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Neanderthal DNA used to grow a 'mini-brain'
A team of scientists in Basel believes this will open up new lines of research.
- Switzerland-based researchers successfully used Neanderthal DNA to grow a brain organoid.
- The team, led by Grayson Camp, used induced pluripotent stem cells, which are used to research diabetes, leukemia, and neurological disorders.
- By tracing back our ancestral lineage, the team hopes to better understand genetic disease susceptibility.
You know someone has received their 23andMe report when they write one of two social media posts: they boast of having Neanderthal DNA or being an ancestor of Genghis Khan. Sure, it's a bit strange to take pride in a lineage filled with pillaging and murder, yet that's often how we view history from afar, downplaying shadowy events while championing warrior ancestry.
Let's move on to Neanderthals. The common understanding of evolutionary biology goes something like this: chimps to humans with a period of Neanderthal intermediaries along the way—the "starting to lose hair" phase. Of course, the picture is more complex.
The line from Australopithecus to Homo sapiens is not straight. There was Homo neanderthalensis (Man from Neander Vally), as well as Homo erectus (Upright Man), Homo soloensis (Man from the Solo Valley), Homo floresiensis (Dwarf man from Flores), Homo denisova (Man from Siberia), Homo rudolfensis (Man from Lake Rudolf), and Homo ergaster (Working Man).
What happened to all of these intriguing relatives? Most likely, Homo sapiens killed them. Our forebears procreated with whatever combinations worked, most famously Neanderthals, as recently as 40,000 years ago. Today an estimated 40 percent of Neanderthal genome lives on in 2 percent of modern, non-African humans (although the idea that Neanderthals and Africans didn't mingle is now being challenged). The Neanderthal genome is the topic of an exciting new study, published in the journal Cell Stem Reports.
Can Stem Cells Reverse Aging? With Dr. David Agus
In 2010, Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo first mapped the Neanderthal genome. He successfully extracted and sequenced Neanderthal DNA, opening up an entirely new field of genetic research. Evolving on that work, a team lead by Grayson Camp at the Institute of Molecular and Clinical Opthalmology in Basel, Switzerland has grown Neanderthal DNA-containing brain tissue for the first time.
The team used induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), which are normally derived from human skin or blood cells. Stem cells are biological gold. By reprogramming these cells back to an embryonic-like state, researchers can develop a wide range of human cells for therapeutic purposes. This is exactly what Camp hopes this research on the Neanderthal genome will help accomplish.
Genetic codes reveal secrets around biological development and susceptibility to disease. Since stem cells can resemble brain, stomach, skin, kidney, and intestinal (among others) human tissues, their range of utility is endless. Researchers are hopeful that stem cells will help combat the ravages of diabetes, leukemia, and neurological disorders, among numerous other diseases.
As the team writes, Neanderthal DNA provides a wealth of genetic resources, including "skin and hair color, immune response, lipid metabolism, skull shape, bone morphology, blood coagulation, sleep patterns, and mood disorders."
Fabien Danjan of CNRS (French Research Institut Center) introduces embryonic stem cells in a mouse embryo to set a genetically modified line, on February 9, 2012.
Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images
Analyzing genome sequences from 173 mostly European participants, they were able to identity Neanderthal haplotypes (an inherited group of genes from a single parent). Alleles (gene variants) were identified for digestive function, immune response, and skin color. Camp believes this research is beneficial for studying human developmental processes.
After identifying Neanderthal genes, the team grew brain organoids, 3D blobs of brain tissue barely a few millimeters in size. Organoids are diverse resources in laboratory settings, especially in drug treatment research. Cancer treatment protocols are often tested on these blobs, for example.
While his team's work is exciting, Camp warns that this is no science fiction experiment.
"These are human cells, they're not Neanderthal cells but human cells that have Neanderthal DNA naturally inside them. This is totally different to Jurassic Park. It's more about studying the mechanism than try to recreate something."
While these culture systems are not yet optimal, the process has begun. Camp is interested in studying other Homo ancestors, such as Denisovan DNA. The further we dial back the clock, the better we understand our origins. If that path leads to treatments or cures for some of humanity's most prolific killers, the backpedaling will be worth it.
Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.
- The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
- The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
- Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
The value of forecasting<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTA0Njk2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMzM2NDQzOH0.rid9regiDaKczCCKBsu7wrHkNQ64Vz_XcOEZIzAhzgM/img.jpg?width=980" id="2bb93" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="31345afbdf2bd408fd3e9f31520c445a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1546" data-height="1056" />
Northwell emergency departments use the dashboard to monitor in real time.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>One unique benefit of forecasting COVID-19 hospitalizations is that it allows health systems to better prepare, manage and allocate resources. For example, if the tool forecasted a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations in two weeks, Northwell Health could begin:</p><ul><li>Making space for an influx of patients</li><li>Moving personal protective equipment to where it's most needed</li><li>Strategically allocating staff during the predicted surge</li><li>Increasing the number of tests offered to asymptomatic patients</li></ul><p>The health-care field is increasingly using machine learning. It's already helping doctors develop <a href="https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/early/2020/06/09/dc19-1870" target="_blank">personalized care plans for diabetes patients</a>, improving cancer screening techniques, and enabling mental health professionals to better predict which patients are at <a href="https://healthitanalytics.com/news/ehr-data-fuels-accurate-predictive-analytics-for-suicide-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevated risk of suicide</a>, to name a few applications.</p><p>Health systems around the world have already begun exploring how <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7315944/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">machine learning can help battle the pandemic</a>, including better COVID-19 screening, diagnosis, contact tracing, and drug and vaccine development.</p><p>Cruzen said these kinds of tools represent a shift in how health systems can tackle a wide variety of problems.</p><p>"Health care has always used the past to predict the future, but not in this mathematical way," Cruzen said. "I think [Northwell Health's new predictive tool] really is a great first example of how we should be attacking a lot of things as we go forward."</p>
Making machine-learning tools openly accessible<p>Northwell Health has made its predictive tool <a href="https://github.com/northwell-health/covid-web-data-predictor" target="_blank">available for free</a> to any health system that wishes to utilize it.</p><p>"COVID is everybody's problem, and I think developing tools that can be used to help others is sort of why people go into health care," Dr. Cruzen said. "It was really consistent with our mission."</p><p>Open collaboration is something the world's governments and health systems should be striving for during the pandemic, said Michael Dowling, Northwell Health's president and CEO.</p><p>"Whenever you develop anything and somebody else gets it, they improve it and they continue to make it better," Dowling said. "As a country, we lack data. I believe very, very strongly that we should have been and should be now working with other countries, including China, including the European Union, including England and others to figure out how to develop a health surveillance system so you can anticipate way in advance when these things are going to occur."</p><p>In all, Northwell Health has treated more than 112,000 COVID patients. During the pandemic, Dowling said he's seen an outpouring of goodwill, collaboration, and sacrifice from the community and the tens of thousands of staff who work across Northwell.</p><p>"COVID has changed our perspective on everything—and not just those of us in health care, because it has disrupted everybody's life," Dowling said. "It has demonstrated the value of community, how we help one another."</p>
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"</p><p>Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02724634.2010.483632" target="_blank">8.2 feet long</a>.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a <em>Triceratops prorsus, </em>one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.</p>
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College<p>The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the T<em>yrannosaurus rex</em>. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.</p><p>Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/26/science/triceratops-skull-65-million-years-old.html" target="_blank">New York Times</a>.</p>
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.
- Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
- The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
- The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9734e306f0914bfdcbe79a1e317a7f0"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/b-wAYtBxn7E?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Persian polymath and philosopher of the Islamic Golden Age teaches us about self-awareness.