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DNA study detects mysterious human 'ghost' species – The Japan Times

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Scientists examining the genomes of West Africans have detected signs that a mysterious extinct human species interbred with our own species tens of thousands of years ago in Africa, the latest evidence of humankind’s complicated genetic ancestry.

The study indicated that present-day West Africans can trace a substantial proportion, about 2 to 19 percent, of their genetic ancestry to an extinct human species — what the researchers called a “ghost population.”

“We estimate interbreeding occurred approximately 43,000 years ago, with large intervals of uncertainty,” said University of California, Los Angeles human genetics and computer science professor Sriram Sankararaman, who led the study, published this week in the journal Science Advances.

Homo sapiens first appeared a bit more than 300,000 years ago in Africa and later spread worldwide, encountering other human species in Eurasia that have since gone extinct, including the Neanderthals and the lesser-known Denisovans.

Previous genetic research showed that our species interbred with both the Neanderthals and Denisovans, with modern human populations outside of Africa still carrying DNA from both. But while there is an ample fossil record of the Neanderthals and a few fossils of Denisovans, the newly identified “ghost population” is more enigmatic.

Asked what details are known about this population, Sankararaman said, “Not much at this stage.”

“We don’t know where this population might have lived, whether it corresponds to known fossils, and what its ultimate fate was,” Sankararaman added.

Sankararaman said this extinct species seems to have diverged roughly 650,000 years ago from the evolutionary line that led to Homo sapiens, before the evolutionary split between the lineages that led to our species and to the Neanderthals.

The researchers examined genomic data from hundreds of West Africans, including the Yoruba people of Nigeria and Benin and the Mende people of Sierra Leone, and then compared that with Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes. They found DNA segments in the West Africans that could best be explained by ancestral interbreeding with an unknown member of the human family tree that led to what is called genetic “introgression.”

It is unclear if West Africans derived any genetic benefits from this long-ago gene flow.

“We are beginning to learn more about the impact of DNA from archaic hominins on human biology,” Sankararaman said, using a term referring to extinct human species. “We now know that both Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA was deleterious in general but there were some genes where this DNA had an adaptive impact. For example, altitude adaptation in Tibetans was likely facilitated by a Denisovan introgressed gene.”

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Cosmic Cataclysm Allows Precise Test of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity – SciTechDaily

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The MAGIC telescope system at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain. Credit: Giovanni Ceribella/MAGIC Collaboration

In 2019, the MAGIC telescopes detected the first Gamma Ray Burst at very high energies. This was the most intense gamma-radiation ever obtained from such a cosmic object. But the GRB data have more to offer: with further analyses, the MAGIC scientists could now confirm that the speed of light is constant in vacuum — and not dependent on energy. So, like many other tests, GRB data also corroborate Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. The study has now been published in Physical Review Letters.

Einstein’s general relativity (GR) is a beautiful theory that explains how mass and energy interact with space-time, creating a phenomenon commonly known as gravity. GR has been tested and retested in various physical situations and over many different scales, and, postulating that the speed of light is constant, it always turned out to outstandingly predict the experimental results. Nevertheless, physicists suspect that GR is not the most fundamental theory, and that there might exist an underlying quantum mechanical description of gravity, referred to as quantum gravity (QG).

Some QG theories consider that the speed of light might be energy dependent. This hypothetical phenomenon is called Lorentz invariance violation (LIV). Its effects are thought to be too tiny to be measured, unless they are accumulated over a very long time. So how to achieve that? One solution is using signals from astronomical sources of gamma rays. Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are powerful and far away cosmic explosions, which emit highly variable, extremely energetic signals. They are thus excellent laboratories for experimental tests of QG. The higher energy photons are expected to be more influenced by the QG effects, and there should be plenty of those; these travel billions of years before reaching Earth, which enhances the effect.

Gamma-Ray Burst Hits MAGIC

Artist’s impression of a gamma ray burst observed by the MAGIC telescope system and satellite observatories.
Credit: Superbossa.com and Alice Donini

GRBs are detected on a daily basis with satellite-borne detectors, which observe large portions of the sky, but at lower energies than the ground-based telescopes like MAGIC. On January 14, 2019, the MAGIC telescope system detected the first GRB in the domain of teraelectronvolt energies (TeV, 1000 billion times more energetic than the visible light), hence recording by far the most energetic photons ever observed from such an object. Multiple analyses were performed to study the nature of this object and the very high energy radiation.

Tomislav Terzić, a researcher from the University of Rijeka, says: “No LIV study was ever performed on GRB data in the TeV energy range, simply because there was no such data up to now. For over twenty years we were anticipating that such observation could increase the sensitivity to the LIV effects, but we couldn’t tell by how much until seeing the final results of our analysis. It was a very exciting period.”

Naturally, the MAGIC scientists wanted to use this unique observation to hunt for effects of QG. At the very beginning, they however faced an obstacle: the signal that was recorded with the MAGIC telescopes decayed monotonically with time. While this was an interesting finding for astrophysicists studying GRBs, it was not favorable for LIV testing. Daniel Kerszberg, a researcher at IFAE in Barcelona said: “when comparing the arrival times of two gamma-rays of different energies, one assumes they were emitted instantaneously from the source. However, our knowledge of processes in astronomical objects is still not precise enough to pinpoint the emission time of any given photon.”

Traditionally the astrophysicists rely on recognizable variations of the signal for constraining the emission time of photons. A monotonically changing signal lacks those features. So, the researchers used a theoretical model, which describes the expected gamma-ray emission before the MAGIC telescopes started observing. The model includes a fast rise of the flux, the peak emission and a monotonic decay like that observed by MAGIC. This provided the scientists with a handle to actually hunt for LIV.

A careful analysis then revealed no energy-dependent time delay in arrival times of gamma rays. Einstein still seems to hold the line. “This however does not mean that the MAGIC team was left empty-handed,” said Giacomo D’Amico, a researcher at Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich; “we were able to set strong constraints on the QG energy scale.” The limits set in this study are comparable to the best available limits obtained using GRB observations with satellite detectors or using ground-based observations of active galactic nuclei.

Cedric Perennes, postdoctoral researcher at the university of Padova added: “We were all very happy and feel privileged to be in the position to perform the first study on Lorentz invariance violation ever on GRB data in TeV energy range, and to crack the door open for future studies!”

In contrast to previous works, this was the first such test ever performed on a GRB signal at TeV energies. With this seminal study, the MAGIC team thus set a foothold for future research and even more stringent tests of Einstein’s theory in the 21st century. Oscar Blanch, spokesperson of the MAGIC collaboration, concluded: “This time, we observed a relatively nearby GRB. We hope to soon catch brighter and more distant events, which would enable even more sensitive tests.”

Reference: “Bounds on Lorentz Invariance Violation from MAGIC Observation of GRB 190114C” by V. A. Acciari et al. (MAGIC Collaboration), 9 July 2020, Physical Review Letters.
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.125.021301

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Weather: Richmond expects a mix of sun and clouds this week – Richmond News

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Richmond will see sunshine and higher temperatures early this week with some showers and cloud leading into the weekend.

According to Environment Canada, Sunday will see a mixture of sun and clouds with a 40 per cent chance of showers in the early afternoon. Skies are expected to clear up later in the day with temperatures as high as 20 C. Few clouds will roll in in the evening with a low of 11 C.

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Monday through Wednesday will expect sunshine all day with a high of 22 C and a low of 12 C.

There is a 60 per cent chance of showers from Wednesday evening until Thursday evening.

Clouds will make reappear again on Friday and Saturday with a high of 21 C and a low of 15 C.

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Vancouver weather: Expect some sun this week, capped by rain – Vancouver Sun

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VANCOUVER, B.C.: July 12, 2020 – Sunday’s weather is a mixed bag but the middle of this week will be marked by sunny skies and high temperatures.

Come Thursday though, prepare to buckle down again for more rain and a weekend of grey clouds.


Weather: Vancouver, B.C.

Today: Mainly cloudy with 40 percent chance of showers. Clearing this afternoon. High 20. UV index 6 or high.

Tonight: A few clouds. Low 11.

Tomorrow: A mix of sun and cloud. Clearing late in the morning. High 21. UV index 8 or very high.

Source: Environment Canada


Air Quality: Vancouver


Traffic: Vancouver

Zoom in and out to find incidents of note or to peek at a traffic camera.


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