the ability to tolerate lactose, but was unlikely to have suffered from ‘alcohol flush’: the skin reaction to alcohol now common across East Asia.  While the Devil’s Gate samples show high genetic affinity to the Ulchi, fishermen from the same area who speak the Tungusic language, they are also close to other Tungusic-speaking populations in present day China, such as the Oroqen and Hezhen.

“These are ethnic groups with traditional societies and deep roots across eastern Russia and China, whose culture, language and populations are rapidly dwindling.” added lead author Veronika Siska, also from Cambridge. “Our work suggests that these groups form a strong genetic lineage descending directly from the early Neolithic hunter-gatherers who inhabited the same region thousands of years previously.” ω.

: Creative Commons License: The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above:

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Where are You Setting Off to, Diplodocus: Don't Worry About It: It's a Long Way Off in 2018

Image: Bournemouth University



|| December 12: 2016: Bournemouth University News || ά. One of the most famous attractions at the Natural History Museum, the skeleton of a Diplodocus dinosaur, affectionately nicknamed, Dippy, is set to be a-visiting Dorset as part of a tour of the UK, with Bournemouth University supporting the education programme as a part of the tour.

Dorset will be the first stop on the tour for the Diplodocus, where Dippy will be housed at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester. Bournemouth University staff and students will have the unique opportunity to work with the famous dinosaur skeleton. Dippy on Tour: A Natural History Adventure will be a free exhibition and open to the public between February and May 2018 at the museum, with pre-booking advised due to the dinosaur’s popularity.

Naomi Capell, Outreach Officer at Bournemouth University, said, “We are very excited to be involved with Dippy on Tour: A Natural History Adventure when Dippy comes to Dorset in 2018. This is a tremendous opportunity to engage our students and the local community with Dippy and the Jurassic Coast.

We’ve been working with the Jurassic Coast education team for many years now delivering and supporting activities and workshops to engage school pupils and their teachers with the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Dippy presents new opportunities for us to get creative about sharing our enthusiasm for palaeontology. One of our first projects will be a Dippy-based animation competition!”

Dippy measures 21 metres long and more than four metres high and first arrived in London in 1905. The skeleton will also make a temporary home at seven other locations across the country as a part of the tour.

Dr Jon Murden, Director of Dorset County Museum, said, “We are so excited to be welcoming Dippy to the heart of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. As the birthplace of palaeontology, there is nowhere in the UK more appropriate for Dippy to start his national tour than Dorset and we’re thrilled to have been chosen as the first host venue.

Dippy will help draw new visitors to see our internationally important fossil collections, which I’m sure will inspire the next generation of scientists.” More information about the exhibition can be found on the Dorset County Museum. ω.

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Silence of Centuries Speak: The Vilnius Child: How Did Death Arrive and Life Depart

Smallpox virus found in a child’s mummy changes our view of the history of the killer disease. Not much is known about the child mummy in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius. The child was less than five years old, and, based on radio carbon dating, died some time between 1643 and 1665. Kuva: KC

|| December 09: 2016: University of Helsinki News: Päivi Lehtinen Writing || ά. An international group of researchers has managed to isolate the genetic material of the smallpox virus from the mummy of a Lithuanian child who died in the 17th century, and the genome of the virus has now been sequenced. These results raise new questions regarding the role smallpox has played in the history of the human race.

Smallpox is among the most destructive illnesses in the history of humanity, and the first, and so far the only, contagious disease which has been completely eradicated through vaccines. The history of the disease has been claimed to reach back millennia, into ancient Egypt, India and China, while other studies have suggested that the variola virus, VARV which causes smallpox emerged much later. A new study by an international group of researchers, published in Current Biology, supports the hypothesis that smallpox is a relatively recent killer which has mainly evolved during recorded history, not thousands of years ago.

Researchers discovered DNA of the smallpox virus in the remains of a child who died in the 17th century. The child was one of several mummified corpses found in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius. The DNA of the virus was badly fragmented, but the researchers succeeded in reconstructing an entire smallpox virus.

“This is the oldest smallpox virus on which we have been able to conduct genome sequencing.” explains postdoctoral researcher Maria Perdomo from the University of Helsinki, who conducted most of the analyses on the samples. The analysis was carried out in the Ancient DNA research facility at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

According to professors Klaus Hedman and Antti Sajantila, the discovery of smallpox DNA first worried the researchers. “Had we found a live, virulent virus, we would have immediately halted the study. However, the virus genomes were very fragmented, and there is no risk of infection. The WHO gave us clearance to proceed with the study, so we were able to further investigate the evolutionary history of the smallpox virus.”

When the researchers compared the genome of the virus found in the child mummy with the smallpox strains from 1940–1977 stored in databanks, they found a surprising fact: the shared ancestral form of all known smallpox viruses is from approximately 1580. “In light of this discovery, it is possible that the variola virus is a relatively recent killer and not, as has been thought, the reason for the death of Pharaoh Ramesses V in 1145 BCE.” state the researchers.

According to Professor Hendrik Poinar, evolutionary geneticist who leads the Ancient DNA Centre at McMaster University, the new results provide new interesting perspectives for the discussion on the age and origin of the smallpox virus as well as its role in the history of humanity.

The fight against smallpox in the Western world began at the turn of the 19th century with the vaccine developed by Edward Jenner. In Finland, the first extensive vaccination efforts took place in 1802. Researchers have been interested in how a pathogen such as the smallpox virus reacted to its diminishing habitat due to vaccinations.

The results indicate that after inoculations began, the smallpox virus evolved into two parallel strains. Of these, Variola major is the more virulent, and is associated with a death rate of around thirty per cent. Meanwhile, approximately one in every hundred people to contract Variola minor died. On the other hand, since V minor was less homicidal than its cousin, it was more efficiently transmitted through the population. The global spread of V minor seems to have been further boosted by the transatlantic slave trade. In the early 20th century, V minor had become the dominant strain of smallpox.

In 1980, the WHO declared smallpox eradicated from the globe. The study was published in Current Biology on 8 December 2016, and involved researchers from Finland, Canada, Lithuania, Australia, the United States, England and France.

In addition to smallpox, the corpses in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Spirit yielded other human viruses, and there is a great deal of data to analyse. Dario Piombino-Mascali, who specialises in the study of human mummies at the University of Vilnius, believes that research will uncover many highly interesting findings.

“We should be grateful to these unnamed dead people, who are telling their stories from centuries past.” he says. The University of Helsinki researchers describe archaeovirology as a time machine which offers glimpses into a different world, far in humanity's past.

“Our modern methods may unearth hitherto unknown pathogens from our past, perhaps ones that disappeared millennia ago. This means completely new kind of information on why viruses are born, how they develop, what kinds of environments they need to remain vital and what kinds will destroy them.“ Has there ever been a virus so deadly that it has dragged entire villages or even nations into the grave?”

“Perhaps one day we will be able to compare the viruses in Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis.” says an optimistic Professor Hedman. What benefit is there in studying ancient viruses? Is there business potential here? “This is groundbreaking basic research that goes to the very origins of information. We don’t yet know what it is possible to discover through our work, and what the benefit from our discoveries will be.” replies Professor Sajantila. “In the 1960s, President Kennedy was asked why he wanted to study space and try to get to the Moon." Hedman points out.

More information: Professor Klaus Hedman, puh. +358 50 4482801, klaus.hedman at helsinki.fi
Professor Antti Sajantila, puh. +358 400 605205, antti.sajantila at helsinki.fi
Postdoctoral Researcher Maria Perdomo, puh. +358 50 4482846, maria.perdomo at helsinki.fi

Reference: Ana T. Duggan, Maria F. Perdomo, Dario Piombino-Mascali, Stephanie Marciniak, Debi Poinar, Matthew V. Emery, Jan P. Buchmann, Sebastian Duchéne, Rimantas Jankauskas, Margaret Humphreys, G. Brian Golding, John Southon, Alison Devault, Jean-Marie Rouillard, Jason W. Sahl, Olivier Dutour, Klaus Hedman, Antti Sajantila, Geoffrey L. Smith, Edward C. Holmes, and Hendrik N. Poinar: 17th Century Variola Virus Reveals the Recent History of Smallpox. Current Biology. 8th Dec, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2016.10.061:ω.

Whatever Your Field of Work and Wherever in the World You are, Please, Make a Choice to Do All You Can to Seek and Demand the End of Death Penalty For It is Your Business What is Done in Your Name. The Law That Makes Humans Take Part in Taking Human Lives and That Permits and Kills Human Lives is No Law. It is the Rule of the Jungle Where Law Does Not Exist. The Humanion

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The Genetics of the Irish 'Giants'

Well, The Humanion does not have any image of any Irish
Folklore's Giant but we have one of this other kind of Irish Giant

 

|| October 16: 2016: University of Exeter News || ά. Scientists at the University of Exeter Medical School were part of genetics research which could help explain the legend of giants in Irish folklore. The study, led by Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, in collaboration with the universities of Exeter, Belfast and Dublin and University College London as well as 17 other Institutions, studied patients with the hormonal disorder acromegaly and tested DNA samples from the general public to identify carriers of a gene predisposing to childhood-onset acromegaly often leading to gigantism.

They undertook an ambitious and widely collaborative study, enlisting the invaluable help of patients and the general public to set the study up in Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. They identified a particular mutation in Irish patients and now searched for carriers of this gene in Ireland. The frequency of the AIP mutation, R304, was found to be surprisingly high in Mid-Ulster, Northern Ireland. The data suggest that all Irish patients with this particular mutations, 18 families and 81 carriers, are descendants from the same ancestor, who lived in the area 2,500 years ago.

Out of the identified 81 carriers 31 had developed acromegaly and over half of these had gigantism, 18 patients, 58%. The clinical importance of this study is that we can now screen family members and carriers can be followed to pick disease up early. Our larger study has showed that 24% of seemingly unaffected gene carriers in fact have early signs of acromegaly, and some were immediately operated as a result of the genetic screening process.

This study may also give a scientific explanation for the numerous Gaelic myth of giants in Ireland, where the Giant causeway and the legend of the creation of a lake is strongly linked to giants. In modern history, famous Irish giants include Charles Byrne whose skeleton in the Hunterian Museum, London was studied and DNA sample showed he also carries the same mutation. There is data available of numerous giants living in this area over the last centuries such as Mary Murphy, the ‘Portrush Giantess’ and James Kirkland, one of the ‘Potsdam Giants’, making this data support a colourful story.

Professor Sian Ellard, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who collaborated on the research said: “Irish folklore has numerous stories regarding Irish giants and the remains of some of these giants have been studied in the past. Our data provides an explanation for the observation made by the pioneering anthropologist James C. Prichard in 1826.”

Prichard wrote: “In Ireland men of uncommon stature are often seen, and even a gigantic form and stature occur there much more frequently than in this island, Britain . . . We can hardly avoid the conclusion that there must be some peculiarity in Ireland which gives rise to these phenomena.”

Importantly, the prediction that 436 carriers and 86 affected individuals may be undiagnosed and alive today in Ireland, or elsewhere among people with Irish ancestors, mean that we may be able in many patients to prevent the onset of gigantism and prevent the premature mortality associated with this potentially severely disfiguring condition.

The paper, entitled Increased Population Risk of AIP-Related Acromegaly and Gigantism in Ireland, was led by Márta Korbonits, at Barts and the London School of Medicine, was published in the journal Human Mutation. It was written by Radian, S., Diekmann, Y., Gabrovska, P., Holland, B., Bradley, L., Wallace, H., Stals, K., Bussell, A.M., McGurren, K., Cuesta, M., Ryan, A.W., Herincs, M., Hernandez-Ramirez, L.C., Holland, A., Samuels, J., Aflorei, E.D., Barry, S., Denes, J., Pernicova, I., Stiles, C.E., Trivellin, G., McCloskey, R., Ajzensztejn, M., Abid, N., Akker, S.A., Mercado, M., Cohen, M., Thakker, R.V., Baldeweg, S., Barkan, A., Musat, M., Levy, M., Orme, S.M., Unterlander, M., Burger, J., Kumar, A.V., Ellard, S., McPartlin, J., McManus, R., Linden, G.J., Atkinson, B., Balding, D.J., Agha, A., Thompson, C.J., Hunter, S.J., Thomas, M.G., Morrison, P.J. & Korbonits, M. Read the full article here. ω.

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Identify Yourself, Diminutive Creature: I am the Pterosaur, Sir

Artist’s impression of the small-bodied, Late Cretaceous azhdarchoid pterosaur
from British Columbia. Image: Mark Witton

 

|| September 25: 2016: University of Portsmouth News|| ά. A pterosaur expert from the University of Portsmouth has helped to identify the 77-million-year-old fossil of a small-bodied flying reptile that could shed new light on life in the Late Cretaceous period. Dr Mark Witton, of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, analysed fossil fragments discovered in British Columbia, Canada, in collaboration with Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone, a palaeobiology PhD student at the University of Southampton, and colleagues from North Carolina State University and the University of Alberta.

Pterosaurs are the earliest vertebrates known to have evolved powered flight, but this specimen, with a wingspan of 01.5 metres, is significant as previous studies suggest that skies at the end of the Cretaceous period were only occupied by much larger pterosaur species and birds. The end of the Cretaceous saw the evolution of the largest flying reptiles of all time, with wingspans of up to 11 metres. The biggest was as large as a giraffe, with the wingspan of a small plane.

This new finding, reported in the Royal Society journal Open Science, provides crucial information about the diversity, size range and success of Late Cretaceous pterosaurs. Dr Witton said: “The specimen is far from the prettiest or most complete pterosaur fossil you’ll ever see, but it’s still an exciting and significant find.

It’s rare to find pterosaur fossils at all because their skeletons were lightweight and easily damaged once they died, and the small ones are the rarest of all. But luck was on our side and several bones of this animal survived the preservation process. Happily, enough of the specimen was recovered to determine the approximate age of the pterosaur at the time of its death.

By examining its internal bone structure and the fusion of its vertebrae we could see that, despite its small size, the animal was almost fully grown. The specimen, thus, seems to be a genuinely small species, and not just a baby or juvenile of a larger pterosaur type.”

The fossils of this animal are the first associated remains of a small pterosaur from this time. They comprise a humerus, dorsal vertebrae, including three fused notarial vertebrae and other fragments. They are the first to be positively identified from British Columbia and have been identified as belonging to an azhdarchoid pterosaur, a group of short-winged and toothless flying reptiles which dominated the final phase of pterosaur evolution.

Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone commented: “This new pterosaur is exciting because it suggests that small pterosaurs were present all the way until the end of the Cretaceous, and weren’t outcompeted by birds. The hollow bones of pterosaurs are notoriously poorly preserved, and larger animals seem to be preferentially preserved in similarly aged Late Cretaceous ecosystems of North America. This suggests that a small pterosaur would very rarely be preserved, but not necessarily that they didn’t exist.”

The fossil fragments were found on Hornby Island in 2009 by a collector and volunteer from the Royal British Columbia Museum, who donated them to the Museum.

The fragments were then given to Victoria Arbour, a dinosaur expert at the University of Alberta. Later, as a postdoctoral researcher at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, she got in touch with Elizabeth, and the Royal British Columbia Museum sent the specimen for analysis.

The study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. ω.

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|| All copyrights @ The Humanion: London: England: United Kingdom || Contact: The Humanion: editor at thehumanion.com || Regine Humanics Foundation Ltd: reginehumanics at reginehumanicsfoundation.com || Editor: Munayem Mayenin || First Published: September 24: 2015 ||
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