Prehistoric panda discovery in China


This 18 June 2018 video is called Oldest Known Giant Panda Fossil Found In China.

From ScienceDaily:

22,000-year-old panda from cave in Southern China belongs to distinct, long-lost lineage

June 18, 2018

Researchers who’ve analyzed ancient mitochondrial (mt)DNA isolated from a 22,000-year-old panda found in Cizhutuo Cave in the Guangxi Province of China — a place where no pandas live today — have revealed a new lineage of giant panda. The report, published in Current Biology on June 18, shows that the ancient panda separated from present-day pandas 144,000 to 227,000 years ago, suggesting that it belonged to a distinct group not found today.

The newly sequenced mitochondrial genome represents the oldest DNA evidence from pandas.

“Using a single complete mtDNA sequence, we find a distinct mitochondrial lineage, suggesting that the Cizhutuo panda, while genetically more closely related to present-day pandas than other bears, has a deep, separate history from the common ancestor of present-day pandas”, says Qiaomei Fu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “This really highlights that we need to sequence more DNA from ancient pandas to really capture how their genetic diversity has changed through time and how that relates to their current, much more restricted and fragmented habitat.”

Very little has been known about pandas’ past, especially in regions outside of their current range in Shaanxi province or Gansu and Sichuan provinces. Evidence suggests that pandas in the past were much more widespread, but it’s been unclear how those pandas were related to pandas of today.

In the new study, the researchers used sophisticated methods to fish mitochondrial DNA from the ancient cave specimen. That’s a particular challenge because the specimen comes from a subtropical environment, which makes preservation and recovery of DNA difficult.

The researchers successfully sequenced nearly 150,000 DNA fragments and aligned them to the giant panda mitochondrial genome reference sequence to recover the Cizhutuo panda’s complete mitochondrial genome. They then used the new genome along with mitochondrial genomes from 138 present-day bears and 32 ancient bears to construct a family tree.

Their analysis shows that the split between the Cizhutuo panda and the ancestor of present-day pandas goes back about 183,000 years. The Cizhutuo panda also possesses 18 mutations that would alter the structure of proteins across six mitochondrial genes. The researchers say those amino acid changes may be related to the ancient panda’s distinct habitat in Guangxi or perhaps climate differences during the Last Glacial Maximum.

The findings suggest that the ancient panda’s maternal lineage had a long and unique history that differed from the maternal lineages leading to present-day panda populations. The researchers say that their success in capturing the mitochondrial genome also suggests that they might successfully isolate and analyze DNA from the ancient specimen’s much more expansive nuclear genome.

“Comparing the Cizhutuo panda’s nuclear DNA to present-day genome-wide data would allow a more thorough analysis of the evolutionary history of the Cizhutuo specimen, as well as its shared history with present-day pandas”, Fu says.

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14 extinct animal discoveries in Siberian permafrost


This December 2017 video says about itself:

14 Most Amazing Permafrost Discoveries from Siberia

Many a times the thick permafrost of Siberia hides the mummified remains of a menagerie of ice age animals. In some cases, entire buried carcasses that have been shrunken and desiccated down to a natural mummified state have been dug up.

Here are 14 such frozen mummies that tell us how these animals lived and looked through the Ice Age.

1- Steppe Bison known as Blue Babe … 36,000 Years old carcass

2- Cave Lion Cub … 50,000 Years old carcass

3- Rauchua Bison … 10,800 Years old carcass

4- Sasha, Baby Woolly Rhinoceros … 10,000 Years old carcass

5- The Kolyma Woolly Rhinoceros …39,000 Years old carcass

6- The Yukagir Bison … 10,500 Years old carcass

7- The Selerikan Pony … 35,000 Years old

8- Sopkarga mammoth (Zhenya Mammoth) …. 30,000 Years old carcass

9- Sakha Mammoth … 10,000 Years old Carcass

10- The Yuka Mammoth … 39,000 Years old carcass

11- The Yukagir Mammoth … 22,500 Years old carcass

12- Lyuba The Woolly Mammoth … 41,800 Years old carcass

13- Cave Lion Cubs … 30,000 Years old carcasses

14- Pleistocene Puppy … 12,400 Years old Carcass

Ice Age art animal depiction and autism


This is a drawing of a horse by Nadia, a gifted autistic child artist (left) and by a typically developing child of the same age (right). Credit: Penny Spikins, University of York, England

This is a drawing of a horse by Nadia, a gifted autistic child artist (left) and by a typically developing child of the same age (right). Credit: Penny Spikins, University of York, England.

From the University of York:

How our ancestors with autistic traits led a revolution in Ice Age art

The ability to focus on detail, a common trait among people with autism, allowed realism to flourish in Ice Age art, according to researchers at the University of York.

Around 30,000 years ago realistic art suddenly flourished in Europe. Extremely accurate depictions of bears, bison, horses and lions decorate the walls of Ice Age archaeological sites such as Chauvet Cave in southern France.

Why our ice age ancestors created exceptionally realistic art rather than the very simple or stylised art of earlier modern humans has long perplexed researchers.

Many have argued that psychotropic drugs were behind the detailed illustrations. The popular idea that drugs might make people better at art led to a number of ethically-dubious studies in the 60s where participants were given art materials and LSD.

The authors of the new study discount that theory, arguing instead that individuals with “detail focus”, a trait linked to autism, kicked off an artistic movement that led to the proliferation of realistic cave drawings across Europe.

Lead author of the paper, Dr Penny Spikins from the Department of Archaeology at the University of York, said: “Detail focus is what determines whether you can draw realistically; you need it in order to be a talented realistic artist. This trait is found very commonly in people with autism and rarely occurs in people without it.

“We looked at the evidence from studies attempting to identify a link between artistic talent and drug use, and found that drugs can only serve to dis-inhibit individuals with a pre-existing ability. The idea that people with a high degree of detail focus, many of which may have had autism, set a trend for extreme realism in ice age art is a more convincing explanation.”

The research adds to a growing body of evidence that people with autistic traits played an important role in human evolution.

Dr Spikins added: “Individuals with this trait — both those who would be diagnosed with autism in the modern day and those that wouldn’t — likely played an important part in human evolution and survival as we colonised Europe.

“As well as contributing to early culture, people with the attention to detail needed to paint realistic art would also have had the focus to create complex tools from materials such as bone, rock and wood. These skills became increasingly important in enabling us to adapt to the harsh environments we encountered in Europe.”

Human ancestors in the Philippines, 700,000 years ago


This 2 May 2018 video is called Ancient butchered rhino suggests humans lived in the Philippines 700,000 years ago.

By Bruce Bower, 1:00pm, May 2, 2018:

Butchered rhino bones place hominids in the Philippines 700,000 years ago

The earliest known evidence had been a 66,700-year-old human toe bone

Stone tools strewn among rhinoceros bones indicate that hominids had reached the Philippines by around 709,000 years ago, scientists report online May 2 in Nature.

Stone Age Homo species who crossed the ocean from mainland Asia to the Philippines — possibly aboard uprooted trees or some kind of watercraft — may also have moved to islands farther south, the team proposes. Evidence of ancient hominids has been found on some Indonesian islands, including individuals’ fossil remains on Flores (SN: 7/9/16, p. 6) and ancient stone tools on Sulawesi (SN: 2/6/16, p. 7).

But researchers hadn’t found old enough evidence of hominids in the Philippines to suggest such a journey — until now. At an excavation site in the landlocked northern region of Kalinga in the Philippines, more than 400 animal bones have been discovered, including much of a rhino skeleton, and 57 stone artifacts. Cuts and pounding marks on 13 of the rhino bones resulted from meat and marrow removal, say bioarchaeologist Thomas Ingicco of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and colleagues. Other fossils came from brown deer, monitor lizards, freshwater turtles and extinct, elephant-like creatures called stegodons.

Measures of the decay and accumulation of radioactive elements in Kalinga sediment and an excavated rhino tooth suggest the fossils are roughly 709,000 years old, give or take about 68,000 years.

Previously, the earliest evidence of hominids in the Philippines came from a roughly 66,700-year-old human toe bone. It’s not known if the ancient individual who unwittingly donated the toe bone to science descended from Kalinga’s roughly 700,000-year-old rhino butchers or from a population that reached the Philippines later.

Chimpanzee brains similar to human ancestors’


This video says about itself:

How different are human and chimpanzee brain stem cells?

27 January 2017

We share between 94 and 99% of our DNA with our chimpanzee cousins, but how do our brains compare? Watch this video by Felipe Mora-Bermúdez to find out what he has learned from studying brain stem cells from humans and chimps.

You can read his full publication on this work in the journal eLife here.

Felipe is a postdoc in the lab of Wieland Huttner at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany.

By Bruce Bower, 3:00pm, March 26, 2018:

Modern chimp brains share similarities with ancient hominids

Scans suggest certain folding patterns don’t mark humanlike neural advances after all

Groove patterns on the surface of modern chimpanzee brains throw a monkey wrench into proposals that some ancient southern African hominids evolved humanlike brain characteristics, a new study suggests.

MRIs of eight living chimps reveal substantial variability in the shape and location of certain features on the brain surface. Some of these brains showed surface creases similar to ones that were thought to have signaled a turn toward humanlike brain organization in ancient hominids hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years ago. Paleoanthropologist Dean Falk of Florida State University in Tallahassee and colleagues report their findings online March 13 in Brain, Behavior and Evolution.

The study casts doubt on a 2014 paper by Falk that was based on casts of the inside of fossil braincases, called endocasts, which preserve impressions of these surface features. At the time, Falk argued that four endocasts from southern African hominids — three Australopithecus africanus and one Australopithecus sediba — showed folding patterns that suggested that brain reorganization was underway as early as 3 million years ago in a frontal area involved in human speech production.

But MRIs of three of the chimp brains reveal comparable creases, the researchers found. Two other chimps display other frontal tissue furrows that Falk had also previously described as distinctly humanlike.

“I was really wrong about the handful of Australopithecus endocasts”, Falk says. The endocasts were made from A. africanus and A. sediba fossils dating to between roughly 2 million to 3 million years ago (SN: 8/10/13, p. 26).

And in one chimp, the new study finds, a pair of grooves correspond with those on a Homo naledi endocast that were described in 2017 as humanlike (SN Online: 4/25/17). H. naledi, a small-brained species with many humanlike skeletal features, inhabited southern Africa close to 300,000 years ago (SN: 6/10/17, p. 6).

Still, researchers have spent decades debating the implications of partially preserved brain surface features on hominid endocasts. And the new findings based on MRIs are also controversial.

Nothing in the new chimp study undermines the original finding of humanlike folds in H. naledi’s frontal brain, says biological anthropologist Shawn Hurst of Indiana University Bloomington. The frontal brain grooves on a H. naledi endocast, like those in modern humans, lie farther back than the grooves seen in the chimp MRI scan, Hurst contends. Expanded tissue folds around those grooves also follow a distinctly humanlike pattern not observed [in] chimps, he argues. Those features indicate H. naledi had a humanlike capacity for pride and other complex social emotions and possibly verbal communication of some type, Hurst says. What’s more, the new study fails to consider that the A. sediba endocast shows furrows and folding patterns found in humans but not chimps, he says.

Endocast researchers need to study the range of brain surface characteristics in a larger sample of living chimps and other apes to make more accurate comparisons, Falk says. Until now, line drawings published in 1950 of only five chimp brain hemispheres, she notes, have provided the most accurate and comprehensive look at furrow patterns on chimps’ brains.

How specific folds and creases on the brain’s surface relate to inner structures, such as those involved in speech and language, also remains poorly understood, Falk says.

Can chimpanzee vocalizations reveal the origins of human language? While closely related to humans, researchers discover that chimpanzees’ vocalizations resemble human language less than you’d expect: here.

Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) appear to keep tidier sleeping arrangements than humans do. That’s one finding of a recent study that evaluated the microbes and arthropods found in the treetop beds that chimpanzees make each night: here.

An international team of scientists has studied the physiological parameters of savanna and rainforest chimpanzees and compared their water and energy budgets as well as their stress levels. They found that the stress of maintaining their body temperature is a tremendous burden on chimpanzees living in the savanna: here.

Columbian mammoth footprints discovery in Oregon, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

9 February 2018

A video produced by Dean Walton, science and technology outreach librarian in the Allan Price Science Commons & Research Library, takes us on a journey above and along a mammoth trackway at a remote site in Lake County, Oregon. The site was discovered in 2014 by the UO’s Greg Retallack and excavated by a research team in 2017. The ancient path contains multiple footprints of Columbian mammoths that once roamed the region.

From the University of Oregon in the USA:

Ancient trail of Columbian mammoths uncovered in south-central Oregon

University of Oregon-led research team uncovers numerous footprints of adult, juvenile and infant elephants in a remote dry lake basin

February 12, 2018

A fossilized trackway on public lands in Lake County, Oregon, may reveal clues about the ancient family dynamics of Columbian mammoths.

Recently excavated by a team from the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the Bureau of Land Management and the University of Louisiana, the trackway includes 117 footprints thought to represent a number of adults as well as juvenile and infant mammoths.

Discovered by Museum of Natural and Cultural History paleontologist Greg Retallack during a 2014 class field trip on fossils at the UO, the Ice Age trackway is the focus of a new study appearing online ahead of print in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

Retallack returned to the site with the study’s coauthors, including UO science librarian Dean Walton, in 2017. The team zeroed in on a 20-footprint track, dating to roughly 43,000 years ago, that exhibited some intriguing features.

“These prints were especially close together, and those on the right were more deeply impressed than those on the left-as if an adult mammoth had been limping,” said Retallack, also a professor in the UO Department of Earth Sciences and the study’s lead author.

But, as the study reveals, the limping animal wasn’t alone: Two sets of smaller footprints appeared to be approaching and retreating from the limper’s trackway.

“These juveniles may have been interacting with an injured adult female, returning to her repeatedly throughout the journey, possibly out of concern for her slow progress”, Retallack said. “Such behavior has been observed with wounded adults in modern, matriarchal herds of African elephants.”

The tracks were made in a layer of volcanic soil at Fossil Lake, a site first excavated by UO science professor Thomas Condon in 1876 and today administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

“America’s public lands are some of the world’s greatest outdoor laboratories. Localities such as this mammoth tracksite are unique parts of America’s heritage and indicate that there are many special sites still to be discovered,” said study co-author Brent Breithaupt, a paleontologist in the Wyoming State Office of the Bureau of Land Management.

Specimens from the 1876 Fossil Lake excavation-along with the rest of Condon’s extensive assemblage of fossils and geologic specimens-were donated to UO in the early 1900s and form the core of the museum’s Condon Fossil Collection, now under Retallack’s direction and boasting upwards of 50,000 fossil specimens.

Last month a new state law went into effect, making the UO museum Oregon’s default repository for fossils found on state lands. The museum is also a designated repository for artifacts and paleontological specimens collected from BLM-administered lands in Oregon, ensuring they are available to future generations for education and research.

As part of the 2017 study, Neffra Matthews of the BLM’s National Operations Center in Denver, helped survey, map and document the trackway using photogrammetry, which helps scientists perform accurate measurements based on land-based or aerial photographs.

“There is a vast storehouse of natural history found on BLM-managed land, and it’s exciting to work with researchers like Professor Retallack in capturing 3D data on fragile paleontological resources,” she said.

Retallack said that trace fossils such as trackways can provide unique insights into natural history.

“Tracks sometimes tell more about ancient creatures than their bones, particularly when it comes to their behavior,” he said. “It’s amazing to see this kind of interaction preserved in the fossil record.”

Elephants once roamed across much of North America. Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) were common in Canada and Alaska. Columbian mammoths (Mammuthus columbi) occupied the region that became Washington state to South Dakota and south into Mexico. Most mammoths went extinct about 11,500 years ago, but some isolated Arctic island populations of woolly mammoth persisted until 4,000 years ago.

Grass snakes survived Ice Age


This video from Britain says about itself:

GRASS SNAKE AND TWO ADDERS TOGETHER

THREE SNAKES TOGETHER WATCH THEM UNFURL BEFORE YOUR EYES,THIS IS NOT A COMMON SIGHT

These reptiles had been huddling together for warmth and are waking up.

From the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Germany:

Cool Snake – Warmth-loving Grass Snake survived the Ice Age in Central Europe

February 9, 2018

Using genetic analyses, Senckenberg scientists have discovered that not all Grass Snakes retreated to warm southern refugia during the last Central European Ice Age. Together with a colleague from Spain, they offer first evidence for the survival of a warmth-loving, egg-laying reptile during this cold period. The study was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Among the warmth-loving reptiles, the Grass Snake is generally considered a “cool” representative: Its present distribution even extends to the Siberian permafrost soils and the area around the Finnish-Russian Lake Ladoga. “However, it came as a complete surprise to all of us that this thermophilic snake actually ‘overwintered’ in Central Europe during the Pleistocene Ice Age”, explains Professor Dr. Uwe Fritz, director of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden.

Until now it had been assumed that thermophilic reptiles survived the Ice Ages only on the southern peninsulas of Europe and spread northward once the temperatures rose again during the Holocene and the interglacial periods. Using genetic methods, Fritz, his doctoral student Carolin Kindler, and their Spanish colleague, Eva Graciá now discovered that not all of the snakes, which are widespread across Europe today, retreated to warmer, Mediterranean regions.

The team examined a total of 1,372 genetic samples of these harmless reptiles. “We closely studied different genetic lineages of the Barred Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica) and the Eastern Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)”, explains Kindler and continues, “One of the lineages of Natrix natrix survived the Ice Age in two separate refugia: one was located in the Southern Balkans, the other — unexpectedly — in Central Europe.”

As evidence, the scientists from Dresden highlight the much higher genetic diversity — compared to their more southerly relatives — of the Grass Snakes in Northern Germany and Scandinavia.

“This means that we need to rethink the model of ‘southern warm refugia’ — areas of retreat in the Mediterranean region — during the Ice Ages. It is quite possible that other heat-loving animals also withstood the cold temperatures directly ‘at home'”, adds Fritz in summary.