Week in Review: June 16–20

Early Neanderthal evolution; developing antivirals to combat polio; the mouth and skin microbiomes; insect-inspired, flight-stabilizing sensors

By | June 20, 2014

Ancient, Neanderthal-like skulls

JAVIER TRUEBA/MADRID SCIENTIFIC FILMSSeventeen skulls excavated from Spain’s Sima de los Huesos and thought to be around 430,000 years old are the oldest specimens with Neanderthal features uncovered to date. Researchers from Complutense University of Madrid reported on their analysis of these skulls in Science this week (June 19). The team found evidence suggesting that these ancient individuals were not fully Neanderthal, yet not quite Homo heidelbergensis, either.

“Until recently, most [scientists] supported [the idea] that Neanderthals emerged, at most, 250,000 years ago. The discovery at Sima demonstrates that there is a much deeper history of the Neanderthals than we previously thought, to at least 430,000 years ago,” said Jean-Jacques Hublin from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who was not involved in the work. “[These new specimens] are clearly not like the late Neanderthals, but ancestral forms of Neanderthals.”

Polio antivirals key to eradication effort?

FLICKR, JULIEN HARNEISThere are two antiviral drugs being tested to treat polio, and researchers battling the spread of the disease where vaccination is incomplete are banking on their success. One of the drugs, pocapavir, has shown promise in early clinical trials. But scientists face the lingering challenge of containing poliovirus excretion by immunocompromised persons who have been vaccinated.

“There can be no true eradication of polio with the continued presence of prolonged poliovirus excreters,” Mark McKinlay, head of the Polio Antivirals Initiative within The Task Force for Global Health, told The Scientist in an e-mail.

Microbes of the mouth and skin

FLICKR, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HEALTH AND MEDICINEThe Scientist continued its deep dive into the human microbiomes outside of the gastrointestinal tract this week, with a look at the microbial communities that inhabit the mouth and skin.

“Particularly for skin, we are only just now understanding who is there,” said Heidi Kong from the National Cancer Institute. “The next, much more complex part of this is what are they doing there and how are we responding to them.”

More news in life science:

Journal Price Tags Revealed
Economists explore the wheelings and dealings of universities and publishers during largely secret negotiations regarding access to scientific journals.

Microroboticists have designed simple sensors based on insect light organs called ocelli to stabilize a miniature flying robot.

Yet Another Lawsuit over Genetic Tests
Myriad Genetics, the company originally behind tests for the cancer-associated BRCA mutations, is suing another competitor for patent infringement.

Interactome Analysis
Study examines tissue-specific protein interactions linked to hereditary diseases.

EMA Gearing Up for Transparency
The European Medicines Agency is preparing for a new policy that will release rarely-seen clinical trial reports for independent scrutiny. 

Fragmented Landscapes, More Outbreaks?
Study finds that ribwort plants in well-connected populations fare better when exposed to a fungal pathogen than those in isolated patches.

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