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

Journal: Science advances


Chemical disequilibrium in planetary atmospheres has been proposed as a generalized method for detecting life on exoplanets through remote spectroscopy. Among solar system planets with substantial atmospheres, the modern Earth has the largest thermodynamic chemical disequilibrium due to the presence of life. However, how this disequilibrium changed over time and, in particular, the biogenic disequilibria maintained in the anoxic Archean or less oxic Proterozoic eons are unknown. We calculate the atmosphere-ocean disequilibrium in the Precambrian using conservative proxy- and model-based estimates of early atmospheric and oceanic compositions. We omit crustal solids because subsurface composition is not detectable on exoplanets, unlike above-surface volatiles. We find that (i) disequilibrium increased through time in step with the rise of oxygen; (ii) both the Proterozoic and Phanerozoic may have had remotely detectable biogenic disequilibria due to the coexistence of O2, N2, and liquid water; and (iii) the Archean had a biogenic disequilibrium caused by the coexistence of N2, CH4, CO2, and liquid water, which, for an exoplanet twin, may be remotely detectable. On the basis of this disequilibrium, we argue that the simultaneous detection of abundant CH4 and CO2 in a habitable exoplanet’s atmosphere is a potential biosignature. Specifically, we show that methane mixing ratios greater than 10-3 are potentially biogenic, whereas those exceeding 10-2 are likely biogenic due to the difficulty in maintaining large abiotic methane fluxes to support high methane levels in anoxic atmospheres. Biogenicity would be strengthened by the absence of abundant CO, which should not coexist in a biological scenario.

Concepts: Water, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Atmosphere, Neptune, Uranus, Proterozoic


Several species of lizards from the megadiverse island of New Guinea have evolved green blood. An unusually high concentration of the green bile pigment biliverdin in the circulatory system of these lizards makes the blood, muscles, bones, tongue, and mucosal tissues bright green in color, eclipsing the crimson color from their red blood cells. This is a remarkable physiological feature because bile pigments are toxic physiological waste products of red blood cell catabolism and, when chronically elevated, cause jaundice in humans and all other vertebrates. Although these lizards offer a promising system to examine the evolution of extraordinary physiological characteristics, little is known about the phylogenetic relationships of green-blooded lizards or the evolutionary origins of green blood. We present the first extensive phylogeny for green-blooded lizards and closely related Australasian lizards using thousands of genomic regions to examine the evolutionary history of this unusual trait. Maximum likelihood ancestral character state reconstruction supports four independent origins of green blood. Our results lay the phylogenetic foundation necessary to determine the role, if any, of natural selection in shaping this enigmatic physiological trait as well as understanding the genetic, proteomic, and biochemical basis for the lack of jaundice in those species that have independently evolved green blood.


Rapid growth in world trade has enabled transnational criminal networks to conceal their contraband among the 1 billion containers shipped worldwide annually. Forensic methods are needed to identify the major cartels moving the contraband into transit. We combine DNA-based sample matching and geographic assignment of tusks to show that the two tusks from the same elephant are often shipped by the same trafficker in separate large consignments of ivory. The paired shipments occur close in time from the same initial place of export and have high overlap in the geographic origins of their tusks. Collectively, these paired shipments form a linked chain that reflects the sizes, interconnectedness, and places of operation of Africa’s largest ivory smuggling cartels.


Plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) has been shown to be a key component of the senescence-related secretome and a direct mediator of cellular senescence. In murine models of accelerated aging, genetic deficiency and targeted inhibition of PAI-1 protect against aging-like pathology and prolong life span. However, the role of PAI-1 in human longevity remains unclear. We hypothesized that a rare loss-of-function mutation in SERPINE1 (c.699_700dupTA), which encodes PAI-1, could play a role in longevity and metabolism in humans. We studied 177 members of the Berne Amish community, which included 43 carriers of the null SERPINE1 mutation. Heterozygosity was associated with significantly longer leukocyte telomere length, lower fasting insulin levels, and lower prevalence of diabetes mellitus. In the extended Amish kindred, carriers of the null SERPINE1 allele had a longer life span. Our study indicates a causal effect of PAI-1 on human longevity, which may be mediated by alterations in metabolism. Our findings demonstrate the utility of studying loss-of-function mutations in populations with geographic and genetic isolation and shed light on a novel therapeutic target for aging.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Cancer, Mutation, Evolution, Senescence, DNA repair, Telomere


Predator-prey interactions revealed by vertebrate trace fossils are extremely rare. We present footprint evidence from White Sands National Monument in New Mexico for the association of sloth and human trackways. Geologically, the sloth and human trackways were made contemporaneously, and the sloth trackways show evidence of evasion and defensive behavior when associated with human tracks. Behavioral inferences from these trackways indicate prey selection and suggest that humans were harassing, stalking, and/or hunting the now-extinct giant ground sloth in the terminal Pleistocene.


For four decades, the inability of nonhuman primates to produce human speech sounds has been claimed to stem from limitations in their vocal tract anatomy, a conclusion based on plaster casts made from the vocal tract of a monkey cadaver. We used x-ray videos to quantify vocal tract dynamics in living macaques during vocalization, facial displays, and feeding. We demonstrate that the macaque vocal tract could easily produce an adequate range of speech sounds to support spoken language, showing that previous techniques based on postmortem samples drastically underestimated primate vocal capabilities. Our findings imply that the evolution of human speech capabilities required neural changes rather than modifications of vocal anatomy. Macaques have a speech-ready vocal tract but lack a speech-ready brain to control it.

Concepts: Language, Macaque, Primate, Rhesus Macaque, Monkey, Japanese Macaque, Barbary Macaque, Cercopithecinae


Operation Reinhard (1942-1943) was the largest single murder campaign of the Holocaust, during which some 1.7 million Jews from German-occupied Poland were murdered by the Nazis. Most perished in gas chambers at the death camps Belzec, Sobibor, and Treblinka. However, the tempo, kill rates, and spatial dynamics of these events were poorly documented. Using an unusual dataset originating from railway transportation records, this study identifies an extreme phase of hyperintense killing when >1.47 million Jews-more than 25% of the Jews killed in all 6 years of World War II-were murdered by the Nazis in an intense,100-day (~3-month) surge. Operation Reinhard is shown to be an extreme event, based on kill rate, number, and proportion (>99.9%) of the population murdered in camps, highlighting its singularly violent character, even compared to other more recent genocides. The Holocaust kill rate is some 10 times higher than estimates suggested by authorities on comparative genocide.


We report the discovery that strains ofStaphylococcus epidermidisproduce 6-N-hydroxyaminopurine (6-HAP), a molecule that inhibits DNA polymerase activity. In culture, 6-HAP selectively inhibited proliferation of tumor lines but did not inhibit primary keratinocytes. Resistance to 6-HAP was associated with the expression of mitochondrial amidoxime reducing components, enzymes that were not observed in cells sensitive to this compound. Intravenous injection of 6-HAP in mice suppressed the growth of B16F10 melanoma without evidence of systemic toxicity. Colonization of mice with anS. epidermidisstrain producing 6-HAP reduced the incidence of ultraviolet-induced tumors compared to mice colonized by a control strain that did not produce 6-HAP.S. epidermidisstrains producing 6-HAP were found in the metagenome from multiple healthy human subjects, suggesting that the microbiome of some individuals may confer protection against skin cancer. These findings show a new role for skin commensal bacteria in host defense.

Concepts: DNA, Cancer, Bacteria, Adenosine triphosphate, Enzyme, Tumor, Neoplasm, DNA polymerase I


The intensification of agriculture is often associated with declining mobility and bone strength through time, although women often exhibit less pronounced trends than men. For example, previous studies of prehistoric Central European agriculturalists (~5300 calibrated years BC to 850 AD) demonstrated a significant reduction in tibial rigidity among men, whereas women were characterized by low tibial rigidity, little temporal change, and high variability. Because of the potential for sex-specific skeletal responses to mechanical loading and a lack of modern comparative data, women’s activity in prehistory remains difficult to interpret. This study compares humeral and tibial cross-sectional rigidity, shape, and interlimb loading among prehistoric Central European women agriculturalists and living European women of known behavior (athletes and controls). Prehistoric female tibial rigidity at all time periods was highly variable, but differed little from living sedentary women on average, and was significantly lower than that of living runners and football players. However, humeral rigidity exceeded that of living athletes for the first ~5500 years of farming, with loading intensity biased heavily toward the upper limb. Interlimb strength proportions among Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age women were most similar to those of living semi-elite rowers. These results suggest that, in contrast to men, rigorous manual labor was a more important component of prehistoric women’s behavior than was terrestrial mobility through thousands of years of European agriculture, at levels far exceeding those of modern women.

Concepts: Europe, Slovakia, Germany, Stone Age, Hungary, Bronze Age, Synoptic table of the principal old world prehistoric cultures, Three-age system


The risk associated with any climate change impact reflects intensity of natural hazard and level of human vulnerability. Previous work has shown that a wet-bulb temperature of 35°C can be considered an upper limit on human survivability. On the basis of an ensemble of high-resolution climate change simulations, we project that extremes of wet-bulb temperature in South Asia are likely to approach and, in a few locations, exceed this critical threshold by the late 21st century under the business-as-usual scenario of future greenhouse gas emissions. The most intense hazard from extreme future heat waves is concentrated around densely populated agricultural regions of the Ganges and Indus river basins. Climate change, without mitigation, presents a serious and unique risk in South Asia, a region inhabited by about one-fifth of the global human population, due to an unprecedented combination of severe natural hazard and acute vulnerability.

Concepts: Population, Earth, Climate change, Population density, India, Natural gas, World population, Greenhouse gas