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The highly derived morphology and astounding diversity of snakes has long inspired debate regarding the ecological and evolutionary origin of both the snake total-group (Pan-Serpentes) and crown snakes (Serpentes). Although speculation abounds on the ecology, behavior, and provenance of the earliest snakes, a rigorous, clade-wide analysis of snake origins has yet to be attempted, in part due to a dearth of adequate paleontological data on early stem snakes. Here, we present the first comprehensive analytical reconstruction of the ancestor of crown snakes and the ancestor of the snake total-group, as inferred using multiple methods of ancestral state reconstruction. We use a combined-data approach that includes new information from the fossil record on extinct crown snakes, new data on the anatomy of the stem snakes Najash rionegrina, Dinilysia patagonica, and Coniophis precedens, and a deeper understanding of the distribution of phenotypic apomorphies among the major clades of fossil and Recent snakes. Additionally, we infer time-calibrated phylogenies using both new ‘tip-dating’ and traditional node-based approaches, providing new insights on temporal patterns in the early evolutionary history of snakes.


Open science describes the practice of carrying out scientific research in a completely transparent manner, and making the results of that research available to everyone. Isn’t that just ‘science’?


In this study, scaling, polishing and daily tooth brushing were performed in 20 beagle dogs, and the number of oral bacteria was determined using a bacterial counter. The dogs were randomized into the scaling (S), scaling + polishing (SP), scaling + tooth daily brushing (SB) and scaling + polishing + tooth daily brushing (SPB) groups. Samples were collected from the buccal surface of the maxillary fourth premolars of the dogs immediately after scaling and every week thereafter from weeks 1 to 8. Throughout the study, the number of bacteria was significantly lower in the SB and SPB groups compared with the S group. The findings suggest that daily tooth brushing inhibited oral bacterial growth in the dogs.


A northern Gulf of Mexico (GoM) cetacean unusual mortality event (UME) involving primarily bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama began in February 2010 and continued into 2014. Overlapping in time and space with this UME was the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, which was proposed as a contributing cause of adrenal disease, lung disease, and poor health in live dolphins examined during 2011 in Barataria Bay, Louisiana. To assess potential contributing factors and causes of deaths for stranded UME dolphins from June 2010 through December 2012, lung and adrenal gland tissues were histologically evaluated from 46 fresh dead non-perinatal carcasses that stranded in Louisiana (including 22 from Barataria Bay), Mississippi, and Alabama. UME dolphins were tested for evidence of biotoxicosis, morbillivirus infection, and brucellosis. Results were compared to up to 106 fresh dead stranded dolphins from outside the UME area or prior to the DWH spill. UME dolphins were more likely to have primary bacterial pneumonia (22% compared to 2% in non-UME dolphins, P = .003) and thin adrenal cortices (33% compared to 7% in non-UME dolphins, P = .003). In 70% of UME dolphins with primary bacterial pneumonia, the condition either caused or contributed significantly to death. Brucellosis and morbillivirus infections were detected in 7% and 11% of UME dolphins, respectively, and biotoxin levels were low or below the detection limit, indicating that these were not primary causes of the current UME. The rare, life-threatening, and chronic adrenal gland and lung diseases identified in stranded UME dolphins are consistent with exposure to petroleum compounds as seen in other mammals. Exposure of dolphins to elevated petroleum compounds present in coastal GoM waters during and after the DWH oil spill is proposed as a cause of adrenal and lung disease and as a contributor to increased dolphin deaths.


Human evolutionary scholars have long supposed that the earliest stone tools were made by the genus Homo and that this technological development was directly linked to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands. New fieldwork in West Turkana, Kenya, has identified evidence of much earlier hominin technological behaviour. We report the discovery of Lomekwi 3, a 3.3-million-year-old archaeological site where in situ stone artefacts occur in spatiotemporal association with Pliocene hominin fossils in a wooded palaeoenvironment. The Lomekwi 3 knappers, with a developing understanding of stone’s fracture properties, combined core reduction with battering activities. Given the implications of the Lomekwi 3 assemblage for models aiming to converge environmental change, hominin evolution and technological origins, we propose for it the name ‘Lomekwian’, which predates the Oldowan by 700,000 years and marks a new beginning to the known archaeological record.


Benzylisoquinoline alkaloids (BIAs) are a diverse family of plant-specialized metabolites that include the pharmaceuticals codeine and morphine and their derivatives. Microbial synthesis of BIAs holds promise as an alternative to traditional crop-based manufacturing. Here we demonstrate the production of the key BIA intermediate (S)-reticuline from glucose in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. To aid in this effort, we developed an enzyme-coupled biosensor for the upstream intermediate L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (L-DOPA). Using this sensor, we identified an active tyrosine hydroxylase and improved its L-DOPA yields by 2.8-fold via PCR mutagenesis. Coexpression of DOPA decarboxylase enabled what is to our knowledge the first demonstration of dopamine production from glucose in yeast, with a 7.4-fold improvement in titer obtained for our best mutant enzyme. We extended this pathway to fully reconstitute the seven-enzyme pathway from L-tyrosine to (S)-reticuline. Future work to improve titers and connect these steps with downstream pathway branches, already demonstrated in S. cerevisiae, will enable low-cost production of many high-value BIAs.


To determine the association between use of lipid lowering drugs (statin or fibrate) in older people with no known history of vascular events and long term risk of coronary heart disease and stroke


There is a paucity of information on secular trends in the age-related process by which people develop overweight or obesity. Utilizing longitudinal data in the United Kingdom birth cohort studies, we investigated shifts over the past nearly 70 years in the distribution of body mass index (BMI) and development of overweight or obesity across childhood and adulthood.


There has been an intense discussion among the public about the colour of a dress, shown in a picture posted originally on Tumblr (; accessed on 10:56 am GMT on Tue 24 Mar 2015). Some people argue that they see a white dress with golden lace, while others describe the dress as blue with black lace. Here we show that the question “what colour is the dress?” has more than two answers. In fact, there is a continuum of colour percepts across different observers. We measured colour matches on a calibrated screen for two groups of observers who had reported different percepts of the dress. Surprisingly, differences between the two groups arose mainly from differences in lightness, rather than chromaticity of the colours they adjusted to match the dress. We speculate that the ambiguity arises in the case of this particular image because the distribution of colours within the dress closely matches the distribution of natural daylights. This makes it more difficult to disambiguate illumination changes from those in reflectance.


Despite all modern advances in medicine, an effective drug treatment of obesity has not been found yet. Discovery of leptin two decades ago created hopes for treatment of obesity. However, development of leptin resistance has been a big obstacle, mitigating a leptin-centric treatment of obesity. Here, by using in silico drug-screening methods, we discovered that Celastrol, a pentacyclic triterpene extracted from the roots of Tripterygium Wilfordi (thunder god vine) plant, is a powerful anti-obesity agent. Celastrol suppresses food intake, blocks reduction of energy expenditure, and leads to up to 45% weight loss in hyperleptinemic diet-induced obese (DIO) mice by increasing leptin sensitivity, but it is ineffective in leptin-deficient (ob/ob) and leptin receptor-deficient (db/db) mouse models. These results indicate that Celastrol is a leptin sensitizer and a promising agent for the pharmacological treatment of obesity.