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Week in Review: August 18–22

Neanderthal extinction; eradicating polio; virus takes down massive algal bloom; receptor behind the hummingbird’s sweet tooth; legal threat for PubPeer; price tag of scientific fraud

By | August 22, 2014

When did Neanderthals go extinct?

THOMAS HIGHAMAnalyzing ancient remains across Europe, a team led by investigators at the University of Oxford has pinpointed the timing the Neanderthals’ extinction to between 39,000 and 41,000 years ago, highlighting “a shorter time frame for the potential interaction of humans with Neanderthals,” said study coauthor Ron Pinhasi, a professor of archaeology at the University College Dublin in Ireland. The team’s results were published in Nature this week (August 20).

“Until recently, the main view was for a coexistence [of Neanderthals and early modern humans] in Europe between about 30,000 to 40,000 years, with a few sites suggesting Neanderthal survived even later than 30,000 years,” Chris Stringer, an anthropologist at London’s Natural History Museum, told The Scientist in an e-mail. “This new work seems to have falsified that model with no signal of a Neanderthal presence after 39,000 to 40,000 years ago.”

Harnessing two vaccines for polio eradication

WIKIMEDIA, ANDREW W. MCGALLIARDBeginning this year, children in polio-affected parts of the world will receive both the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) and the live, attenuated oral polio vaccine (OPV), according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A WHO-led study published in Science this week (August 20) provided support for this approach, showing that, in children who had already received one or more doses of OPV, a booster shot of IPV improved their immune response and reduced their shedding of viral particles, which can spread the disease.

A supplementary dose of IPV “offers substantial benefits to using [OPV] alone in the eradication process,” Manish Patel of the Decatur, Georgia-based Task Force for Global Health who was not involved in the work told The Scientist.

Virus defeats North Atlantic algal bloom

NASA EARTH OBSERVATORYAlgal blooms, such as those comprised of the marine species Emiliana huxleyi, can have lasting impacts on the patches of ocean they temporarily inhabit. In an effort to determine the cause of death of an 18.6-mile-wide bloom of E. huxleyi in the North Atlantic, researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel quantified DNA from E. huxleyi virus (EhV), finding 200 to 800 virus particles per cell. The results, published in Current Biology this week (August 21), suggest viral burst caused the demise of the bloom.

“The role of viruses as a bloom-ending agent has been hypothesized for a long time, but there hasn’t been much data,” the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute’s Ken Johnson, who was not involved with the work, told The Scientist.

“Viruses are a relatively new [discovery] as a big actor in this process,” added study coauthor Assaf Vardi. “This is really the beginning of understanding the times, rates, and spatial scales at which viruses cause the demise of a bloom.”

From savory to sweet

WIKIMEDIA, MARCIAL4Why hummingbirds consume sugary nectar while their closest relatives dine on insects has long eluded researchers. But according to a study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, mutations affecting two subunits on a receptor that in most vertebrates enables perception of savory tastes enable hummingbirds to detect sweetness. The researchers published their results in Science this week (August 21).

“It’s a really nice example of how a change in one receptor can drive a complex behavioral phenotype and ultimately drive the evolution of a new species,” said Harvard’s Stephen Liberles, who led the work.

Other news in life science:

PubPeer Threatened with Legal Action
The moderators of the post-publication peer review forum say they could be facing their first legal case.

The Price Tag of Scientific Fraud
Each paper retracted because of research misconduct costs taxpayers roughly $400,000, according to a report.

WHO: Ebola Outbreak Underestimated
The World Health Organization says the ongoing Ebola outbreak may be worse than their official numbers show and notes that it’s still considering the use of several experimental therapies.

Haste Caused CDC Bird Flu Contamination?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist who accidentally leaked H5N1 into a benign strain of avian influenza may have been rushing off to a meeting.

Patent Plea Ping Pong
A genetic testing firm accused of infringing upon Myriad Genetics’s gene patents fights back in an attempt to wipe other patents out.

Obscured Like an Octopus
Cephalopod skin inspires engineers to design sheets of adaptive camouflage sensors.

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