Genetic evidence of modern human DNA in a Neanderthal — Huh? Wha?

Using several different methods of DNA analysis, an international research team has found what they consider to be strong evidence of an interbreeding event between Neanderthals and modern humans that occurred tens of thousands of years earlier than any other such event previously documented.

…In NATURE the team publishes evidence of interbreeding that occurred an estimated 100,000 years ago. More specifically the scientists provide the first genetic evidence of a scenario in which early modern humans left the African continent and mixed with archaic (now-extinct) members of the human family prior to the migration “out of Africa” of the ancestors of present-day non-Africans, less than 65,000 years ago.

❝ “It’s been known for several years, following the first sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2010, that Neanderthals and humans must have interbred,” says Professor Adam Siepel, a co-team leader and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) quantitative biologist. “But the data so far refers to an event dating to around 47,000-65,000 years ago, around the time that human populations emigrated from Africa. The event we found appears considerably older than that event…”

❝ “One very interesting thing about our finding is that it shows a signal of breeding in the ‘opposite’ direction from that already known,” Siepel notes. “That is, we show human DNA in a Neanderthal genome, rather than Neanderthal DNA in human genomes.”

This finding, the result of several kinds of advanced computer modeling algorithms comparing complete genomes of hundreds of contemporary humans with complete and partial genomes of four archaic humans, has implications for our knowledge of human migration patterns.

The article proceeds from this point to examination of several intertwining themes of interbreeding between different strands of the evolutionary vines that tie us all to our species. A worthwhile read.

It also validates a theme long held as strong among my Highland antecedents – whether critical or not – that our species [and any near relative] is ready to have sex with anyone willing to stand still long enough to enjoy it.

4 reasons why America’s teen birth rate just reached an all-time low

There are 42 percent fewer teen births now than just seven years ago. In 2007, 4.2 percent teenage girls in the United States gave birth. In 2014, the rate was 2.4 percent.

That decline is unprecedented, and spans all 50 states. And the states where it is dropping the fastest are diverse: Colorado, Arizona, Georgia, and Florida have all had declines above 40 percent…

Experts like Ginny Ehrlich know that the teen birth rate is dropping fast — faster than it has since the federal government began to keep count. They know that this is not about teens terminating more pregnancies; separate data shows the teen abortion rate has steadily declined since the late 1980s.

What they don’t understand is what, exactly, is driving the trend…

That being said, they did have a lot of compelling ideas about what might be happening, trends that don’t explain the entire decline in teen pregnancies but might tell some smaller part of the story. Here’s a handful of them:

Americans are having fewer children in general

As the economy turned south in the late 2000s, demographers noticed the start of a predictable trend: Birth rates began to drop. That change makes perfect sense and has shown up in prior economic downturns: Couples seem to delay having babies when budgets are tight…

Teens are using better contraceptives

One of the biggest recent changes in teens’ sexual behavior is the type of contraceptives they choose. Teenagers have increasingly gravitated toward long-acting, reversible contraceptives such as IUDs and implants. The percentage of women using these types of methods grew from 0.4 percent in 2005 to 7.1 percent in 2013 — a 17-fold increase in less than a decade…

High school students wait longer to have sex

Every two years, the federal government asks America’s teenagers a series of relatively intimate questions about their sex lives. This is the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, and it shows that high schoolers today have less sex than their parents did when they were teens…

Maybe sex ed is working?

The birth rate for all teenagers is falling. But it’s falling much faster for young teens. Since 2007, births have fallen 47 percent for young teens — and 39 percent for older teens.

To Ehrlich, this suggests there’s something about the environment that young teens are in that is different. She thinks there is something about the high school environment — perhaps better sex education — that is working well for younger women.

In all cases, the rallying points for religious morality, conservatives who want women ignorant and obedient, have failed. If “failed” is too strong a word – then try “unproductive”. I don’t care how or why some folks still think they have to limit choices and education for women; but, it hasn’t and won’t work. For anything – whether the topic is birth control, reproductive rights, voting rights, healthcare.

RTFA for more detail, graphic info. Some of it surprising. Gratifyingly so.

Life in a banana republic-state

❝A Starkville, Mississippi, high school teacher has been cleared to return to the classroom after being suspended over a student’s vegetable-based presentation for how to properly put on a condom…

❝The Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District released a statement on…saying…administrators had investigated the incident, and Sheree Ferguson would face “appropriate disciplinary action”. However, it did not say what that was or when she would return.❞

❝The district suspended Ferguson after a student in her English class on 12 November made a career presentation about becoming a sexologist and used a cucumber to demonstrate condom use.

❝State law prohibits any kind of demonstration of condom use during sex-education classes. In many districts, the classes teach abstinence only…❞

❝The announcement about Ferguson’s return to work was made after more than three dozen people marched outside Starkville High School on Friday morning to support her.

❝“You’ve got a bunch of really bright kids in there and they’re passionate about their teacher,” Roben Dawkins, the father of one of Ferguson’s students, told The Clarion-Ledger. “It’s their opinion it wasn’t the teachers fault, but she’s the one having to take responsibility for it in the long run.”❞

❝Camryn Dawkins, a Starkville High junior, told the Commercial Dispatch that she came up with the idea to protest Ferguson’s suspension and worked with senior Tyrese Kelly to get word out to students…

❝“I love Ms Ferg to death. Ms Ferg is the best English teacher I’ve ever had and we just wanted to take a stand as students for what we believe in.”❞

Of course, the students and their parents taking a stand against the 19th Century ideology that governs states like Mississippi is even more dangerous than the simple act of educating kids. The clown-show-Confederacy fears modern information and thought almost as much as democracy and equal opportunity.

Population benefits of sexual selection confirm that males are useful

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Biologists have long puzzled about how evolutionary selection, known for its ruthless requirement for efficiency, allows the existence of males — when in so many species their only contribution to reproduction are spermatozoa.

But research published…in Nature shows that sexual selection — when males compete and females choose over reproduction — improves population health and protects against extinction, even in the face of genetic stress from high levels of inbreeding.

The findings help explain why sex persists as a dominant mechanism for reproducing offspring.

Lead researcher Prof Matt Gage, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “Sexual selection was Darwin’s second great idea, explaining the evolution of a fascinating array of sights, sounds and smells that help in the struggle to reproduce — sometimes at the expense of survival.

“Sexual selection operates when males compete for reproduction and females choose, and the existence of two different sexes encourages these processes. It ultimately dictates who gets to reproduce their genes into the next generation — so it’s a widespread and very powerful evolutionary force.

“Almost all multicellular species on earth reproduce using sex, but its existence isn’t easy to explain because sex carries big burdens, the most obvious of which is that only half of your offspring — daughters — will actually produce offspring. Why should any species waste all that effort on sons?

“We wanted to understand how Darwinian selection can allow this widespread and seemingly wasteful reproductive system to persist, when a system where all individuals produce offspring without sex — as in all-female asexual populations — would be a far more effective route to reproduce greater numbers of offspring.

“Our research shows that competition among males for reproduction provides a really important benefit, because it improves the genetic health of populations. Sexual selection achieves this by acting as a filter to remove harmful genetic mutations, helping populations to flourish and avoid extinction in the long-term.”

Phew! Had me worried for a while. 🙂

RTFA for details of the analysis.

Drinking coffee puts lead in your pencil

Hey – not any dumber than a contrived phrase like “erectile dysfunction”!

horny coffee

A daily dose of caffeine may reduce the odds of erectile dysfunction…Researchers analyzed dietary information to estimate the daily caffeine intake of 3,724 men who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The study…concluded that men may have a reduced risk for ED if they consume caffeine in daily doses roughly equivalent of two to three cups of coffee…per day.

Specifically, men who drank 171-303 mg of caffeine per day reduced the risk of ED by 39 percent and men who drank a daily 85-170 mg reduced the risk by 42 percent, while those who drank 7 mg or less per day reduced the risk by only 1 percent…

The study notes that the results constitute “no evidence for a trend” but adds that “these associations are warranted to be investigated in prospective studies.”

Terminology for polite society changes from generation to generation. It’s regional, often class-based and certainly governed by the quantity of so-called moral foolishness stuck into your mind.

I’m amazed at the number and quality of discoveries about the benefits of coffee-drinking popping up, nowadays. And glad I love my breakfast and brunchtime coffee.

5% of Americans want their sex tracked online … Really

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The Consumer Electronics Show is in full swing in Las Vegas, which means editors’ inboxes are flooded with press releases about it.

Here at MedPage Today, we received one Monday that made us do a double-take. Well, one line in it, anyway.

The release, on behalf of “A&D Medical, the worldwide leader in connected health and biometric measurement devices, was about a survey of Americans’ attitudes on using smartphones and other “connected health devices that automatically connect online and send information to their doctor or other people they choose.”

We had just posted a story with a headline including the phrase “Smartphone in Bedroom Is Not So Smart Choice,” albeit for kids. Still, we were primed for some cognitive dissonance when we saw a line in the release saying that “And only 5% of Americans wanted their sexual activity monitored online.”

Really? We wondered whether “only” was really the right term there. We’re not PR experts, but we might have gone with something more like “More Americans want their sexual activity monitored online than voted for a third-party candidate in 2012.”

I must be out-of-date. I recall [in 1965] causing a disturbance in the middle of orientation for a group of activists when a pedant started listing distractions from strategic goals. He said something about food, where to eat in Chicago. He said something about sex.

I said “I don’t especially differentiate between the two…food and sex, that is.” Made some good friends on the West Side that day.

Now, I guess I need a new simile about smartphones and sex. I don’t think it works as well.

Gynecologists think IUDs are the best contraceptive

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) are amazingly, fantastically good at preventing pregnancy — better than pretty much any other available contraceptive.

Birth control pills, which have to be taken regularly — are susceptible to human error. The pill has a 6 percent failure rate. So out of 1,000 women taking birth control pills, 60 will become pregnant in a typical year. Among women who use an IUD, that number will be between 2 and 8 (depending on the type of IUD they use).

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends IUDs and the contraceptive implant (the one other long-acting, reversible contraceptive) as a “first-line” contraceptive that should be “encouraged as an option for most women.”

But despite IUDs’ incredible efficacy, few American women — just 8.5 percent of contraceptive-users — choose this method. The devices tend to get an especially bad rap in the United States because of the Dalkon Shield, an early IUD from the 1970s. It was hard to insert…sometimes failed to prevent pregnancy, injured as many as 200,000 women, and sometimes led to infertility or even death. All in all, it was a terrible contraceptive that was subsequently pulled from the market.

Today’s IUDs are different: they’re safer, easier to insert, and they work incredibly well. That probably explains why 40 percent of gynecologists using a contraceptive are using IUDs — way more than the general population…

RTFA. It’s long and really detailed. Lots of questions are answered – factually, reasonably, in human-speak.

Pretty useful article.

Unfair pay for women and people of color

unfair pay
Click on the graphic for a personal view

American women who work full time, year round are paid only 77 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. But the wage gap is even larger for many women of color working full time, year round, as African-American women are paid only 64 cents, and Hispanic women only 54 cents, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.

These gaps translated into a loss of $18,650 for African-American women and $24,111 for Hispanic women in 2012. Closing the wage gap is, therefore, particularly important for African-American and Hispanic women, who are already more likely to have lower incomes and to be in poverty than virtually all other groups.4 Although enforcement of the Equal Pay Act and other civil rights laws has helped narrow the wage gap over time, addressing the significant disparity that remains is critical for women and their families.

The wage gap for African-American and Hispanic women [.pdf] working full time, year round persists even when the effect of race or sex is considered alone.

• The typical African-American woman working full time, year round is paid roughly 83 cents for every dollar paid to her white, non-Hispanic female counterpart. The gap is larger for Hispanic women working full time, year round, who are paid just 69 cents for every dollar paid to their white, non-Hispanic female counterparts.

• The typical African-American woman working full time, year round is paid roughly 88 cents for every
dollar paid to her African-American male counterpart. The gap is the same for Hispanic women working full time, year round, who are also paid 88 cents for every dollar paid to their Hispanic male counterparts.

RTFA for example after example of death by a thousand cuts if you ain’t white and male.

Not so incidentally, if you are white and male don’t get smug. Although you may not have confronted pay cuts directly, part of the discrimination that adds to profit – is that white men also receive less than they might because “Hey, look. You’re better off than they are, eh?” And that’s good enough for plenty of guys who haven’t looked at what they might be earning if they got together and joined forces with the rest of their class.

Thanks, Mike

Natural born killers – starting with chimpanzees – leading to us

“Chimp leader assassinated by gang of underlings,” read the headline last year in New Scientist. It told the story of Pimu, who led his cohort of chimpanzees until a violent day in March last year when Pimu picked the wrong fight. Four chimpanzees appeared out of nowhere, according to New Scientist, and beat Pimu to death with their hands and feet. It was a grisly end for a species that, along with humans, are among the only animals to coordinate attacks on their own kind.

But such a murder was a natural action, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature. The paper, which analyzed data from 426 combined years of observation and 18 separate chimp sites, argues chimps are not driven to violence by their contacts with humans, which some scientists have previously contended. Chimps, rather, are natural born killers.

“Variation in killing rates was unrelated to measures of human impacts,” said the paper, which was researched by an international team of 30 scientists. “… The adaptive strategies hypothesis views killing as an evolved tactic by which killers tend to increase their fitness through increased access to territory, food, mates and other benefits…”

The rate of killing…seems more dependent on how many males were in each band of chimps as well as population density. It’s inter-community tension — not outer-community tension.

Just as chimps appear to reflect some humanity’s better traits, they also reflect the bad…anthropologist Joan Silk wrote in an accompanying article.

“The behavior of non-human primates, particularly chimpanzees, are often distorted by ideology and anthropomorphism, which produce a predisposition to believe that morally desirable features, such as empathy and altruism, have deep evolutionary roots, whereas undesirable features, such as group-level violence and sexual coercion, do not,” she wrote. “This reflects a naive form of biological determinism.”

Steps in the evolutionary ladder are not as far apart as some would presume. That is, those members of human society whose understanding of life on this planet extends beyond the 14th Century.

The rest, sad to say, still rely on wee winged creatures sitting on either shoulder whispering in their ears.

Thanks, Mike