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


The northern white rhinoceros (NWR, Ceratotherium simum cottoni) is the most endangered mammal in the world with only two females surviving. Here we adapt existing assisted reproduction techniques (ART) to fertilize Southern White Rhinoceros (SWR) oocytes with NWR spermatozoa. We show that rhinoceros oocytes can be repeatedly recovered from live SWR females by transrectal ovum pick-up, matured, fertilized by intracytoplasmic sperm injection and developed to the blastocyst stage in vitro. Next, we generate hybrid rhinoceros embryos in vitro using gametes of NWR and SWR. We also establish embryonic stem cell lines from the SWR blastocysts. Blastocysts are cryopreserved for later embryo transfer. Our results indicate that ART could be a viable strategy to rescue genes from the iconic, almost extinct, northern white rhinoceros and may also have broader impact if applied with similar success to other endangered large mammalian species.


Human social networks are overwhelmingly homophilous: individuals tend to befriend others who are similar to them in terms of a range of physical attributes (e.g., age, gender). Do similarities among friends reflect deeper similarities in how we perceive, interpret, and respond to the world? To test whether friendship, and more generally, social network proximity, is associated with increased similarity of real-time mental responding, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan subjects' brains during free viewing of naturalistic movies. Here we show evidence for neural homophily: neural responses when viewing audiovisual movies are exceptionally similar among friends, and that similarity decreases with increasing distance in a real-world social network. These results suggest that we are exceptionally similar to our friends in how we perceive and respond to the world around us, which has implications for interpersonal influence and attraction.

Concepts: Friendship, Psychology, Similarity, Brain, Social network, Sociology, Magnetic resonance imaging


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


General cognitive function is a prominent and relatively stable human trait that is associated with many important life outcomes. We combine cognitive and genetic data from the CHARGE and COGENT consortia, and UK Biobank (total N = 300,486; age 16-102) and find 148 genome-wide significant independent loci (P < 5 × 10-8) associated with general cognitive function. Within the novel genetic loci are variants associated with neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders, physical and psychiatric illnesses, and brain structure. Gene-based analyses find 709 genes associated with general cognitive function. Expression levels across the cortex are associated with general cognitive function. Using polygenic scores, up to 4.3% of variance in general cognitive function is predicted in independent samples. We detect significant genetic overlap between general cognitive function, reaction time, and many health variables including eyesight, hypertension, and longevity. In conclusion we identify novel genetic loci and pathways contributing to the heritability of general cognitive function.


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


As animals develop, tissue bending contributes to shape the organs into complex three-dimensional structures. However, the architecture and packing of curved epithelia remains largely unknown. Here we show by means of mathematical modelling that cells in bent epithelia can undergo intercalations along the apico-basal axis. This phenomenon forces cells to have different neighbours in their basal and apical surfaces. As a consequence, epithelial cells adopt a novel shape that we term “scutoid”. The detailed analysis of diverse tissues confirms that generation of apico-basal intercalations between cells is a common feature during morphogenesis. Using biophysical arguments, we propose that scutoids make possible the minimization of the tissue energy and stabilize three-dimensional packing. Hence, we conclude that scutoids are one of nature’s solutions to achieve epithelial bending. Our findings pave the way to understand the three-dimensional organization of epithelial organs.


Archaeopteryx is an iconic fossil taxon with feathered wings from the Late Jurassic of Germany that occupies a crucial position for understanding the early evolution of avian flight. After over 150 years of study, its mosaic anatomy unifying characters of both non-flying dinosaurs and flying birds has remained challenging to interpret in a locomotory context. Here, we compare new data from three Archaeopteryx specimens obtained through phase-contrast synchrotron microtomography to a representative sample of archosaurs employing a diverse array of locomotory strategies. Our analyses reveal that the architecture of Archaeopteryx’s wing bones consistently exhibits a combination of cross-sectional geometric properties uniquely shared with volant birds, particularly those occasionally utilising short-distance flapping. We therefore interpret that Archaeopteryx actively employed wing flapping to take to the air through a more anterodorsally posteroventrally oriented flight stroke than used by modern birds. This unexpected outcome implies that avian powered flight must have originated before the latest Jurassic.

Concepts: Bird flight, Geometry, Flight, Jurassic, Archaeopteryx, Wing, Dinosaur, Bird


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


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, India, Mauritius, Basalt, Madagascar, Lava, Indian Ocean, Igneous rock