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Neanderthal children grew and were weaned similarly to modern humans – Phys.org

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3D Reconstruction Of The Three Neanderthal Milk Teeth Analyzed. Credit: Federico Lugli

Neanderthals behaved similarly to modern humans in raising their children, whose pace of growth was similar to Homo sapiens.

Thanks to the combination of geochemical and histological analyzes of three Neanderthal milk teeth, researchers were able to determine their pace of growth and the weaning onset time. These teeth belonged to three different Neanderthal children who have lived between 70,000 and 45,000 years ago in a small area of Northeastern Italy.

Teeth grow and register information in form of growth lines—akin to tree rings—that can be read through histological techniques. Combining such information with chemical data obtained with a laser-mass spectrometer—in particular strontium concentrations—the scientists were able to show that these Neanderthals introduced in their children’s diet at around 5-6 months of age.

Not cultural but physiological

Alessia Nava (University of Kent, UK), co-first author of the work, says, “The beginning of weaning relates to physiology rather than to cultural factors. In modern humans, in fact, the first introduction of solid food occurs at around 6 months of age when the child needs a more energetic food supply, and it is shared by very different cultures and societies. Now, we know that also Neanderthals started to wean their children when do.”

“In particular, compared to other primates,” says Federico Lugli (University of Bologna), co-first author of the work, “it is highly conceivable that the high energy demand of the growing human brain triggers the early introduction of solid foods in child diet.”

Neanderthals are our closest cousins within the human evolutionary tree. However, their pace of growth and metabolic constraints are still highly debated within the scientific literature.

Stefano Benazzi (University of Bologna), co-senior author, says, “This work’s results imply similar energy demands during early infancy and a close pace of growth between Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. Taken together, these factors possibly suggest that Neanderthal newborns were of similar weight to modern human neonates, pointing to a likely similar gestational history and early-life ontogeny, and potentially shorter inter-birth interval.”

  • Just like us - Neanderthal children grew and were weaned similar to us
    Presumably a Neanderthal child lost this tooth 40,000 to 70,000 year ago when his or her permanent teeth came in Credit: ERC project SUCCESS, University of Bologna, Italy
  • Just like us - Neanderthal children grew and were weaned similar to us
    Researchers at Goethe University cut paper-thin slices off of a Neanderthal milk tooth. The teeth are subsequently put back together and reconstructed Credit: Luca Bondioli and Alessia Nava, Rome, Italy

Home sweet home

The three milk teeth analyzed in this study were found in a limited area of Northeastern Italy, between the current provinces of Vicenza and Verona: in the Broion Cave, in the Fumane Cave and in the De Nadale Cave. Other than their early diet and growth, scientists also collected data on the regional mobility of these Neanderthals using time-resolved strontium isotope analyzes.

“They were less mobile than previously suggested by other scholars,” says Wolfgang Müller (Goethe University Frankfurt), co-senior author. “The strontium isotope signature registered in their teeth indicates in fact that they have spent most of the time close to their home: this reflects a very modern mental template and a likely thoughtful use of local resources.”

“Despite the general cooling during the period of interest, Northeastern Italy has almost always been a place rich in food, ecological variability and caves, ultimately explaining the survival of Neanderthals in this region till about 45,000 years ago,” says Marco Peresani (University of Ferrara), co-senior author and responsible for findings from archeological excavations at sites of De Nadale and Fumane.

This research adds a new piece in the puzzling pictures of Neanderthal, a human species so close to us but still so enigmatic. Specifically, researchers exclude that the Neanderthal small population size, derived in earlier genetic analyzes, was driven by differences in weaning age and that other biocultural factors led to their demise.

This will be further investigated within the framework of the ERC project SUCCESS (The Earliest Migration of Homo sapiens in Southern Europe—Understanding the biocultural processes that define our uniqueness), led by Stefano Benazzi at the University of Bologna.


Explore further

A 48,000-year-old tooth that belonged to one of the last Neanderthals in Northern Italy


More information:
Nava et al., Early life of Neanderthals. PNAS (2020). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2011765117. dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2011765117

Citation:
Neanderthal children grew and were weaned similarly to modern humans (2020, November 2)
retrieved 2 November 2020
from https://phys.org/news/2020-11-neanderthal-children-grew-weaned-similarly.html

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China successfully lands spacecraft on moon, prepares to collect lunar rocks – CBC.ca

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China successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon’s surface on Tuesday in a historic mission to retrieve lunar surface samples, Chinese state media reported.

China launched its Chang’e-5 probe on Nov. 24. The uncrewed mission, named after the mythical Chinese goddess of the moon, aims to collect lunar material to help scientists learn more about the moon’s origins.

The mission will attempt to collect two kilograms of samples in a previously unvisited area in a massive lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms.”

If the mission is completed as planned, it would make China the third nation to have retrieved lunar samples after the United States and the Soviet Union.

The lander vehicle that touched down on the moon’s surface was one of several spacecraft deployed by the Chang’e-5 probe.

Upon landing, the lander vehicle is supposed to drill into the ground with a robotic arm, then transfer its soil and rock samples to an ascender vehicle that would lift off and dock with an orbiting module.

State broadcaster CCTV said it would start collecting samples on the lunar surface in the next two days. The samples would be transferred to a return capsule for the trip back to Earth, landing in China’s Inner Mongolia region.

China made its first lunar landing in 2013. In January last year, the Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, the first space probe from any nation to do so. 

China says the lander-ascender of its Chang’e-5 probe separated from the orbiter-returner and landed on the moon to collect samples, as this animated video shows. 1:03

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China's sample-return Moon mission touches down – BBC News

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.css-1ecljvk-StyledFigureCopyrightposition:absolute;bottom:0;right:0;background:#3F3F42;color:#EEEEEE;padding:0.25rem 0.5rem;text-transform:uppercase;CNSA

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.css-14iz86j-BoldTextfont-weight:bold;China has successfully put another probe on the Moon.

Its robotic .css-yidnqd-InlineLink:linkcolor:#3F3F42;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visitedcolor:#696969;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visitedfont-weight:bolder;border-bottom:1px solid #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focusborder-bottom-color:currentcolor;border-bottom-width:2px;color:#B80000;@supports (text-underline-offset:0.25em).css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visitedborder-bottom:none;-webkit-text-decoration:underline #BABABA;text-decoration:underline #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-underline-offset:0.25em;.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus-webkit-text-decoration-color:currentcolor;text-decoration-color:currentcolor;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:2px;text-decoration-thickness:2px;color:#B80000;Chang’e-5 mission touched down a short while ago with the aim of collecting samples of rock and dust to bring back to Earth.

The venture has targeted Mons Rümker, a high volcanic complex in a nearside region known as Oceanus Procellarum.

The lander is expected to spend the next couple of days examining its surroundings and gathering up surface materials.

It has a number of instruments to facilitate this, including a camera, spectrometer, radar, a scoop and a drill.

The intention is to package about 2kg of “soil”, or regolith, to send up to an orbiting vehicle that can then transport the samples to Earth.

It’s 44 years since this was last achieved. That was the Soviet Luna 24 mission, which picked up just under 200g.

Unlike the launch of the mission a week ago, the landing was not covered live by Chinese TV channels.

Only after the touchdown was confirmed did they break into their programming to relay the news.

Images taken on the descent were quickly released with the final frame showing one of the probe’s legs casting a shadow on to the dusty lunar surface.

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The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

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Moon graphic

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Presentational white space

The 8.2-tonne Chang’e-5 spacecraft “stack” was launched from the Wenchang spaceport in southern China on 24 November (local time). It arrived above the Moon at the weekend and then set about circularising its orbit before splitting in two.

One half – a service vehicle and return module – stayed in orbit, while a lander-ascender segment was prepared for a touchdown attempt.

Chinese authorities say this lander-ascender element put down on the Moon’s surface at about 15:15 GMT (23:15 China Standard Time), after a 15-minute automated descent, controlled by the thrust of a 7,500-newton engine.

It follows China’s two previous Moon landings – Chang’e-3 in 2013 and Chang’e-4 last year. Both of these earlier missions incorporated a static lander and small rover.

A total of just under 400kg of rock and soil were retrieved by American Apollo astronauts and the Soviets’ robotic Luna programme – the vast majority of these materials coming back with the crewed missions.

But all these samples were very old – more than three billion years in age. The Mons Rümker materials, on the other hand, promise to be no more than 1.2 or 1.3 billion years old. And this should provide additional insights on the geological history of the Moon.

The samples will also allow scientists to more precisely calibrate the “chronometer” they use to age surfaces on the inner Solar System planets.

This is done by counting craters (the more craters, the older the surface), but it depends on having some definitive dating at a number of locations, and the Apollo and Soviet samples were key to this. Chang’e-5 would offer a further data point.

Reports from China suggest the effort to retrieve surface samples may last no longer than a couple of days. Any retrieved materials will be blasted back into orbit on the ascent portion of the landing mechanism, and then transferred across to the service vehicle and placed in the return module.

The orbiter will shepherd the return module to the Earth’s vicinity, jettisoning it to make an atmospheric entry and landing in the Siziwang Banner grasslands of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia. This is where China’s astronauts also return to Earth.

“Chang’e-5 is a very complex mission,” commented Dr James Carpenter, exploration science coordinator for human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency.

“I think it’s extremely impressive what they’re trying to do. And what I think is fascinating is you see this very systematic, step by step approach to increasing their exploration capabilities – from the early Chang’e missions to this latest one.”

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Jonathan.Amos-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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Alphabet"s UK subsidiary DeepMind makes breakthrough protein shape discovery – Proactive Investors USA & Canada

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DeepMind, a London-based subsidiary of Google’s owner Alphabet Inc, has been praised by the global scientific community after solving a 50-year-old challenge in biology. 

Its artificial intelligence system AlphaFold has figured out what shapes proteins fold into, the so-called ‘folding problem’. 

It is a major scientific breakthrough because it allows to better understand what a protein does and how it works, since its shape is closely correlated with its function. 

Proteins are the ‘building blocks of life’ because they underpin the biological processes in every living thing. 

There are currently around 200mln known proteins and another 30mln is found every year.  

Each of them has their own shape and it is often expensive and time-consuming to find their 3D composition, so we know only a fraction of the millions known to science. 

Proteins are made of amino acids, which make the protein to fold when they interact, meaning there are nearly infinite possibilities for shapes. 

AlphaFold was trained on the sequences and structures of 100,000+ proteins mapped out by scientists around the world and can now predict a protein’s shape based on the sequence of amino acids. 

As a result, scientists worldwide will have extra help in finding solutions, such as developing treatments for diseases or finding enzymes that break down industrial waste, because of the key role of proteins.  

The system was officially recognised as a solution to the issue by the biennial Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction, a community created in 1994 by scientists that were looking to solve the protein folding problem. 

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