New Research Reveals The Source Of Bat Superpowers (Science /Biology / Nature / Genetics )

New research reveals the genetic material that codes for bat adaptations and “superpowers.”

Those bat powers include the ability to fly, to use sound to move effortlessly in complete darkness, to tolerate and survive potentially deadly viruses, and to resist aging and cancer.

The project, called Bat1K, sequenced the genome of six widely divergent living bat species.

Although other bat genomes have been published before, the Bat1K genomes are 10 times more complete than any bat genome published to date.

One aspect of the paper findings shows evolution through gene expansion and loss in a family of genes, APOBEC3, which is known to play an important role in immunity to viruses in other mammals. The details in the paper that explain this evolution set the groundwork for investigating how these genetic changes, found in bats but not in other mammals, could help prevent the worst outcomes of viral diseases in other mammals, including humans.

To generate the bat genomes, the team used the newest technologies of the DRESDEN-concept Genome Center, a shared technology resource in Dresden, Germany to sequence the bat’s DNA, and generated new methods to assemble these pieces into the correct order and to identify the genes present. While previous efforts had identified genes with the potential to influence the unique biology of bats, uncovering how gene duplications contributed to this unique biology was complicated by incomplete genomes.

The team compared these bat genomes against 42 other mammals to address the unresolved question of where bats are located within the mammalian tree of life. Using novel phylogenetic methods and comprehensive molecular data sets, the team found the strongest support for bats being most closely related to a group called Fereuungulata that consists of carnivorans (which includes dogs, cats, and seals, among other species), pangolins, whales, and ungulates (hooved mammals).

To uncover genomic changes that contribute to the unique adaptations found in bats, the team systematically searched for gene differences between bats and other mammals, identifying regions of the genome that have evolved differently in bats and the loss and gain of genes that may drive bats’ unique traits.

The researchers found evidence the exquisite genomes revealed “fossilized viruses,” evidence of surviving past viral infections, and showed that bat genomes contained a higher diversity of these viral remnants than other species providing a genomic record of ancient historical interaction with viral infections. The genomes also revealed the signatures of many other genetic elements besides ancient viral insertions, including ‘jumping genes’ or transposable elements.

Funding for the study came in part from the Max Planck Society, the European Research Council, the Irish Research Council, the Human Frontiers of Science Program, and the National Science Foundation.

References: David Jebb, Zixia Huang, Martin Pippel, Graham M. Hughes, Ksenia Lavrichenko, Paolo Devanna, Sylke Winkler, Lars S. Jermiin, Emilia C. Skirmuntt, Aris Katzourakis, Lucy Burkitt-Gray, David A. Ray, Kevin A. M. Sullivan, Juliana G. Roscito, Bogdan M. Kirilenko, Liliana M. Dávalos, Angelique P. Corthals, Megan L. Power, Gareth Jones, Roger D. Ransome, Dina K. N. Dechmann, Andrea G. Locatelli, Sébastien J. Puechmaille, Olivier Fedrigo, Erich D. Jarvis, Michael Hiller, Sonja C. Vernes, Eugene W. Myers & Emma C. Teeling, “Six reference-quality genomes reveal evolution of bat adaptations”, Nature, volume 583, pages 578–584(2020), DOI: 10.1038/s41586-020-2486-3

According To Study, Most People Pick Gifts To Wow Rather Than To Satisfy (Mind and Body / Psychology / Neuroscience / Emotions)

For most of us, the gifts we hoped for as children were very different than the ones we hope for as adults. The stuff on our lists would make a 6-year-old die of boredom: a warm sweater, new underwear, maybe some dishes or a new book. But despite knowing how humdrum the average grownup wish list is, most of us search for something different and exciting to give our friends, parents, and siblings in hopes of wowing them when they open their presents. If you’ve ever gotten a flashy gift when you really just wanted socks, you’ll be familiar with this phenomenon. Why do we do this? According to a study published in Psychological Science, it’s because we get more pleasure out of the surprise and delight we see on their faces than we do from the satisfaction our gifts give them in the long run.

When it comes to giving gifts, we imagine what it’ll be like to watch someone tear open a package and smile brightly. It sounds obvious, but we — and most scientific studies of gift-giving — assume that a person’s emotional display matches up with how they feel on the inside, and we use those emotional displays to make choices on their behalf. If someone’s brow furrows, we assume they’re disappointed, and we want to avoid that result. If someone smiles, laughs, or cries tears of joy, we assume they’re overcome with happiness and gratitude for the amazing gift we’ve given them.

The thing is that facial expressions don’t tell you much about someone’s appreciation of a gift. Research suggests that emotional reactions often occur without much cognitive processing — that is, the first thing someone does when they open a gift doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what they think about it five minutes later. Those two reactions can differ a lot: A novelty T-shirt, for instance, might make someone laugh out loud when they open it and then donate it when they realize they’d be embarrassed to wear it anywhere.

This discrepancy led researchers Adelle Yang and Oleg Urminsky to propose the “smile-seeking hypothesis”: the idea that gift-givers value those enthusiastic emotional displays over the less dramatic evidence of overall satisfaction. We don’t give gifts for long-term pleasure, but rather for a quick burst of performative enthusiasm.

To test the hypothesis, researchers asked 357 participants to take part in an online simulation that had them imagine either that they were giving gifts to a couple or that they were part of the couple receiving a gift. Then they looked at pictures and descriptions of two pairs of mugs. They were similarly priced, but one set of mugs was personalized with the couple’s names and wedding date and the other pair was ergonomically designed so the mugs were pleasant to hold. The participants rated each option, noted which set of mugs they preferred, and predicted the emotional response and satisfaction someone would get from each set.

Both givers and receivers thought the personalized mugs would elicit stronger reactions. And while receivers showed no preference between the ergonomic and personalized mugs, givers chose the personalized ones. In later studies, the researchers continued to find that givers chose gifts that would elicit a strong emotional reaction over those that would deliver more long-term benefits: roses in bloom over roses about to bloom, for example, or a bouquet of flowers over a potted plant.

But when the givers learned that they wouldn’t be able to see the recipient’s reaction? Their preference for gifts with a “wow” factor disappeared. That suggests that gifting is not as much about the receiver as it is about the giver.

“Our findings suggest that the pleasure that we can derive from others’ display of emotions is more powerful than previously considered,” Yang said in a press release.

When Yang and Urminsky asked people to think about gifts they themselves had actually enjoyed receiving, they found that books and money were popular items. But because those gifts aren’t very fun to give, people often shy away from them. In an online study, the researchers found that gift-givers aren’t swayed by how much a person will enjoy their gift in the long term.

It seems like this should be a pretty easy tendency to fix, but the researchers say our giving preferences are actually quite stubborn. Even if we try to imagine ourselves as receivers of gifts, we choose flashy, unhelpful things when it comes time to buy. And let’s not even get started with the consequences this research could have when we make medical, financial, health, or career decisions for others.

But when it comes to gift-giving, there’s only so much you can do — you only have control over yourself, after all. Even if you can’t bring yourself to buy the serious nonfiction book over the adorable elf slippers, you can remember how important your emotional reactions are to those who give gifts to you. So slap on a smile and get ready to shout with joy over every gift you get — whether it’s a flashy new toy or a sensible pair of socks.

References: (1) (2) (3)

Friend Or Foe? One Bundle Of Brain Fibres Let You Know (Mind and Body / Brain / Neuroscience)

New research identifies three key components to the brain’s rapid processing of emotions. It’s what lets us quickly recognize a potential friend or foe, an ability essential to survival.

The work may offer insights into disorders such as anxiety and psychosis.

Researchers were able to link a bundle of fibers deep within the brain to human social behavior for the first time.

The fiber bundle, called the stria terminalis, was involved in fast emotion processing in threatening social situations, says lead author, Ilvana Dzafic of the University of Queensland’s Queensland Brain Institute.

“People with psychotic and anxiety disorders have an altered stria terminalis pathway,” says Dzafic, who is now based at the University of Melbourne. “Our discovery may explain the link between these disorders and deficits in emotion processing, and also potentially inform treatment targets.

“People with psychosis may perceive threat from others when it is not there, while those with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder may have an abnormally high anticipation of threat.”

To create a realistic simulation of dynamic emotion, researchers showed videos of an actor portraying either happy or angry emotions to 46 healthy male volunteers while they underwent MRI scans.

The research identifies two other brain pathways. One of these is a region of the brain within the temporal lobes called the amygdala; the other is an attention network connected to the temporoparietal junction, an area of the brain involved in re-orienting attention.

The team found that the brain networks that helped to recognize emotion changed depending on whether the participant was expecting to see the emotion with which they were presented.

“The amygdala network facilitated fast recognition of anger when people expected a threat, whereas the attention network was important for recognizing unexpected threats,” says Dzafic.

Researchers say the next step is to expand the research to include female volunteers, as the stria terminalis structure is different in males and females.

Dzafic will also examine people with threat-induced anxiety to understand if the stria terminalis is important during learning in stressful situations, work that associate professor Marta Garrido of the University of Melbourne will lead.

The findings of the study appear in the journal Human Brain Mapping. The Australian Research Council funded the study.

References: (1) (2) (3) (4)

Scientists Say Feeling Sick Is An Emotion And They Give It A Name (Mind and Body / Illness / Emotion / Neuroscience)

That weary feeling that sets in with an illness is an emotion that helps you fight off infection, researchers say.

Slack facial muscles and drooping eyelids appear early. Exhaustion, loss of appetite, and increased sensitivity to cold and pain come on. Those signs are among a long list of features that researchers have linked to the emotion of being sick, which the authors label lassitude, a now little-used term for weariness from 16th-century Latin.

In a paper in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, researchers argue that the state of being sick qualifies as an emotion following a review of the literature on sickness behavior, most of which focused on behavioral and physiological changes in nonhuman animals.

In the paper, the researchers merge the accrued knowledge from 130 published studies and proposed that lassitude is a complex adaptation, like the immune system, that evolved to help people fight infectious diseases.

“The immune system clearly helps us fight off infections, but activating the immune system costs a lot of energy,” says lead author Joshua Schrock, a doctoral student at the University of Oregon. “This cost creates a series of predicaments for the body’s regulatory systems.”

“Lassitude is the program that adjusts your body’s regulatory systems to set them up for fighting infection,” Schrock says. “These adjustments make you feel sadder, more fatigued, more easily nauseated, less hungry, and more sensitive to cold and pain.”

Lassitude, the researchers write, persists until the immune response subsides. During that response, the body calls upon various mechanisms to coordinate the fight against infection, which, they note, can trigger symptoms resembling psychological depression.

During the battle, lassitude coordinates adjustments to patterns of movement, risk avoidance, body temperature, appetite, and even how a person elicits caregiving behavior from social networks.

Lassitude, the researchers write, “modifies the cost-benefit structure of a wide range of decisions.” Those who are ill place lower value on food and sex, for example, and often prefer to avoid social and physical risks.

“When threat levels are high, the system sends a signal to various motivational systems, configuring them in ways that facilitate effective immunity and pathogen clearance,” the researchers write in their conclusion. “We believe that investigating the information-processing structure of lassitude will contribute to a more complete understanding of sickness behavior, much like the information-processing structure of hunger helps us understand feeding behavior.”

While the paper focused primarily on illnesses that bacteria, viruses, parasitic worms, and protozoans trigger, they also theorized that other situations — such as injuries, poisoning, and chronic degenerative diseases — may present similar adaptive problems.

References: (1) (2) (3)

Shaming People Online Often Backfires (Social media / Mind and body / Neuroscience)

It happens every day on social media. A user posts something offensive, and then they log off. By the time they log back on, they’re trending — and not in a good way. We’ve all seen it happen, but how do we respond when it does? Do we feel sympathy for the person who made the horrible post? Do we feel angered by their ignorance? Or do we join in the flow of “viral outrage” in the hopes of correcting the person and anyone else who would make the same mistake? According to a recent study, it’s often a combination of all three, and it might not be helping anyone.

Viral outrage is defined by the researchers behind this study as the “piling up of online condemnation in response to offensive remarks.” Basically, it’s when lots of people get angry at one person on the internet all at the same time. And it’s common in the digital age.

When a single individual speaks out against racist, sexist, disrespectful, or otherwise objectionable behavior, it’s seen as noble. But turn that outrage viral by combining it with the voices of thousands or even millions of others, and it can be seen as bullying. For example, recent research has found that people see angry commenters more negatively when there are 10 of them than when there are two — that is, outrage that goes viral is seen as more mean-spirited than outrage expressed by only a few individuals.

But that’s the commenters. What do people think of the targets of this outrage?

To find out, two Stanford University researchers, Takuya Sawaoka and Benoît Monin, recruited 3,406 participants to find out whether viral outrage is effective. Can internet anger convince people that someone is guilty or deserving of shame and humiliation? Across seven studies, the researchers showed offensive social media posts to the participants — things like a concentration camp selfie or an anti-woman tirade. Some of the posts were made to look like they’d gone viral and others had just a few angry responses.

As it turns out, viral anger is a double-edged sword. As anger started to pile on, mass fury seemed more and more normal to the participants. They themselves grew angrier. But at the same time, they started to think the group anger was excessive and felt more sympathy for the target.

Interestingly, this was true regardless of how offensive the target’s post was. It also didn’t seem to matter if the person who posted it was a celebrity, a politician, or a regular Joe. In every case, people’s outrage and sympathy increased the more the post went viral. People also seemed to think that others were angrier and less sympathetic than they themselves were.

So, the short answer is no — viral outrage doesn’t accomplish anything good. According to the researchers on these studies, angry internet mobs aren’t that effective at convincing people that someone has done something wrong. Instead, it seems like mass anger makes us feel more sympathetic toward the offending party. Even as we say we’re mad on Facebook and Twitter, we feel bad for the person being vilified.

The next step, according to researchers, is figuring out what all of this means for us in a larger sense. Individual cases of internet outrage might make us feel more sympathy and more anger toward the offending parties, but what does that do to our larger understanding of offensive behavior? Can viral outrage change general attitudes toward bigotry and discrimination, for example — or will it backfire? In the end, it may be worth looking for more effective ways to fight the good fight.

References: (1) (2) (3) (4)

A 500-Year Old Mystery About The Leaning Tower Of Pisa Has Been Solved (History / Mystery)

The Leaning Tower of Pisa isn’t the first tower to lean. It’s not even the lean-iest building out there. What sets it apart is its sheer size — and the fact that, despite its severe angle, it’s been standing up since the 14th century. Now, scientists have determined how it’s managed to stay stabilized. Turns out it’s the same reason that it started leaning in the first place.

The “leaning” part of “Leaning Tower” isn’t anything new, not by a long shot. Construction of the tower began in 1172, and by the time the second story was built in 1178, it was already starting to tilt. Then, the tower took a century-long break for a little light warfare. The construction was put on hold while Pisa fought off Genoa, Lucca, and Florence for about a hundred years. At that point, the tower was leaning about 0.2 degrees north, but it swung back around — after construction started up again and the tower made its way to seven stories, it was leaning 1 degree south instead.

As the centuries passed, the tower grew, and so did its angle. It was finally completed in 1378, and despite efforts to counterbalance the tower by building higher walls on one side, it only listed further. At one point, it had gotten all the way to 5.5 degrees, but today, thanks to restoration efforts, it’s sitting pretty at 4 degrees.

According to a new report from the University of Bristol, the thing that keeps the tower standing is the very same thing that caused it to lean in the first place. The tower is positioned between the Arno and Serchio rivers, making the ground loose and soft, being composed of silt, clay, fine sand, and shells.

It’s easy to see how a 14,500-ton building could get stuck in that substance. But the softness of the soil is also instrumental to the building’s longevity. It’s all due to an effect called dynamic soil-structure interaction (DSSI), which describes the way that stiff buildings built in soft soil handle major vibrations. You’ve probably heard the expression about building your house on sand — yeah, it’s generally a bad idea unless you have some pretty groundbreaking techniques. The people behind the Leaning Tower didn’t have any of those techniques at their disposal, though. What they had was a stroke of incredible luck, but we’ll leave it up to you to decide if it was good luck or bad.

The site of the tower is actually incredibly soft soil. And the materials of the tower are themselves quite stiff. The result is that this particular building experiences DSSI effect far beyond any other structure in the world. It doesn’t act like other buildings built on soft soil, because its effects are so extreme. Instead, it simply began sinking until the ground around it had swallowed enough to hold it more securely. In other words, this tower might be tipsy, but it won’t be toppling any time soon — although the many earthquakes in the area are welcome to keep trying. We won’t be attempting to climb those stairs any time soon, though.

References: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

We Finally Know How Friction Causes Static Electricity (Physics)

A new model shows how rubbing two objects together creates static electricity, the answer to a mystery that has confounded scientists for more than 2,500 years.

The model that shows that rubbing two objects together produces static electricity, also known as triboelectricity, by bending the tiny protrusions on the surface of materials. This new understanding could have important implications for existing electrostatic applications, such as energy harvesting and printing, as well as for avoiding potential dangers, such as fires started by sparks from static electricity.

Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus first reported friction-induced static electricity in 600 B.C.E. After rubbing amber with fur, he noticed the fur attracted dust.

“Since then, it has become clear that rubbing induces static charging in all insulators — not just fur,” says Laurence Marks, a professor of materials science and engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University, who led the study. “However, this is more or less where the scientific consensus ended.”

At the nanoscale, all materials have rough surfaces with countless tiny protrusions. When two materials come into contact and rub against one another, these protrusions bend and deform.

Marks’s team found that these deformations give rise to voltages that ultimately cause static charging. This phenomenon is called the “flexoelectric effect,” which occurs when the separation of charge in an insulator arises from deformations such as bending.

Using a simple model, the researchers showed that voltages arising from the bending protrusions during rubbing are, indeed, large enough to cause static electricity. This work explains a number of experimental observations, such as why charges are produced even when we rub two pieces of the same material together and predicts experimentally measured charges with remarkable accuracy.

“Our finding suggests that triboelectricity, flexoelectricity, and friction are inextricably linked,” Marks says. “This provides much insight into tailoring triboelectric performance for current applications and expanding functionality to new technologies.”

“This is a great example of how fundamental research can explain everyday phenomena which hadn’t been understood previously, and of how research in one area — in this case friction and wear — can lead to unexpected advances in another area,” says Andrew Wells, a program director at the National Science Foundation, which funded the research.

References: C. A. Mizzi, A. Y. W. Lin and L. D. Marks, “Does Flexoelectricity Drive Triboelectricity?”, Physical Reviews Letters, pp. 1-33..

Evolution Isn’t Always Slow. Sometimes It Happens Overnight.. (Biology / Evolution)

There are still people out there who don’t believe in evolution, and frankly, we don’t want to start that argument. Instead, we’d prefer to just point to those moments when natural selection made itself suddenly, dramatically known. Like a couple of years ago, when a single winter storm changed the genetic makeup of an entire species of Texan reptile. Meet the green anole lizard.

In the summer of 2013, biologist Shane Campbell-Staton was elbow-deep in a DNA study of several dozen anole lizards ranging from the southern tip of Texas all the way up to Oklahoma. The purpose of his research? To discover how this subtropical reptile could survive in the (relatively) cold environment of the southern United States. And then the 2014 cold snap hit.

On January 2, an arctic front cut across the entire continent, resulting in record lows from coast to coast. And when Campbell-Staton saw a picture of an anole lizard lying dead in the snow, he realized that he had the chance to see exactly how the genes that he was studying reacted to their greatest challenge yet.

What he found was a perfect example of evolution in action. Not all of the anole lizards had perished in the cold, and the offspring of those that had turned out to be much better suited to less-than-tropical temperatures. Most interestingly, it was the lizards from southern Texas who had changed the most — their northern cousins hadn’t had to make as extreme of an adjustment. Those results were borne out not only in lab tests that actually pitted the lizards against low temps, but were also reflected in DNA markers that clearly separated them from their heat-loving ancestors. And it would never have happened if it weren’t for that January storm.

These kinds of easily traceable, all-at-once evolutions don’t happen a lot, but when they do, they can usually be traced to a single, cataclysmic event. In 1898, the wonderfully named Hermon Bumpus took note of how another sudden cold spell altered Rhode Island’s population of house sparrows. After the storm, he and his assistants collected a total of 136 sparrows that had been driven to the ground. 72 of these eventually recovered; the other 64 did not survive their ordeal. Bumpus took careful note of the survivors and documented a certain set of physical characteristics that set them apart from their unlucky companions. The more successful traits weren’t particularly useful before the storm hit, but they ended being the only ones to be passed on to the next generation afterward.

There’s another example, and this one is perhaps even more dramatic even if it’s not quite as sudden. The peppered moth is a common insect in Ireland and Great Britain, and gets its name from its white wings spattered with black speckles. But every once in awhile, one of the moths would be born with almost entirely black wings. The dark-colored moths stood out against the pale trees, and could be easily seen by predatory birds. But then the Industrial Revolution struck. The trees in the cities began to be coated in dark soot, and suddenly only the dark-colored peppered moths — which had previously been genetic anomalies — became the most common variety. If that’s not evidence enough, then just consider this: when cleaning efforts left the trees pale once again, the original white-with-black-spots breed got back on top once more. Bam. In evolutionary biology circles, that’s what’s known as a mic drop.

References: (1) (2) (3) (4)

Biologists Revive 101.5-Million-Year-Old Aerobic Microbes (Biology)

A team of biologists from Japan and the United States has successfully revived aerobic microbes found in 101.5-million-year-old sediments from the abyssal plain of the South Pacific Gyre, the part of the ocean with the lowest productivity and fewest nutrients available to fuel the marine food web.

Fig: Magnified image showing microbes revived from 101.5 million-year-old (Cretaceous period) sediment. Image credit: Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.

On the seafloor, there are layers of sediment consisting of marine snow (organic debris continually sourced from the sea surface), dust, and particles carried by the wind and ocean currents. Small life forms such as microbes become trapped in this sediment.

Aboard the drillship JOIDES Resolution, Dr. Morono and colleagues drilled numerous sediment cores 100 m (328 feet) below the seafloor and nearly 6 km (3.7 miles) below the ocean’s surface.

The scientists found that oxygen was present in all of the cores, suggesting that if sediment accumulates slowly on the seafloor at a rate of no more than 1-2 m (3.3-6.6 feet) every million years, oxygen will penetrate all the way from the seafloor to the basement.

Such conditions make it possible for aerobic microorganisms to survive for geological time scales of millions of years.

With fine-tuned lab procedures, the authors incubated the samples, ranging from 101.5 to 4.3 million years ago, to coax their microbes to grow.

The results demonstrated that rather than being fossilized remains of life, the microbes in the sediment had survived, and were capable of growing and dividing.

The team also investigated the taxonomic composition of 6,986 individual cells they revived and found that the microbial communities were dominated by bacteria.

Dominant bacterial groups included Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, Alphaproteobacteria, Betaproteobacteria, Gammaproteobacteria, and Deltaproteobacteria, with a minor fraction of Chloroflexi. A small fraction of thermophilic Archaea was detected only in one young sample.

References: Yuki Morono, Motoo Ito, Tatsuhiko Hoshino, Takeshi Terada, Tomoyuki Hori, Minoru Ikehara, Steven D’Hondt & Fumio Inagaki, “Aerobic microbial life persists in oxic marine sediment as old as 101.5 million years”, Nature Communications, volume 11, Article number: 3626 (2020), doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-17330-1…

Eternal in Knowledge, Eternal in Contents..