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Journal: Nature communications


One of the notable features of penguin evolution is the occurrence of very large species in the early Cenozoic, whose body size greatly exceeded that of the largest extant penguins. Here we describe a new giant species from the late Paleocene of New Zealand that documents the very early evolution of large body size in penguins. Kumimanu biceae, n. gen. et sp. is larger than all other fossil penguins that have substantial skeletal portions preserved. Several plesiomorphic features place the new species outside a clade including all post-Paleocene giant penguins. It is phylogenetically separated from giant Eocene and Oligocene penguin species by various smaller taxa, which indicates multiple origins of giant size in penguin evolution. That a penguin rivaling the largest previously known species existed in the Paleocene suggests that gigantism in penguins arose shortly after these birds became flightless divers. Our study therefore strengthens previous suggestions that the absence of very large penguins today is likely due to the Oligo-Miocene radiation of marine mammals.

Concepts: Evolution, Bird, Mammal, Phylogenetics, Penguin, Dinosaur, Penguins, Flightless bird


Ticks are currently among the most prevalent blood-feeding ectoparasites, but their feeding habits and hosts in deep time have long remained speculative. Here, we report direct and indirect evidence in 99 million-year-old Cretaceous amber showing that hard ticks and ticks of the extinct new family Deinocrotonidae fed on blood from feathered dinosaurs, non-avialan or avialan excluding crown-group birds. A †Cornupalpatum burmanicum hard tick is entangled in a pennaceous feather. Two deinocrotonids described as †Deinocroton draculi gen. et sp. nov. have specialised setae from dermestid beetle larvae (hastisetae) attached to their bodies, likely indicating cohabitation in a feathered dinosaur nest. A third conspecific specimen is blood-engorged, its anatomical features suggesting that deinocrotonids fed rapidly to engorgement and had multiple gonotrophic cycles. These findings provide insight into early tick evolution and ecology, and shed light on poorly known arthropod-vertebrate interactions and potential disease transmission during the Mesozoic.

Concepts: Bird, Extinction, Dinosaur, Feathered dinosaurs, Archaeopteryx, Feather, Avialae, Microraptor


We report a genome-wide association scan in over 6,000 Latin Americans for features of scalp hair (shape, colour, greying, balding) and facial hair (beard thickness, monobrow, eyebrow thickness). We found 18 signals of association reaching genome-wide significance (P values 5 × 10(-8) to 3 × 10(-119)), including 10 novel associations. These include novel loci for scalp hair shape and balding, and the first reported loci for hair greying, monobrow, eyebrow and beard thickness. A newly identified locus influencing hair shape includes a Q30R substitution in the Protease Serine S1 family member 53 (PRSS53). We demonstrate that this enzyme is highly expressed in the hair follicle, especially the inner root sheath, and that the Q30R substitution affects enzyme processing and secretion. The genome regions associated with hair features are enriched for signals of selection, consistent with proposals regarding the evolution of human hair.

Concepts: Protein, United States, Spanish language, Facial features, Hair, Hair follicle, Facial hair, Moustache


A fragment of continental crust has been postulated to underlie the young plume-related lavas of the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius based on the recovery of Proterozoic zircons from basaltic beach sands. Here we document the first U-Pb zircon ages recovered directly from 5.7 Ma Mauritian trachytic rocks. We identified concordant Archaean xenocrystic zircons ranging in age between 2.5 and 3.0 Ga within a trachyte plug that crosscuts Older Series plume-related basalts of Mauritius. Our results demonstrate the existence of ancient continental crust beneath Mauritius; based on the entire spectrum of U-Pb ages for old Mauritian zircons, we demonstrate that this ancient crust is of central-east Madagascar affinity, which is presently located ∼700 km west of Mauritius. This makes possible a detailed reconstruction of Mauritius and other Mauritian continental fragments, which once formed part of the ancient nucleus of Madagascar and southern India.

Concepts: Plate tectonics, Igneous rock, India, Indian Ocean, Madagascar, Basalt, Lava, Mauritius


Egypt, located on the isthmus of Africa, is an ideal region to study historical population dynamics due to its geographic location and documented interactions with ancient civilizations in Africa, Asia and Europe. Particularly, in the first millennium BCE Egypt endured foreign domination leading to growing numbers of foreigners living within its borders possibly contributing genetically to the local population. Here we present 90 mitochondrial genomes as well as genome-wide data sets from three individuals obtained from Egyptian mummies. The samples recovered from Middle Egypt span around 1,300 years of ancient Egyptian history from the New Kingdom to the Roman Period. Our analyses reveal that ancient Egyptians shared more ancestry with Near Easterners than present-day Egyptians, who received additional sub-Saharan admixture in more recent times. This analysis establishes ancient Egyptian mummies as a genetic source to study ancient human history and offers the perspective of deciphering Egypt’s past at a genome-wide level.

Concepts: Africa, North Africa, Ancient Egypt, Egypt, Slavery, Ancient history, Mummy, Nubia


Flexible, wearable sensing devices can yield important information about the underlying physiology of a human subject for applications in real-time health and fitness monitoring. Despite significant progress in the fabrication of flexible biosensors that naturally comply with the epidermis, most designs measure only a small number of physical or electrophysiological parameters, and neglect the rich chemical information available from biomarkers. Here, we introduce a skin-worn wearable hybrid sensing system that offers simultaneous real-time monitoring of a biochemical (lactate) and an electrophysiological signal (electrocardiogram), for more comprehensive fitness monitoring than from physical or electrophysiological sensors alone. The two sensing modalities, comprising a three-electrode amperometric lactate biosensor and a bipolar electrocardiogram sensor, are co-fabricated on a flexible substrate and mounted on the skin. Human experiments reveal that physiochemistry and electrophysiology can be measured simultaneously with negligible cross-talk, enabling a new class of hybrid sensing devices.

Concepts: Chemistry, Electrophysiology, Cardiac electrophysiology, Signal processing, Electroencephalography, Skin, Sensors, Electrocardiography


Sperm are highly differentiated and the activities that reprogram them for embryonic development during fertilization have historically been considered unique to the oocyte. We here challenge this view and demonstrate that mouse embryos in the mitotic cell cycle can also directly reprogram sperm for full-term development. Developmentally incompetent haploid embryos (parthenogenotes) injected with sperm developed to produce healthy offspring at up to 24% of control rates, depending when in the embryonic cell cycle injection took place. This implies that most of the first embryonic cell cycle can be bypassed in sperm genome reprogramming for full development. Remodelling of histones and genomic 5'-methylcytosine and 5'-hydroxymethylcytosine following embryo injection were distinct from remodelling in fertilization and the resulting 2-cell embryos consistently possessed abnormal transcriptomes. These studies demonstrate plasticity in the reprogramming of terminally differentiated sperm nuclei and suggest that different epigenetic pathways or kinetics can establish totipotency.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Cell nucleus, Embryo, Developmental biology, Embryology, Meiosis, Zygote


The CRISPR-associated endonuclease Cas9 binds to a guide RNA and cleaves double-stranded DNA with a sequence complementary to the RNA guide. The Cas9-RNA system has been harnessed for numerous applications, such as genome editing. Here we use high-speed atomic force microscopy (HS-AFM) to visualize the real-space and real-time dynamics of CRISPR-Cas9 in action. HS-AFM movies indicate that, whereas apo-Cas9 adopts unexpected flexible conformations, Cas9-RNA forms a stable bilobed structure and interrogates target sites on the DNA by three-dimensional diffusion. These movies also provide real-time visualization of the Cas9-mediated DNA cleavage process. Notably, the Cas9 HNH nuclease domain fluctuates upon DNA binding, and subsequently adopts an active conformation, where the HNH active site is docked at the cleavage site in the target DNA. Collectively, our HS-AFM data extend our understanding of the action mechanism of CRISPR-Cas9.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Biology, Virus, Genome, RNA, Endonuclease


Changes in the human gastrointestinal microbiome are associated with several diseases. To infer causality, experiments in representative models are essential, but widely used animal models exhibit limitations. Here we present a modular, microfluidics-based model (HuMiX, human-microbial crosstalk), which allows co-culture of human and microbial cells under conditions representative of the gastrointestinal human-microbe interface. We demonstrate the ability of HuMiX to recapitulate in vivo transcriptional, metabolic and immunological responses in human intestinal epithelial cells following their co-culture with the commensal Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG) grown under anaerobic conditions. In addition, we show that the co-culture of human epithelial cells with the obligate anaerobe Bacteroides caccae and LGG results in a transcriptional response, which is distinct from that of a co-culture solely comprising LGG. HuMiX facilitates investigations of host-microbe molecular interactions and provides insights into a range of fundamental research questions linking the gastrointestinal microbiome to human health and disease.

Concepts: Medicine, Archaea, Epidemiology, Disease, Bacteria, Microbiology, Epithelium, Lactobacillus rhamnosus


Spatial resolution, spectral contrast and occlusion are three major bottlenecks for non-invasive inspection of complex samples with current imaging technologies. We exploit the sub-picosecond time resolution along with spectral resolution provided by terahertz time-domain spectroscopy to computationally extract occluding content from layers whose thicknesses are wavelength comparable. The method uses the statistics of the reflected terahertz electric field at subwavelength gaps to lock into each layer position and then uses a time-gated spectral kurtosis to tune to highest spectral contrast of the content on that specific layer. To demonstrate, occluding textual content was successfully extracted from a packed stack of paper pages down to nine pages without human supervision. The method provides over an order of magnitude enhancement in the signal contrast and can impact inspection of structural defects in wooden objects, plastic components, composites, drugs and especially cultural artefacts with subwavelength or wavelength comparable layers.

Concepts: Diffraction, Optics, Fundamental physics concepts, Light, Layer, Wavelength, Telescope, OSI model