Mom was Neanderthal
By FRANK JORDANS
Thursday, August 23
BERLIN (AP) — Scientists say they’ve found the remains of a prehistoric female whose mother was a Neanderthal and whose father belonged to another extinct group of human relatives known as Denisovans.
The 90,000-year-old bone fragment found in southern Siberia marks the first time a direct offspring of these two groups has been discovered, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
Both groups disappeared by about 40,000 years ago. Neanderthals lived in Europe and Asia, while fossils of Denisovans are known only from the cave where the fragment was found.
Past genetic studies have shown interbreeding between the two groups, as well as with our own species, which left a trace in the DNA of today’s people. But the new study is the first to identify a first-generation child with Neanderthal and Denisovan parents.
“It’s fascinating to find direct evidence of this mixing going on,” said Svante Paabo, one of the study’s lead authors.
Paabo said he was surprised by the discovery, given how relatively few remains of our evolutionary relatives have been found around the world.
The cave near Mongolia where the bone was found contains some remains attributed to Neanderthals as well as Denisovans. But finding an actual offspring of the two groups — which are more different from each other than any two present-day human groups — seemed like a rare stroke of luck, Paabo said.
“The fact that we stumbled across this makes you wonder if the mixing wasn’t quite frequent,” said Paabo, a geneticist at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
The finding doesn’t reveal how often such mating occurred and where, said Ron Pinhasi, a physical anthropologist at the University of Vienna who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Had it happened frequently, we would not have such divergence between the Denisovans and Neanderthal genomes,” he said.
The newly discovered DNA could be interpreted in different ways, said Anders Eriksson, evolutionary population geneticist at King’s College London who wasn’t involved in the study.
“I think they convincingly showed that genetically this individual falls halfway between the Neanderthal and Denisovan fossils found in the same cave,” he said. “But I’m less convinced that it is necessarily a first-generation offspring of a union between Neanderthal and Denisovan.”
The fossil could instead have come from a population with roughly an equal mix of Neanderthal and Denisovan ancestry, he said. It will take analysis of more fossils to find out, he said.
The researchers said the small bone fragment likely came from the arm or leg of a female who was at least 13 years old at the time of death. Comparison with other ancient DNA showed that the genes she inherited from her mother were more closely related to Neanderthals who lived later in Europe than to other Neanderthal remains found in the cave, suggesting a wave of westward migration.
Together with previously discovered remains of a Homo sapiens that had a Neanderthal ancestor four to six generations earlier, Paabo said the latest find supports the theory that the now-extinct ancient lineages may have been absorbed through interbreeding with modern humans, rather than wiped out through warfare as is widely believed.
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Opinion: Congressional Meddling With Air Travel Could Make Skies Much Less Friendly
By Gerard Scimeca
Airline travelers often enjoy riding high in the sky, but that’s not where they want their ticket prices. However as Congress debates the Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization bill in the coming weeks, over-regulation threatens to make the skies a lot less friendly, leaving consumers at baggage claim with higher fares and fewer choices.
One amendment currently included in the FAA re-authorization bill is the FAIR Fees Act, which its sponsors claim will protect consumers from fees. In reality, this amendment is anything but fair. It will actually make it more expensive for hardworking people and families to travel. That’s because this attempt to micromanage the operation of a free-market entity will result in burdensome regulations that will threaten consumer choice, limit service and drive up airfares.
The truth is, U.S. domestic airfares are at historically low levels. In fact, the average cost of a plane ticket has dropped nearly $100 since 2000, adjusted for inflation. This runs contrary to claims by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, one of the sponsors of the FAIR Fees Act, that airline fees are “climbing as high as the planes passengers are traveling on.”
To keep ticket prices affordable, airlines offer unbundled fares and fees. Consumers can choose to buy tickets based on their needs — whether it’s added services or flexibility. Dictating fees will take the power of choice away from American consumers and give it to government bureaucrats to implement a one-size-fits-all approach to airline prices.
Without change fees, airlines wouldn’t be able to offer low, refundable fares for millions of consumers traveling on a budget. Low-cost carriers such as Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines are built on offering low, no-frills fares that give consumers the option to pay only for the services they actually need. The FAIR Fees Act would take away the power for travelers to tailor their trip based on their needs — chilling consumer choice.
Any prohibition or limit to airlines’ decision to charge change fees will ultimately drive up airfares for everyone. The FAIR Fees Act will result in increased ticket costs as airlines react to the policy by offering only more expensive nonrefundable fares that do not allow passengers to make any changes to their reservation — or the cost of changes will have to be added into the airfare. This would result in even the cheapest fares becoming more expensive for every single traveler. How is it “fair” for the federal government to force every single traveler to pay more for their airfare?
It’s certainly true that sometimes a last-minute travel change is unavoidable. But prohibiting change fees would lead to frequent last-minute changes, leaving seats on flights empty, which would force airlines to offer fewer flights and make it harder for them to guarantee service to small- and mid-size communities in every corner of the nation.
It is important to remember that this proposal goes against the Trump administration’s promise to shrink the influence of the federal government and decrease the tax burden on everyday Americans. Congress passed historic tax reforms last year, delivering on one of those promises and easing the burden on consumers.
With the FAIR Fees Act, Congress is threatening to roll back those benefits for anyone who travels. The federal government doesn’t dictate pricing models for any other industry and it shouldn’t start with the airline industry, which fuels our nation’s economy. Consumers don’t want the federal government to regulate what any private company or industry charges for their products or services. The FAIR Fees Act would do just that.
Sen. Markey and supporters of the FAIR Fees Act fail to understand that free market competition among dozens of carriers is good for consumers. Unbundling fares and fees has allowed for the emergence of ultra-low-cost airlines, which offer low fares that are then typically matched by other airlines. Traveling has never been more affordable, and we have the free market to thank for that.
Luckily, the FAIR Fees Act is not yet law. Markey would tell you this proposal is necessary to protect consumers and keep airline prices in check. But the airline industry has already proven that a free-market economy is the best approach to allow competition to keep prices in check for consumers. Flying is more affordable now for families than ever before. Don’t let Congress change that.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Gerard Scimeca is vice president of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, a free-market consumer advocacy organization. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Would you eat ‘meat’ from a lab? Consumers aren’t necessarily sold on ‘cultured meat’
August 23, 2018
JD Candidate, Arizona State University
Director, Risk Innovation Lab, Arizona State University
Associate Research Scientist, Michigan State University
Sheril Kirshenbaum is affiliated with Science Debate.
Andrew Maynard and Walter Johnson do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Michigan State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Arizona State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
It’s been a busy summer for food-based biotech. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration made headlines when it approved the plant-based “Impossible Burger,” which relies on an ingredient from genetically modified yeast for its meaty taste. The European Union sparked controversy by extending heavy restrictions on genetically modified organisms by classifying them as gene-edited crops.
You probably heard less about a public meeting hosted by the FDA on “cultured meat” – meats that don’t come directly from animals, but instead from cell cultures. Lab-grown meats will be increasingly big news as they draw closer to entering the marketplace. But research suggests that consumers may not readily accept the idea of burgers sourced from a lab instead of a farm once they’re widely available. Would you?
Opinion polls seem to indicate that public attitudes about cultured meat are currently all over the place, depending on who’s asking and who’s being asked. Overlooking the details may spell trouble for its acceptance in the U.S. and internationally.
Out of the lab, onto the grill
This emerging biotechnology captured attention in 2013 with a live tasting of a lab-grown burger, which had a US$330,000 price tag. Production has gone largely under the radar since then, but researchers and companies have been racing to lower the price and, they say, are finally on the cusp of an affordable product.
Production of cell-cultured meat involves retrieving a live animal’s adult muscle stem cells and setting them in a nutrient-rich liquid. Proponents claim future techniques could allow these cells to make many burgers without collecting more cells from an animal. Groups of these multiplying cells eventually look like patties or nuggets because they grow around a “scaffold,” which helps the meat take on a desired shape. The result is a product that looks and tastes like meat because it’s made from animal cells, rather than plant-based products that lack animal tissue but try to look and taste like it.
Because cultured meat doesn’t involve livestock, and thus avoids the associated environmental impacts and ethical issues, it’s been highly anticipated by environmental groups, animal welfare advocates and some health conscious consumers. Producing cultured meat, it’s claimed, could consume fewer natural resources, avoid slaughter and remove the need for the growth hormones used in the traditional meat industry.
What’s in a name?
Before cell-cultured meat goes on the market, regulators need to decide what it can be called. Possible names include “clean meat,” “in vitro meat,” “artificial meat” and even “alt-meat.”
But opinions and critiques vary widely. Most notably, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association worries that the term “meat” will confuse consumers since these products will directly compete with traditional farm-raised meat. The industry group prefers what are perhaps less-appetizing terms, like “cultured tissue.”
Jumping onto the “clean eating” craze, the Good Food Institute – a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to animal-products – favors the term “clean meat,” claiming the language evokes a positive image with consumers and may increase its acceptance.
The Consumers Union – the advocacy arm of the magazine Consumer Reports – counters that the public wants to know how the product was made, requiring a more visible distinction from farm-raised meat.
Meanwhile, the American Meat Science Association – an organization focused on the science of producing and processing animal-based meat – worries that the term “meat” may inaccurately suggest that lab-grown protein is as safe and nutritious as traditional meat.
This summer’s FDA meeting sparked even more discussion over labeling. The debate is reminiscent of the one over what to call non-dairy beverages, like almond and soy “milk,” that do not originate from an animal.
Yet even as regulators and industry lobbyists spar over names, they are overlooking a far more important factor in the viability of lab-grown meat: consumers.
Everyone has an opinion
In Michigan State University’s Food Literacy and Engagement Poll, we surveyed over 2,100 Americans in 2018 asking, “How likely would you be to purchase foods that look and taste identical to meat, but are based on ingredients that are produced artificially?” We intentionally didn’t use terms like “cultured meat” and “lab-grown meat” to avoid influencing the response based on a particular term.
We found just one-third of Americans would be likely to purchase cultured meat, with the other two-thirds veering toward caution. Forty-eight percent told us they’d be unlikely to buy this product. The question did not provide much detail about cell-cultured meats, so our results represent a general reaction to the idea of purchasing “traditional” versus “artificial” meat.
When we split the poll results out by income, participants in households earning over $75,000 per year were nearly twice as likely to say they’d purchase cultured meat (47 percent), compared to those in households earning less than $25,000 per year (26 percent). It seems that the more people earn, the more likely they are to switch from being undecided about cultured meat to being willing to give it a try. But the proportion who said they were unlikely to try cultured meat didn’t vary much at all as income rose.
A more striking difference was seen with the poll participant’s age. Eighteen to 29-year-olds were nearly five times more likely (51 percent) to say they’d purchase cultured meat products compared to those 55 and over (only 11 percent). And college graduates were substantially more likely to say they’d purchase cultured meat products (44 percent) compared to non-college graduates (24 percent).
We also found that 43 percent of men said they’d likely try artificial meats but just 24 percent of women did – a gender difference that was also seen in a separate 2007 study. Notably, the same study also found that politically liberal respondents are more likely to eat cultured meat than their more conservative counterparts.
Consumer behavior is often more complex than a single, aggregate snapshot of the entire population can convey. While many people could respond differently at the grocery store than in an online poll about a product that’s not yet on the market, our findings and others suggest that attitudes related to cultured meat – however it ends up being labeled – are complicated and likely influenced by one’s values and experiences.
Cultured meat may have environmental and ethical appeal, but its success in the marketplace depends on far more than technological and economic viability. Regulators and producers will need to consider the wide spectrum of opinions and attitudes held by consumers if the benefits of this technology are to be widely enjoyed.
Llewellyn King: Nuclear Engine to Change Nuclear Future, Simplify Waste Issue
By Llewellyn King
One of the frustrating and intriguing things about nuclear energy is that there is no standard design that is essential. For example, if you want to build a motorcar, you need to start with the idea that it will have four wheels; three is less effective, and two with gyroscopes is something else again.
But when it comes to nuclear reactors, there are seemingly no limits. There are literally hundreds of reactor designs and possibilities. The moderator, which acts like a shock absorber to the reaction, varies too. It is nearly always water, but it can be gas, salt or a liquid metal.
The end, though, is to use fission to produce power to turn a generator to make electricity or to propel a ship, like a submarine or aircraft carrier.
So far, so good. But the limit is that the reactor only produces heat, which then must be converted, through steam or some other medium, into shaft horsepower to make electricity or to drive the submarine.
In my many years of writing about nuclear and chronicling its ups and downs, I have always been aware of the apparent weakness here: Huge, sophisticated power plants are only giant kettles; their purpose is to boil water, albeit very effectively.
Periodically, scientists have tried to tackle this issue with thoughts on a direct conversion of heat to useful work in turning a drive shaft for whatever end use.
There have been theoretical attempts to make the leap to the direct use of nuclear heat for work without a transfer agent. The great nuclear theorist Leo Szilard, according to his biographer William Lanouette, toyed with an idea but abandoned it.
But there is a way, says Mark Adams, an MIT-educated physicist and former staff member at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. He has designed an engine that he calls an “internal” rotary engine, rather like the kind of Wankel engine that has been around since the 1950s. Instead of pistons going up and down, the engine has a rotor that rotates around a crank shaft.
The rotary engine that Adams envisions looks diagrammatically very like a schematic of the rotatory engine that Mazda introduced to varying degrees of success in its cars in the 1970s.
It works like this: A small amount of gasified “nanofuel,” which contains nuclear material mixed with hydrogen, is ignited by a neutron source to set up a controlled fission reaction, creating heat and propelling the rotor forward and driving the crank shaft. The fuel can be derived from the transuranic parts of spent conventional nuclear fuel or can be created separately.
A company dedicated to energy innovation, Global Energy Research Associates (GERA), is working on design and raising money. The Department of Energy has held back.
Adams, 45, explains his engine this way, “Much like the way your car converts chemical energy into mechanical work, our engine converts nuclear energy directly and safely into useful mechanical work. This eliminates a lot of expensive reactor equipment and paves the way for low-cost nuclear power plants.”
He says his engine would produce 340 megawatts of electric power, if deployed in a combined-cycle configuration. The radioactive byproducts are only cesium and strontium with half-lives of about 30 years — a great improvement on the nuclear waste from conventional reactors. It would be a high-level waste burner as well as an energy source. Tests to prototype engine components are underway at the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls.
The nuclear engine would shut itself down automatically if things went wrong. A meltdown accident of the kind seen at Three Mile Island and Fukushima is not possible, according to GERA, which Adams formed to demonstrate and market the engine.
One must have, as one must with all futuristic, high-technology designs, a healthy skepticism and a lot of excitement.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.