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

Journal: Scientific reports


Domestic animals are sensitive to human cues that facilitate inter-specific communication, including cues to emotional state. The eyes are important in signalling emotions, with the act of narrowing the eyes appearing to be associated with positive emotional communication in a range of species. This study examines the communicatory significance of a widely reported cat behaviour that involves eye narrowing, referred to as the slow blink sequence. Slow blink sequences typically involve a series of half-blinks followed by either a prolonged eye narrow or an eye closure. Our first experiment revealed that cat half-blinks and eye narrowing occurred more frequently in response to owners' slow blink stimuli towards their cats (compared to no owner-cat interaction). In a second experiment, this time where an experimenter provided the slow blink stimulus, cats had a higher propensity to approach the experimenter after a slow blink interaction than when they had adopted a neutral expression. Collectively, our results suggest that slow blink sequences may function as a form of positive emotional communication between cats and humans.


The built environment (BE) and in particular kitchen environments harbor a remarkable microbial diversity, including pathogens. We analyzed the bacterial microbiome of used kitchen sponges by 454-pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA genes and fluorescence in situ hybridization coupled with confocal laser scanning microscopy (FISH-CLSM). Pyrosequencing showed a relative dominance of Gammaproteobacteria within the sponge microbiota. Five of the ten most abundant OTUs were closely related to risk group 2 (RG2) species, previously detected in the BE and kitchen microbiome. Regular cleaning of sponges, indicated by their users, significantly affected the microbiome structure. Two of the ten dominant OTUs, closely related to the RG2-species Chryseobacterium hominis and Moraxella osloensis, showed significantly greater proportions in regularly sanitized sponges, thereby questioning such sanitation methods in a long term perspective. FISH-CLSM showed an ubiquitous distribution of bacteria within the sponge tissue, concentrating in internal cavities and on sponge surfaces, where biofilm-like structures occurred. Image analysis showed local densities of up to 5.4 * 10(10) cells per cm(3), and confirmed the dominance of Gammaproteobacteria. Our study stresses and visualizes the role of kitchen sponges as microbiological hot spots in the BE, with the capability to collect and spread bacteria with a probable pathogenic potential.

Concepts: Photosynthesis, Archaea, Bacteria, Microbiology, Ribosomal RNA, Pathogen, 16S ribosomal RNA, Microorganism


We study fifteen months of human mobility data for one and a half million individuals and find that human mobility traces are highly unique. In fact, in a dataset where the location of an individual is specified hourly, and with a spatial resolution equal to that given by the carrier’s antennas, four spatio-temporal points are enough to uniquely identify 95% of the individuals. We coarsen the data spatially and temporally to find a formula for the uniqueness of human mobility traces given their resolution and the available outside information. This formula shows that the uniqueness of mobility traces decays approximately as the 1/10 power of their resolution. Hence, even coarse datasets provide little anonymity. These findings represent fundamental constraints to an individual’s privacy and have important implications for the design of frameworks and institutions dedicated to protect the privacy of individuals.

Concepts: Optics, Data set, Law, First-order logic


A direct approach to limit airborne viral transmissions is to inactivate them within a short time of their production. Germicidal ultraviolet light, typically at 254 nm, is effective in this context but, used directly, can be a health hazard to skin and eyes. By contrast, far-UVC light (207-222 nm) efficiently kills pathogens potentially without harm to exposed human tissues. We previously demonstrated that 222-nm far-UVC light efficiently kills airborne influenza virus and we extend those studies to explore far-UVC efficacy against airborne human coronaviruses alpha HCoV-229E and beta HCoV-OC43. Low doses of 1.7 and 1.2 mJ/cm2 inactivated 99.9% of aerosolized coronavirus 229E and OC43, respectively. As all human coronaviruses have similar genomic sizes, far-UVC light would be expected to show similar inactivation efficiency against other human coronaviruses including SARS-CoV-2. Based on the beta-HCoV-OC43 results, continuous far-UVC exposure in occupied public locations at the current regulatory exposure limit (~3 mJ/cm2/hour) would result in ~90% viral inactivation in ~8 minutes, 95% in ~11 minutes, 99% in ~16 minutes and 99.9% inactivation in ~25 minutes. Thus while staying within current regulatory dose limits, low-dose-rate far-UVC exposure can potentially safely provide a major reduction in the ambient level of airborne coronaviruses in occupied public locations.


Episodes of Palaeolithic cannibalism have frequently been defined as ‘nutritional’ in nature, but with little empirical evidence to assess their dietary significance. This paper presents a nutritional template that offers a proxy calorie value for the human body. When applied to the Palaeolithic record, the template provides a framework for assessing the dietary value of prehistoric cannibalistic episodes compared to the faunal record. Results show that humans have a comparable nutritional value to those faunal species that match our typical body weight, but significantly lower than a range of fauna often found in association with anthropogenically modified hominin remains. This could suggest that the motivations behind hominin anthropophagy may not have been purely nutritionally motivated. It is proposed here that the comparatively low nutritional value of hominin cannibalism episodes support more socially or culturally driven narratives in the interpretation of Palaeolithic cannibalism.

Concepts: Human, Sociology, Science, Anthropology, Human anatomy, Neanderthal, Prehistory, Cannibalism


Recently we reported the development of prominent exostosis young adults' skulls (41%; 10-31 mm) emanating from the external occipital protuberance (EOP). These findings contrast existing reports that large enthesophytes are not seen in young adults. Here we show that a combination sex, the degree of forward head protraction (FHP) and age predicted the presence of enlarged EOP (EEOP) (n = 1200, age 18-86). While being a male and increased FHP had a positive effect on prominent exostosis, paradoxically, increase in age was linked to a decrease in enthesophyte size. Our latter findings provide a conundrum, as the frequency and severity of degenerative skeletal features in humans are associated typically with aging. Our findings and the literature provide evidence that mechanical load plays a vital role in the development and maintenance of the enthesis (insertion) and draws a direct link between aberrant loading of the enthesis and related pathologies. We hypothesize EEOP may be linked to sustained aberrant postures associated with the emergence and extensive use of hand-held contemporary technologies, such as smartphones and tablets. Our findings raise a concern about the future musculoskeletal health of the young adult population and reinforce the need for prevention intervention through posture improvement education.

Concepts: Biology, Prediction, Future, Occipital bone, Bones of the head and neck, Inion, Squama occipitalis, External occipital protuberance


As multiple spacefaring nations contemplate extended manned missions to Mars and the Moon, health risks could be elevated as travel goes beyond the Earth’s protective magnetosphere into the more intense deep space radiation environment. The primary purpose of this study was to determine whether mortality rates due to cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, accidents and all other causes of death differ in (1) astronauts who never flew orbital missions in space, (2) astronauts who flew only in low Earth orbit (LEO), and (3) Apollo lunar astronauts, the only humans to have traveled beyond Earth’s magnetosphere. Results show there were no differences in CVD mortality rate between non-flight (9%) and LEO (11%) astronauts. However, the CVD mortality rate among Apollo lunar astronauts (43%) was 4-5 times higher than in non-flight and LEO astronauts. To test a possible mechanistic basis for these findings, a secondary purpose was to determine the long-term effects of simulated weightlessness and space-relevant total-body irradiation on vascular responsiveness in mice. The results demonstrate that space-relevant irradiation induces a sustained vascular endothelial cell dysfunction. Such impairment is known to lead to occlusive artery disease, and may be an important risk factor for CVD among astronauts exposed to deep space radiation.

Concepts: Mortality rate, Atherosclerosis, Earth's magnetic field, Earth, Blood vessel, Moon, Endothelium, Human spaceflight


The 28,000-year-old remains of a woolly mammoth, named ‘Yuka’, were found in Siberian permafrost. Here we recovered the less-damaged nucleus-like structures from the remains and visualised their dynamics in living mouse oocytes after nuclear transfer. Proteomic analyses demonstrated the presence of nuclear components in the remains. Nucleus-like structures found in the tissue homogenate were histone- and lamin-positive by immunostaining. In the reconstructed oocytes, the mammoth nuclei showed the spindle assembly, histone incorporation and partial nuclear formation; however, the full activation of nuclei for cleavage was not confirmed. DNA damage levels, which varied among the nuclei, were comparable to those of frozen-thawed mouse sperm and were reduced in some reconstructed oocytes. Our work provides a platform to evaluate the biological activities of nuclei in extinct animal species.


In an attempt to control the mosquito-borne diseases yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika fevers, a strain of transgenically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes containing a dominant lethal gene has been developed by a commercial company, Oxitec Ltd. If lethality is complete, releasing this strain should only reduce population size and not affect the genetics of the target populations. Approximately 450 thousand males of this strain were released each week for 27 months in Jacobina, Bahia, Brazil. We genotyped the release strain and the target Jacobina population before releases began for >21,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). Genetic sampling from the target population six, 12, and 27-30 months after releases commenced provides clear evidence that portions of the transgenic strain genome have been incorporated into the target population. Evidently, rare viable hybrid offspring between the release strain and the Jacobina population are sufficiently robust to be able to reproduce in nature. The release strain was developed using a strain originally from Cuba, then outcrossed to a Mexican population. Thus, Jacobina Ae. aegypti are now a mix of three populations. It is unclear how this may affect disease transmission or affect other efforts to control these dangerous vectors. These results highlight the importance of having in place a genetic monitoring program during such releases to detect un-anticipated outcomes.


Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) provide a new assistive strategy aimed at restoring mobility in severely paralyzed patients. Yet, no study in animals or in human subjects has indicated that long-term BMI training could induce any type of clinical recovery. Eight chronic (3-13 years) spinal cord injury (SCI) paraplegics were subjected to long-term training (12 months) with a multi-stage BMI-based gait neurorehabilitation paradigm aimed at restoring locomotion. This paradigm combined intense immersive virtual reality training, enriched visual-tactile feedback, and walking with two EEG-controlled robotic actuators, including a custom-designed lower limb exoskeleton capable of delivering tactile feedback to subjects. Following 12 months of training with this paradigm, all eight patients experienced neurological improvements in somatic sensation (pain localization, fine/crude touch, and proprioceptive sensing) in multiple dermatomes. Patients also regained voluntary motor control in key muscles below the SCI level, as measured by EMGs, resulting in marked improvement in their walking index. As a result, 50% of these patients were upgraded to an incomplete paraplegia classification. Neurological recovery was paralleled by the reemergence of lower limb motor imagery at cortical level. We hypothesize that this unprecedented neurological recovery results from both cortical and spinal cord plasticity triggered by long-term BMI usage.

Concepts: Spinal cord, Sensory system, Sense, Somatosensory system, Spinal cord injury, Virtual reality, Proprioception, Paraplegia