SciCombinator

Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

517

The origins of many large-scale ‘biogenic’ earthen structures are controversial, because often the species that built them have vanished. This is especially true when they form regular (over-dispersed), self-organized vegetation patterns [1]. Here, we describe a vast array of soil mounds constructed by termites (Syntermes dirus) that has persisted for up to 4000 years and covers an estimated 230,000 km2 of seasonally dry tropical forest in a relatively undisturbed and climatically stable region of Northeast Brazil. The mounds are not nests, but rather they are generated by the excavation of vast inter-connecting tunnel networks, resulting in approximately 10 km3 of soil being deposited in 200 million conical mounds that are 2.5 m tall and approximately 9 m in diameter. S. dirus termites are still present in the soil surrounding the mounds and we found that intra-specific aggression occurred at a scale much larger than an individual mound. We suggest that the complex network of tunnels built to access episodic leaf-fall has allowed for the optimization of waste soil removal, which over thousands of years has formed an over-dispersed spatial pattern of mounds.

504

Game of Thrones is a popular television series known for its violent and graphic portrayal of the deaths of its characters. This study aimed to examine the mortality and survival of important characters in Game of Thrones.

478

Epigenetic reprogramming in cancer genomes creates a distinct methylation landscape encompassing clustered methylation at regulatory regions separated by large intergenic tracks of hypomethylated regions. This methylation landscape that we referred to as Methylscape is displayed by most cancer types, thus may serve as a universal cancer biomarker. To-date most research has focused on the biological consequences of DNA Methylscape changes whereas its impact on DNA physicochemical properties remains unexplored. Herein, we examine the effect of levels and genomic distribution of methylcytosines on the physicochemical properties of DNA to detect the Methylscape biomarker. We find that DNA polymeric behaviour is strongly affected by differential patterning of methylcytosine, leading to fundamental differences in DNA solvation and DNA-gold affinity between cancerous and normal genomes. We exploit these Methylscape differences to develop simple, highly sensitive and selective electrochemical or colorimetric one-step assays for the detection of cancer. These assays are quick, i.e., analysis time ≤10 minutes, and require minimal sample preparation and small DNA input.

474

To assess the association between intake of non-sugar sweeteners (NSS) and important health outcomes in generally healthy or overweight/obese adults and children.

464

Higher intake of marine n-3 (also called omega-3) fatty acids has been associated with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer in several observational studies. Whether supplementation with n-3 fatty acids has such effects in general populations at usual risk for these end points is unclear.

444

The Global Gender Gap Index is one of the best-known measures of national gender inequality, used by both academics and policy makers. We argue that that this measure has a number of problems and introduce a simpler measure of national levels of gender inequality. Our proposed measure is based on sex differences in the opportunity to lead a long healthy and satisfied life that is grounded on educational opportunities. The measure better captures variation in gender inequality than other measures, with inclusion of outcomes that can be favorable or unfavorable to either sex, not simply unfavorable to women. We focus on some of the most basic measures available for 134 countries from 2012-2016 (i.e., disadvantages in children’s basic education, life satisfaction, and healthy life span) and we relate these to various measures, including the United Nations' Human Development Index. We found that low levels of human development are typically associated with disadvantages for girls and women, while medium and high levels of development are typically associated with disadvantages for boys and men. Countries with the highest levels of human development are closest to gender parity, albeit typically with a slight advantage for women. We argue that the disparities, when they are found, are related to the sexual division of labor (i.e., traditional gender roles) in poorly developed countries as well as the underinvestment in preventative health care in more developed nations.

441

Natural hair colour within European populations is a complex genetic trait. Previous work has established that MC1R variants are the principal genetic cause of red hair colour, but with variable penetrance. Here, we have extensively mapped the genes responsible for hair colour in the white, British ancestry, participants in UK Biobank. MC1R only explains 73% of the SNP heritability for red hair in UK Biobank, and in fact most individuals with two MC1R variants have blonde or light brown hair. We identify other genes contributing to red hair, the combined effect of which accounts for ~90% of the SNP heritability. Blonde hair is associated with over 200 genetic variants and we find a continuum from black through dark and light brown to blonde and account for 73% of the SNP heritability of blonde hair. Many of the associated genes are involved in hair growth or texture, emphasising the cellular connections between keratinocytes and melanocytes in the determination of hair colour.

429

To examine the association between intellectual engagement and cognitive ability in later life, and determine whether the maintenance of intellectual engagement will offset age related cognitive decline.

418

Rapid growth in world trade has enabled transnational criminal networks to conceal their contraband among the 1 billion containers shipped worldwide annually. Forensic methods are needed to identify the major cartels moving the contraband into transit. We combine DNA-based sample matching and geographic assignment of tusks to show that the two tusks from the same elephant are often shipped by the same trafficker in separate large consignments of ivory. The paired shipments occur close in time from the same initial place of export and have high overlap in the geographic origins of their tusks. Collectively, these paired shipments form a linked chain that reflects the sizes, interconnectedness, and places of operation of Africa’s largest ivory smuggling cartels.

411

Persons with motor complete spinal cord injury, signifying no voluntary movement or sphincter function below the level of injury but including retention of some sensation, do not recover independent walking. We tested intense locomotor treadmill training with weight support and simultaneous spinal cord epidural stimulation in four patients 2.5 to 3.3 years after traumatic spinal injury and after failure to improve with locomotor training alone. Two patients, one with damage to the mid-cervical region and one with damage to the high-thoracic region, achieved over-ground walking (not on a treadmill) after 278 sessions of epidural stimulation and gait training over a period of 85 weeks and 81 sessions over a period of 15 weeks, respectively, and all four achieved independent standing and trunk stability. One patient had a hip fracture during training. (Funded by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and others; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT02339233 .).