When We Became Fully Human to Mystery DNA Helps Defeat Viruses (Planet Earth Report)

Earth from the ISS


“Planet Earth Report” provides descriptive links to headline news by leading science journalists about the extraordinary discoveries, technology, people, and events changing our knowledge of Planet Earth and the future of the human species.


When Did We Become Fully Human? What Fossils and DNA Tell Us About the Evolution of Modern Intelligence, reports Singularity Hub–When did something like us first appear on the planet? It turns out there’s remarkably little agreement on this question. Fossils and DNA suggest people looking like us, anatomically modern Homo sapiens, evolved around 300,000 years ago. Surprisingly, archaeology—tools, artifacts, cave art—suggest that complex technology and cultures, “behavioral modernity,” evolved more recently: 50,000 to 65,000 years ago.

Microbes’ mystery DNA helps defeat viruses—and has genome-editing potential, reports Science. –For several years, researchers have been adapting retrons—mysterious complexes of DNA, RNA, and protein found in some bacteria—into a potentially powerful way to alter genomes of single cell organisms. Now, biology is catching up, as two groups report evidence that, like CRISPR, retrons are part of the bacterial immune arsenal, protecting the microbes from viruses called phages.

Are We Wired to Be Outside? –A neuroscientist searches for the roots of feeling innately connected to nature, reports Nautil.us

The “Dying Seas” of the Anthropocene –Declarations that the ocean is dying have become commonplace. We read headlines almost daily telling us that the oceans are choked with plastic, overfished, and rapidly acidifying. Yet even in “dying,” we are told, the ocean threatens human existence as sea levels rise, sea surface temperatures increase, and commercial fish stocks disappear, reports Nautil.us

Leprosy, ancient scourge of humans, found to assail wild chimpanzees, reports Science –a new preprint by the two researchers gives a surprising answer: Chimps in both West African sites suffer from leprosy, a disease never before documented in wild chimpanzees. The strains in each park appear unrelated, and they are unlikely to have come from contact with humans, the authors argue. The finding could indicate an unknown source of leprosy in the wild and reveal new clues about a still-mysterious disease.

A Vast Ancient Lake Is Hidden Deep Under Greenland’s Ice, Scientists Discover –Buried under a mile of ice, the basin once contained a lake the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, and may reveal insights about our future in a warming world, reports Motherboard Science.

Physicists Pin Down Nuclear Reaction From Moments After the Big Bang, reports Quanta –The newly-measured rate of a key nuclear fusion process from the Big Bang matches the picture of the universe 380,000 years later.

Europe moves ahead with Ariel exoplanet mission, reports the BBC–Ariel will probe the gases that shroud exoplanets to try to understand how these objects formed and how they have evolved through time. The findings are expected to help put the nature of our own Solar System in some wider context

Possible thousand-kilometer-long river running deep below Greenland’s ice sheet

Iconic Arecibo Dish Suffers More Damage As Second Cable Breaks--Puerto Rico’s historic radio telescope was smashed by another broken cable that may be related to a similar accident in August, reports Motherboard Science.

How Ancient Light Reveals the Universe’s Contents –A photograph of the infant cosmos reveals the precise amounts of dark matter and dark energy in the universe, leaving precious little room for argument, reports Quanta.

200 Queens Found in Single ‘Murder Hornet’ Nest Destroyed by US Authorities, reports SciAlert —After months of searching, in October scientists located and destroyed the first nest of giant ‘murder hornets’ ever discovered in the US, eradicating a hidden enclave of the invasive insects concealed in a tree in Washington State, close to the Canadian border.

Charles Darwin’s hunch about early life was probably right, reports the BBC. –In a few scrawled notes to a friend, biologist Charles Darwin theorized how life began. Not only was it probably correct, his theory was a century ahead of its time.

These Scientists Just Completed a 3D ‘Google Earth’ for the Brain, reports Singularity Hub. –Enter a new kind of map: the Julich-Brain, a probabilistic map of human brains that accounts for individual differences using a computational framework. Rather than generating a static PDF of a brain map, the Julich-Brain atlas is also dynamic, in that it continuously changes to incorporate more recent brain mapping results.

Pfizer covid-19 vaccine will need a gigantic new network of freezers–reports New Scientist. –Among Pfizer and BioNTech’s long list of risks and uncertainties for its BNT162b2 vaccine, which this week was reported to be 90 per cent effective, is the challenge of its “ultra-low temperature formulation”, and how to store and distribute it along the so-called “cold chain”.

Animals infected with covid-19 could undo efforts to stop the pandemic, reports New Scientist –Mink are the latest animal to be infected with covid-19, risking the prospect of a dangerous mutation that could pass back to humans. While the threat is small, there are many reasons that animals catching the coronavirus is bad news

Tree rings may hold clues to impacts of distant supernovas on Earth, reports University of Colorado –Massive explosions of energy happening thousands of light-years from Earth may have left traces in our planet’s biology and geology, according to new research by University of Colorado Boulder geoscientist Robert Brakenridge.

This bacterium survived on the outside of the Space Station for an entire year

The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe –Was the famous author killed from a beating? From carbon monoxide poisoning? From alcohol withdrawal? Here are the top nine theories, reports The Smithsonian.

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