New Open Access Science Journal Starts Up and Study Sheds Light on Distant Human Ancestor News Roundup June 2012 3rd Edition

There has been a recent high-profile case of a judge recommending forced treatment for a lady with Anorexia. The lady has been deemed not to have capacity in the court case and there is a transcription of the judge’s decision with discussion in this article. The case was complex and involved a consideration of Advanced Directives that had been made, the Mental Capacity Act and the Human Rights Act.

Researchers have found a link between the Alzheimer’s Disease associated gene ALP1 and the regulation of Insulin. The researchers investigated the association in the Nematode worm C.Elegans. The relationship between Diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease is complex and is an area of intense research activity.

There was a malfunction in a Harvard brain bank recently which resulted in the thawing of brains being stored for research. A significant proportion of these brains were from people who had been diagnosed with Autism. Interestingly some of the brains had been divided in two with one half being frozen and the other stored in Formaldehyde. Obviously the Formaldehyde specimens were unaffected.

In a recent study (via @VaughanBell), researchers evaluated the accuracy of a software program FreeSurfer that is used to analyse structural MRI brain scans. The researchers found that the results varied between versions of FreeSurfer as well as the computers that were used. The effect sizes seen reached sizes reported in a number of clinical studies for example looking at grey matter volume reduction in Alzheimer’s Disease. This is only one software package used for this type of analysis however and the authors suggest further research looking at this software package in more detail.

 The Neuropolis is a new centre for neuroscienceis being set up in Geneva and Lausanne and which should be in operation by 2016. The centre will bring together over 1000 neuroscientists with a remit which includes the investigation of neurodegenerative conditions.

There is a new Open-Access Journal PeerJ being set up by Pete Binfield one of the former editors at PLOS One with funding from Tim O’Reilly (author of the initial Web 2.0 definition and subsequent conferences). The journal offers researchers a one-off membership fee to submit to and publish science articles in the journal.

Researchers have taken another look at the skull case from an ancient fish species and on the basis of their analysis  suggest that they are the common ancestors that we share with sharks. Building up a timeline of our evolutionary history is tricky but has many benefits including helping us to understand subtle nuances of our physiology and possibly even behaviour. In this research, the brain case of the fish Acanthodes Bronni dates back 290 million years. The researchers constructed a model of the brain case and found it to be very similar to early sharks. They suggest on this basis that this species was our common ancestor with sharks and looked more similar to sharks than our bony fish ancestral line.

Other research suggests that human speech may have evolved from lip-smacking gestures in monkeys. The researchers  used X-ray movies of Macaques and determined that the use of lip-smacking involved similar anatomical structures to human speech as well as a similar frequency of these movements. Intriguingly this supports a hypothesis that suggests facial expressions evolved into speech. In this model the action of lip smacking explains the development of vowels and consonants.

In another study, Professor Zilhao’s team has used Uranium series dating to estimate the age of cave paintings in the El Castillo cave in Spain. The researchers estimated that paintings including hand stencils date back 40,800 years. These findings are significant because they provide stronger evidence that the earliest painters of cave art in Europe were Neanderthals. The cave paintings in Europe have been long held as evidence of the innovative abilities of Cro-Magnons, the ancestors of modern humans. Thus it has been suggested that when early humans (i.e Homo Sapiens Sapiens) came into Europe unlike the Neanderthals they were responsible for a flourishing of culture including artwork.

The new date however overlaps with the period in which Neanderthals inhabited Europe and support an alternative view that Neanderthals were already capable of such artwork and by inference creativity/abstract thought. For those familiar with Neanderthals this is not surprising as it fits with abundant evidence of innovative Neanderthal cultures. However the popular anthropocentric view of Neanderthals is partly due to one of the earliest specimens that was found. This was a man who had degenerative bone changes which would have caused him to have a stooped posture. Early artistic reconstructions were therefore based on a male Neanderthal with arthritic changes and generalised to Neanderthals as a species. Thus the public perception of Neanderthals was that they were not well adapted to walking. Matters were further compounded by an automatic interpretation of cultural associations of different sites with modern humans rather than Neanderthals even when a period of cohabitation was evident.

Since Paabo’s 2010 finding of a 5% contribution of Neanderthal DNA to the human gene pool, researchers in other fields have been more willing to reappraise the conventional narrative of Neanderthal capabilities. The results have been fascinating and also tell us more about ourselves. In another study for instance researchers have identified retroviruses not seen in modern humans in the DNA of Neanderthals and another archaic species known as the Denisovans (that are more closely related to Neanderthals than modern humans).


2008-2011 News Round-Up

Index: There are indices for the TAWOP site here and here Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

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