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Journal: Communications biology


Ancient remains found in permafrost represent a rare opportunity to study past ecosystems. Here, we present an exceptionally well-preserved ancient bird carcass found in the Siberian permafrost, along with a radiocarbon date and a reconstruction of its complete mitochondrial genome. The carcass was radiocarbon dated to approximately 44-49 ka BP, and was genetically identified as a female horned lark. This is a species that usually inhabits open habitat, such as the steppe environment that existed in Siberia at the time. This near-intact carcass highlights the potential of permafrost remains for evolutionary studies that combine both morphology and ancient nucleic acids.


Light sensing by tissues distinct from the eye occurs in diverse animal groups, enabling circadian control and phototactic behaviour. Extraocular photoreceptors may also facilitate rapid colour change in cephalopods and lizards, but little is known about the sensory system that mediates slow colour change in arthropods. We previously reported that slow colour change in twig-mimicking caterpillars of the peppered moth (Biston betularia) is a response to achromatic and chromatic visual cues. Here we show that the perception of these cues, and the resulting phenotypic responses, does not require ocular vision. Caterpillars with completely obscured ocelli remained capable of enhancing their crypsis by changing colour and choosing to rest on colour-matching twigs. A suite of visual genes, expressed across the larval integument, likely plays a key role in the mechanism. To our knowledge, this is the first evidence that extraocular colour sensing can mediate pigment-based colour change and behaviour in an arthropod.


The Early Cretaceous basal birds were known largely from just two-dimensionally preserved specimens from north-eastern China (Jehol Biota), which has hindered our understanding of the early evolution of birds. Here, we present a three-dimensionally-preserved skeleton (FPDM-V-9769) of a basal bird from the Early Cretaceous of Fukui, central Japan. Unique features in the pygostyle and humerus allow the assignment of FPDM-V-9769 to a new taxon, Fukuipteryx prima. FPDM-V-9769 exhibits a set of features comparable to that of other basalmost birds including Archaeopteryx. Osteohistological analyses indicate that FPDM-V-9769 is subadult. Phylogenetic analyses resolve F. prima as a non-ornithothoracine avialan basal to Jeholornis and outgroup of the Pygostylia. This phylogenetic result may imply a complex evolutionary history of basal birds. To our knowledge, FPDM-V-9769 represents the first record of the Early Cretaceous non-ornithothoracine avialan outside of the Jehol Biota and increases our understanding of their diversity and distribution during the time.


In Dictyostelium discoideum, a model organism for the study of collective cell migration, extracellular cyclic adenosine 3',5'-monophosphate (cAMP) acts as a diffusible chemical guidance cue for cell aggregation, which has been thought to be important in multicellular morphogenesis. Here we revealed that the dynamics of cAMP-mediated signaling showed a transition from propagating waves to steady state during cell development. Live-cell imaging of cytosolic cAMP levels revealed that their oscillation and propagation in cell populations were obvious for cell aggregation and mound formation stages, but they gradually disappeared when multicellular slugs started to migrate. A similar transition of signaling dynamics occurred with phosphatidylinositol 3,4,5-trisphosphate signaling, which is upstream of the cAMP signal pathway. This transition was programmed with concomitant developmental progression. We propose a new model in which cAMP oscillation and propagation between cells, which are important at the unicellular stage, are unessential for collective cell migration at the multicellular stage.


To date, eco-evolutionary dynamics in the ascent of tyrannosauroids to top predator roles have been obscured by a 70-million-year gap in the North American (NA) record. Here we report discovery of the oldest Cretaceous NA tyrannosauroid, extending the lineage by ~15 million years. The new taxon-Moros intrepidus gen. et sp. nov.-is represented by a hind limb from an individual nearing skeletal maturity at 6-7 years. With a ~1.2-m limb length and 78-kg mass, M. intrepidus ranks among the smallest Cretaceous tyrannosauroids, restricting the window for rapid mass increases preceding the appearance of colossal eutyrannosaurs. Phylogenetic affinity with Asian taxa supports transcontinental interchange as the means by which iconic biotas of the terminal Cretaceous were established in NA. The unexpectedly diminutive and highly cursorial bauplan of NA’s earliest Cretaceous tyrannosauroids reveals an evolutionary strategy reliant on speed and small size during their prolonged stint as marginal predators.


Graphics are becoming increasingly important for scientists to effectively communicate their findings to broad audiences, but most researchers lack expertise in visual media. We suggest collaboration between scientists and graphic designers as a way forward and discuss the results of a pilot project to test this type of collaboration.


Human demography research in grounded on the information derived from ancient DNA and archaeology. For example, the study on the early postglacial dual-route colonisation of the Scandinavian Peninsula is largely based on associating genomic data with the early dispersal of lithic technology from the East European Plain. However, a clear connection between material culture and genetics has been lacking. Here, we demonstrate that direct connection by analysing human DNA from chewed birch bark pitch mastics. These samples were discovered at Huseby Klev in western Sweden, a Mesolithic site with eastern lithic technology. We generated genome-wide data for three individuals, and show their affinity to the Scandinavian hunter-gatherers. Our samples date to 9880-9540 calBP, expanding the temporal range and distribution of the early Scandinavian genetic group. We propose that DNA from ancient mastics can be used to study environment and ecology of prehistoric populations.


Overexploitation of large apex marine predators is widespread in the world’s oceans, yet the timing and extent of declines are poorly understood. Here we reconstruct a unique fisheries-independent dataset from a shark control programme spanning 1760 km of the Australian coastline over the past 55 years. We report substantial declines (74-92%) of catch per unit effort of hammerhead (Sphyrnidae), whaler (Carcharhinidae), tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) and white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias). Following onset of the program in the 1960s, catch rates in new installations in subsequent decades occurred at a substantially lower rate, indicating regional depletion of shark populations over the past half a century. Concurrent declines in body size and the probability of encountering mature individuals suggests that apex shark populations are more vulnerable to exploitation than previously thought. Ongoing declines and lack of recovery of vulnerable and protected shark species are a cause for concern.


Plastic pollution is a global threat to marine ecosystems. Plastic litter can leach a variety of substances into marine environments; however, virtually nothing is known regarding how this affects photosynthetic bacteria at the base of the marine food web. To address this, we investigated the effect of plastic leachate exposure on marine Prochlorococcus, widely considered the most abundant photosynthetic organism on Earth and vital contributors to global primary production and carbon cycling. Two strains of Prochlorococcus representing distinct ecotypes were exposed to leachate from common plastic items: high-density polyethylene bags and polyvinyl chloride matting. We show leachate exposure strongly impairs Prochlorococcus in vitro growth and photosynthetic capacity and results in genome-wide transcriptional changes. The strains showed distinct differences in the extent and timing of their response to each leachate. Consequently, plastic leachate exposure could influence marine Prochlorococcus community composition and potentially the broader composition and productivity of ocean phytoplankton communities.


The upper oceanic crust is mainly composed of basaltic lava that constitutes one of the largest habitable zones on Earth. However, the nature of deep microbial life in oceanic crust remains poorly understood, especially where old cold basaltic rock interacts with seawater beneath sediment. Here we show that microbial cells are densely concentrated in Fe-rich smectite on fracture surfaces and veins in 33.5- and 104-million-year-old (Ma) subseafloor basaltic rock. The Fe-rich smectite is locally enriched in organic carbon. Nanoscale solid characterizations reveal the organic carbon to be microbial cells within the Fe-rich smectite, with cell densities locally exceeding 1010 cells/cm3. Dominance of heterotrophic bacteria indicated by analyses of DNA sequences and lipids supports the importance of organic matter as carbon and energy sources in subseafloor basalt. Given the prominence of basaltic lava on Earth and Mars, microbial life could be habitable where subsurface basaltic rocks interact with liquid water.