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Journal: Nature communications


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


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


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


Microplastics (MP) are recognized as a growing environmental hazard and have been identified as far as the remote Polar Regions, with particularly high concentrations of microplastics in sea ice. Little is known regarding the horizontal variability of MP within sea ice and how the underlying water body affects MP composition during sea ice growth. Here we show that sea ice MP has no uniform polymer composition and that, depending on the growth region and drift paths of the sea ice, unique MP patterns can be observed in different sea ice horizons. Thus even in remote regions such as the Arctic Ocean, certain MP indicate the presence of localized sources. Increasing exploitation of Arctic resources will likely lead to a higher MP load in the Arctic sea ice and will enhance the release of MP in the areas of strong seasonal sea ice melt and the outflow gateways.

Concepts: Canada, Arctic Circle, Polar ice packs, Ocean, Arctic shrinkage, Sea ice, Arctic, Arctic Ocean


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.


While rich medical, behavioral, and socio-demographic data are key to modern data-driven research, their collection and use raise legitimate privacy concerns. Anonymizing datasets through de-identification and sampling before sharing them has been the main tool used to address those concerns. We here propose a generative copula-based method that can accurately estimate the likelihood of a specific person to be correctly re-identified, even in a heavily incomplete dataset. On 210 populations, our method obtains AUC scores for predicting individual uniqueness ranging from 0.84 to 0.97, with low false-discovery rate. Using our model, we find that 99.98% of Americans would be correctly re-identified in any dataset using 15 demographic attributes. Our results suggest that even heavily sampled anonymized datasets are unlikely to satisfy the modern standards for anonymization set forth by GDPR and seriously challenge the technical and legal adequacy of the de-identification release-and-forget model.


Recurrent urinary tract infection (rUTI) is a major medical problem, especially in the elderly and infirm, but the nature of the reservoir of organisms responsible for survival and recolonisation after antibiotic treatment in humans is unclear. Here, we demonstrate the presence of cell-wall deficient (L-form) bacteria in fresh urine from 29 out of 30 older patients with rUTI. In urine, E. coli strains from patient samples readily transition from the walled state to L-form during challenge with a cell wall targeting antibiotic. Following antibiotic withdrawal, they then efficiently transition back to the walled state. E. coli switches between walled and L-form states in a zebrafish larva infection model. The results suggest that L-form switching is a physiologically relevant phenomenon that may contribute to the recurrence of infection in older patients with rUTI, and potentially other infections.


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


Being a morning person is a behavioural indicator of a person’s underlying circadian rhythm. Using genome-wide data from 697,828 UK Biobank and 23andMe participants we increase the number of genetic loci associated with being a morning person from 24 to 351. Using data from 85,760 individuals with activity-monitor derived measures of sleep timing we find that the chronotype loci associate with sleep timing: the mean sleep timing of the 5% of individuals carrying the most morningness alleles is 25 min earlier than the 5% carrying the fewest. The loci are enriched for genes involved in circadian regulation, cAMP, glutamate and insulin signalling pathways, and those expressed in the retina, hindbrain, hypothalamus, and pituitary. Using Mendelian Randomisation, we show that being a morning person is causally associated with better mental health but does not affect BMI or risk of Type 2 diabetes. This study offers insights into circadian biology and its links to disease in humans.


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