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

Journal: eLife


Homo naledi is a previously-unknown species of extinct hominin discovered within the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. This species is characterized by body mass and stature similar to small-bodied human populations but a small endocranial volume similar to australopiths. Cranial morphology of H. naledi is unique, but most similar to early Homo species including Homo erectus, Homo habilis or Homo rudolfensis. While primitive, the dentition is generally small and simple in occlusal morphology. H. naledi has humanlike manipulatory adaptations of the hand and wrist. It also exhibits a humanlike foot and lower limb. These humanlike aspects are contrasted in the postcrania with a more primitive or australopith-like trunk, shoulder, pelvis and proximal femur. Representing at least 15 individuals with most skeletal elements repeated multiple times, this is the largest assemblage of a single species of hominins yet discovered in Africa.

Concepts: Human, Africa, Species, Kenya, Human evolution, Homo erectus, Homo ergaster, Homo habilis


Laetoli is a well-known palaeontological locality in northern Tanzania whose outstanding record includes the earliest hominin footprints in the world (3.66 million years old), discovered in 1978 at Site G and attributed to Australopithecus afarensis. Here, we report hominin tracks unearthed in the new Site S at Laetoli and referred to two bipedal individuals (S1 and S2) moving on the same palaeosurface and in the same direction as the three hominins documented at Site G. The stature estimates for S1 greatly exceed those previously reconstructed for Au. afarensis from both skeletal material and footprint data. In combination with a comparative reappraisal of the Site G footprints, the evidence collected here embodies very important additions to the Pliocene record of hominin behaviour and morphology. Our results are consistent with considerable body size variation and, probably, degree of sexual dimorphism within a single species of bipedal hominins as early as 3.66 million years ago.

Concepts: Human, Australopithecus afarensis, Hominina, Bipedalism, Australopithecus, Australopithecus africanus, Ardipithecus, Laetoli


By sharing their experiences, early-career scientists can help to make the case for increased government funding for researchers.

Concepts: Generation


Numerous concerns have been raised about the sustainability of the biomedical research enterprise in the United States. Improving the postdoctoral training experience is seen as a priority in addressing these concerns, but even identifying who the postdocs are is made difficult by the multitude of different job titles they can carry. Here, we summarize the detrimental effects that current employment structures have on training, compensation and benefits for postdocs, and argue that academic research institutions should standardize the categorization and treatment of postdocs. We also present brief case studies of two institutions that have addressed these challenges and can provide models for other institutions attempting to enhance their postdoctoral workforces and improve the sustainability of the biomedical research enterprise.

Concepts: Scientific method, United States, Research, U.S. state, Academic administration, Ralph Waldo Emerson


Food consumption is thought to induce sleepiness. However, little is known about how postprandial sleep is regulated. Here, we simultaneously measured sleep and food intake of individual flies and found a transient rise in sleep following meals. Depending on the amount consumed, the effect ranged from slightly arousing to strongly sleep inducing. Postprandial sleep was positively correlated with ingested volume, protein, and salt-but not sucrose-revealing meal property-specific regulation. Silencing of leucokinin receptor (Lkr) neurons specifically reduced sleep induced by protein consumption. Thermogenetic stimulation of leucokinin (Lk) neurons decreased whereas Lk downregulation by RNAi increased postprandial sleep, suggestive of an inhibitory connection in the Lk-Lkr circuit. We further identified a subset of non-leucokininergic cells proximal to Lkr neurons that rhythmically increased postprandial sleep when silenced, suggesting that these cells are cyclically gated inhibitory inputs to Lkr neurons. Together, these findings reveal the dynamic nature of postprandial sleep.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Nutrition, Eating, Ingestion, Food, Induced demand, Meal


Sleep plays a crucial role in the consolidation of newly acquired memories. Yet, how our brain selects the noteworthy information that will be consolidated during sleep remains largely unknown. Here we show that post-learning sleep favors the selectivity of long-term consolidation: when tested three months after initial encoding, the most important (i.e., rewarded, strongly encoded) memories are better retained, and also remembered with higher subjective confidence. Our brain imaging data reveals that the functional interplay between dopaminergic reward regions, the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus contributes to the integration of rewarded associative memories. We further show that sleep spindles strengthen memory representations based on reward values, suggesting a privileged replay of information yielding positive outcomes. These findings demonstrate that post-learning sleep determines the neural fate of motivationally-relevant memories and promotes a value-based stratification of long-term memory stores.

Concepts: Brain, Sleep, Neuroscience, Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Limbic system, Long-term potentiation


The 14th-18th century pandemic of Yersinia pestis caused devastating disease outbreaks in Europe for almost 400 years. The reasons for plague’s persistence and abrupt disappearance in Europe are poorly understood, but could have been due to either the presence of now-extinct plague foci in Europe itself, or successive disease introductions from other locations. Here we present five Y. pestis genomes from one of the last European outbreaks of plague, from 1722 in Marseille, France. The lineage identified has not been found in any extant Y. pestis foci sampled to date, and has its ancestry in strains obtained from victims of the 14th century Black Death. These data suggest the existence of a previously uncharacterized historical plague focus that persisted for at least three centuries. We propose that this disease source may have been responsible for the many resurgences of plague in Europe following the Black Death.

Concepts: Pandemic, Italy, Yersinia pestis, Bubonic plague, Black Death, Plague, Third Pandemic, London


Here, we report the existence of meningeal lymphatic vessels in human and nonhuman primates (common marmoset monkeys) and the feasibility of noninvasively imaging and mapping them in vivo with high-resolution, clinical MRI. On T2-FLAIR and T1-weighted black-blood imaging, lymphatic vessels enhance with gadobutrol, a gadolinium-based contrast agent with high propensity to extravasate across a permeable capillary endothelial barrier, but not with gadofosveset, a blood-pool contrast agent. The topography of these vessels, running alongside dural venous sinuses, recapitulates the meningeal lymphatic system of rodents. In primates, meningeal lymphatics display a typical panel of lymphatic endothelial markers by immunohistochemistry. This discovery holds promise for better understanding the normal physiology of lymphatic drainage from the central nervous system and potential aberrations in neurological diseases.

Concepts: Inflammation, Central nervous system, Nervous system, Brain, Lymphatic system, Cardiovascular system, Primate


Many organisms spanning from bacteria to mammals orient to the earth’s magnetic field. For a few animals, central neurons responsive to earth-strength magnetic fields have been identified; however, magnetosensory neurons have yet to be identified in any animal. We show that the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans orients to the earth’s magnetic field during vertical burrowing migrations. Well-fed worms migrated up, while starved worms migrated down. Populations isolated from around the world, migrated at angles to the magnetic vector that would optimize vertical translation in their native soil, with northern- and southern-hemisphere worms displaying opposite migratory preferences. Magnetic orientation and vertical migrations required the TAX-4 cyclic nucleotide-gated ion channel in the AFD sensory neuron pair. Calcium imaging showed that these neurons respond to magnetic fields even without synaptic input. C. elegans may have adapted magnetic orientation to simplify their vertical burrowing migration by reducing the orientation task from three dimensions to one.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Magnetic field, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Caenorhabditis elegans, Animal, Human migration


Biological macromolecules function in highly crowded cellular environments. The structure and dynamics of proteins and nucleic acids are well characterized in vitro, but in vivo crowding effects remain unclear. Using molecular dynamics simulations of a comprehensive atomistic model cytoplasm we found that protein-protein interactions may destabilize native protein structures, whereas metabolite interactions may induce more compact states due to electrostatic screening. Protein-protein interactions also resulted in significant variations in reduced macromolecular diffusion under crowded conditions, while metabolites exhibited significant two-dimensional surface diffusion and altered protein-ligand binding that may reduce the effective concentration of metabolites and ligands in vivo. Metabolic enzymes showed weak non-specific association in cellular environments attributed to solvation and entropic effects. These effects are expected to have broad implications for the in vivo functioning of biomolecules. This work is a first step towards physically realistic in silico whole-cell models that connect molecular with cellular biology.

Concepts: Protein, Cell, Molecular biology, Metabolism, Enzyme, Nucleic acid, Biochemistry, Macromolecule