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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.
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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.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?
Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.