Strange India All Strange Things About India and world

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Tam Pà Ling cave.

Researchers laboriously sifted through clay, bucket by bucket, using their fingers to hunt for bone fragments.Credit: Fabrice Demeter

Two human bone fragments — from a skull and a leg — have been unearthed in the Tam Pà Ling cave in Laos. The fossils are older than previous finds from the cave and suggest that early modern humans were in the area up to 86,000 years ago. That’s earlier than previously thought, and calls into question hypotheses that Homo sapiens dispersed out of Africa and through Asia in a single rapid event that happened after the ending of a geological period 80,000 years ago. “I can’t overestimate the importance of having another point on our map for early modern humans in southeast Asia,” says anthropologist Miriam Stark. “Understanding southeast Asia is critical to understanding the world’s deep history,” she says.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Nature Communications paper

Magnetic minerals that were common on ancient Earth might be why nature shows a preference for the ‘left handed’ or ‘right handed’ versions of certain molecules that are essential for life. Some molecules have two mirror-image ‘chiral’ forms, and biology chooses just one: DNA, RNA and their building blocks are all right-handed; amino acids and proteins are all left-handed. Researchers found that magnetic minerals could have created an early surfeit of one-handed versions by causing more of one type to settle on their surfaces, kicking off the biological bias towards a single chiral form. “It’s a real breakthrough,” says origin-of-life chemist Jack Szostak. “Homochirality is essential to get biology started, and this is a possible — and I would say very likely — solution.”

Science | 6 min read

Reference: Science Advances paper

Moths are the unsung heroes of pollination in cities, accounting for one-third of pollinator visits in a study of moths and bees in Leeds, UK. “The whole reason why they’re overlooked is because bees, you see them in the day, but moths are obviously out at night,” says pollinator ecologist Emilie Ellis. Her team collected bees and moths in the city and examined the DNA of the pollen that they carried. Not only did the moths have a bigger role than expected, but the insects’ preferences differed: bees visited more wildflowers, whereas moths chose woody plants, such as trees and shrubs.

Wired | 6 min read

Reference: Ecology Letters paper

Features & opinion

Table of Contents

Neuroscientists are creating more naturalistic experiments to achieve a more nuanced understanding of animal — and human — behaviour. Some of the laboratory experiments that have been used for decades — such as training a mouse to push a lever to get a reward — require teaching an animal to complete specific, idiosyncratic tasks. The end result is like studying a “professional athlete”, says neuroscientist Tiago Branco. Armed with the latest technologies for brain imaging and movement tracking, researchers can now look at the natural and spontaneous behaviour of mice to glean holistic lessons that are more relevant to everyday activity.

Nature | 12 min read

Cataloguing behaviours. Diagram showing how researchers study sequences of mouse behaviour.

Source: Ref. 1

Polymath Thomas Young, born 250 years ago this week, originated a demonstration that still has scientists scratching their heads: the double-slit experiment. Originally designed to show that light is a wave, later versions of the experiment showed that light in fact acts like both a particle and a wave. In some instances, light switches suddenly from one to the other, depending on how it is observed. Quantum theory provides a mathematical explanation for the findings, but it’s still unclear what this means for the nature of physical reality. One possible answer is that light, and indeed all the fundamental components of the material world, have no reality at all until they are detected.

Nature | 11 min read

The screws are turning on fossil fuels in the United States. Under a proposed rule, fossil-fuel power plants will need to drastically reduce their carbon footprint, which effectively mandates the use of carbon-capture and storage technology. Many coal-fired power plants will probably close down instead of complying with the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulation. Many jobs will be lost, and others created. “Managing the social costs of the clean-energy transition must remain a priority in the United States, and worldwide,” argues a Nature editorial. Still, in the end, “everyone will all be better off for it”.

Nature | 6 min read

Image of the week

An aerial view of Kilauea volcano as it began to erupt around 4:44 a.m. on June 7, 2023 in Hawaii, United States.

Credit: United States Geological Survey/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii has burst to life again. The eruption is so far confined to the Halemaʻumaʻu crater at the volcano’s summit. As one of the most closely monitored volcanoes in the world, it is studded with cameras and instruments that measure ground deformation and seismic activity. (Nature | 2 min read)

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