Humans Broke Off Neanderthal Sex After Discovering Eurasia

Humans Broke Off Neanderthal Sex After Discovering Eurasia - Neanderthals apparently last interbred with the ancestors of today's Europeans after modern humans with advanced stone tools expanded out of Africa, researchers say.

The last sex between Neanderthals and modern humans likely occurred as recently as 47,000 years ago, the researchers added.

Modern humans once shared the globe with now-departed human lineages, including the Neanderthals, our closest known extinct relatives. Neanderthals had been around for about 30,000 years when modern humans appeared in the fossil record about 200,000 years ago. Neanderthals disappeared about 30,000 year ago.

The last sex between Neanderthals and modern humans likely occurred as recently as 47,000 years ago, suggests research detailed online Oct. 4, 2012, in the journal PLoS Genetics 

In 2010, scientists completed the first sequence of the Neanderthal genome using DNA extracted from fossils, and an examination of the genetic material suggested that modern humans' ancestors occasionally successfully interbred with Neanderthals. Recent estimates reveal that Neanderthal DNA makes up 1 percent to 4 percent of modern Eurasian genomes, perhaps endowing some people with the robust immune systems they enjoy today.

The Neanderthal genome revealed that people outside Africa share more genetic variants with Neanderthals than Africans do. One possible explanation is that modern humans mixed with Neanderthals after the modern lineage began appearing outside Africa at least 100,000 years ago. Another, more complex scenario is that an African group ancestral to both Neanderthals and certain modern human populations genetically diverged from other Africans beginning about 230,000 years ago. This group then stayed genetically distinct until it eventually left Africa.

To shed light on why Neanderthals appear most closely related to people outside Africa, researchers looked at similar DNA chunks in European and Neanderthal genomes. When sperm and egg cells are created, the strands of DNA within them break and rejoin to form new combinations of genetic material. This "recombination" decreases the length of the chunks in each generation. By comparing lengths, "we can estimate when the two populations last shared genes," explained researcher Sriram Sankararaman, a statistical geneticist at Harvard Medical School.

The research team estimates modern humans and Neanderthals last exchanged genes between 37,000 and 86,000 years ago, and most likely 47,000 to 65,000 years ago. This is well after modern humans began expanding outside Africa, but potentially before they started spreading across Eurasia.

These findings suggest modern humans last shared ancestors with Neanderthals during the period known as the Upper Paleolithic. Back then, modern humans had begun using relatively advanced stone tools, such as knife blades, spear points, and engraving and drilling implements.

"I think we will be able to get new insights on how modern humans adapted as they occupied new regions," Sankararaman told LiveScience. "It shows the power of genetic data to learn about historical events."

Future research will explore other prehistoric interbreeding events, such as the apparent mixing between ancestors of modern Papuans and the recently unearthed extinct human lineage known as the Denisovans.

"There are technical challenges here," Sankararaman said. "Papuans have had gene flow from Neanderthals and from Denisovans. That makes it challenging to tease their contributions apart."

The scientists detailed their findings online Oct. 4 in the journal PLoS Genetics. ( )

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Sleep Troubles? Here’s How to Fix Them

Sleep Troubles? Here’s How to Fix Them - The quest for a restful night's sleep is a constant struggle for some, but gadget makers with devices that track sleep patterns are noticing trends among their users and behaviors that have helped them wake up refreshed.

By monitoring body movements at night and during naps using armbands and wristbands with motion and temperature sensors, companies have gathered data on thousands of users striving for a better night's sleep. And they've seen sleep improvement among users who've gotten sun exposure early in the day, altered their bedtime rituals and changed their eating habits.

"Insomnia is something that most people can overcome by just understanding their sleep better ... and having the information on what to do next," said Julia Hu, founder and chief executive officer of Lark, a sleep coach device maker. 

In a study of 3,089 of Lark users, nearly 22 percent experienced symptoms of insomnia including trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep and generally spending a significant amount of time awake in bed, Lark reported. 

Notably, more people with insomnia symptoms had trouble staying asleep rather than falling asleep in the first place, the study found. About 14 percent of all Lark users had trouble staying asleep vs. 9 percent of users who had trouble falling asleep, according to the study. 

After tracking their sleep patterns and changing their behaviors before bedtime, nearly 73 percent of the 669 users with any insomnia symptoms got better sleep, according to the study. 

Using advice from sleep coaches used by NBA, NFL and Olympic athletes, Lark's sleep coaching device suggests behavior changes that could help its users sleep better, including getting ready for bed 30 minutes before a user's target bed time, avoiding caffeine after 3 p.m. and keeping computers away from the bed. Exposure to sunlight early in the morning can also affect the body's sleep cycle, Hu told "Big Data Download." 

And another gadget maker, BodyMedia, found a correlation between sleep duration and obesity among 6,344 users of its activity and sleep tracking device, suggesting that weight loss can lead to better sleep. During sleep, the body regulates hormones that cause hunger, BodyMedia explains. 

Using body mass index, a measure calculated using weight and height, the company found that users at a healthy weight got about 412 minutes of sleep on average compared 403 minutes on average among obese gadget users with a body mass index of between 35 and 40. The BMI of those at a "normal" weight is between 18.5 and 24.9, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

And losing weight can actually ease breathing problems including snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, according to the University of Minnesota. 

Besides losing weight, BodyMedia suggests that its users in need of better sleep avoid large meals late at night, take a hot bath before bed and avoid alcoholic beverages before bed, the company said. 

BodyMedia's research also found sleep differences between men and women. 

"We actually saw that women were getting more sleep than men across the board," said BodyMedia chief technology Officer Ivo Stivoric, who added that the company is doing further research to determine the daily habits that may contribute to that finding. 

One common thread that BodyMedia identified is that sleepers of all types get more sleep per night in the winter than they do in the summer. In the month of June, the month with the most daylight hours, BodyMedia users got an average of nearly 6.3 hours of sleep vs. more than 6.5 hours of sleep in January. ( Big Data Download )

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Hit the gym or make dinner? Most adults don't have time for both

Hit the gym or make dinner? Most adults don't have time for both —Even among those who were able to squeeze in both a workout and meal preparation in the same day, a 10-minute increase in time spent preparing food was linked to a workout that was 10 minutes shorter, the researchers said. 

In the study, a team of scientists from Ohio State University's College of Public Health analyzed nationally available data on more than 112,000 American single and married adults, with or without children, who had reported their activities for the previous 24 hours. 

Of those, 16 percent of men and 12 percent of women said that they had exercised on the previous day. And men spent, on average, almost 17 minutes preparing food, compared to an average of 44 minutes for women. 

The average time spent exercising for the entire sample of adults, including those who did not exercise, was 19 minutes for men and nine minutes for women. 

"As the amount of time men and women spend on food preparation increases, the likelihood that those same people will exercise more decreases," said Rachel Tumin, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in epidemiology. 

"The data suggests that one behavior substitutes for the other." "If we assume, for example, that adults have 45 minutes of free time to allocate to health-promoting behaviors, maybe we need to look at that holistically and determine the optimal way to use that time," she said. 

She presents her study April 12 at the Population Association of America meeting in New Orleans. jw/kc ( Relaxnews )

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Are you happy?

Are you happy? - The pursuit of happiness was enshrined as a right in the Declaration of Independence over 200 years ago, but now researchers and policy makers are looking closely at what nations are the happiest, and why.

Last year, the United Nations passed a resolution declaring March 20, 2013 the first International Day of Happiness. The resolution recognized "happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives."

So, why is happiness so important? How is happiness measured? And what countries are the happiest?
Just Explain It: Who Are The Happiest People In The World?

That's what we set to find out, on today's “Just Explain It.”

The United Nations believes happiness can be the result of their peacekeeping, anti-poverty, human rights and sustainability duties. When International Happiness Day was announced, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, "Social, economic, and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.”

Research shows that people who are physically healthy, have strong social and communal ties, and have meaningful goals tend to be happier and live longer. Money only makes an impact on happiness to the point of covering necessities. Once those needs are met, research doesn’t show a correlation between more money and more happiness. Similarly, governments are also finding other ways to define national happiness and success beyond wealth and gross domestic product.

In 1972, the small Himalayan nation of Bhutan rejected GDP as a measure of its well-being and adopted gross national happiness or GNH. In Bhutan, GNH consists of shared economic prosperity, environmental and cultural preservation, and good governance. It sounds hard to measure, but it seems to be working pretty well for them. In the last 20 years Bhutan has doubled its life expectancy.

More recently in 2009 former French President Nicolas Sarkozy created a commission to measure the nation’s prosperity by looking at issues like the environment and quality of life. Meanwhile, in 2010, British Prime Minister David Cameron began measuring the nation’s “life-satisfaction” through surveys, and he directed local governments to foster well-being in an effort to improve it.

Many studies use data beyond wealth to calculate happiness and well-being, but they don't provide a definite answer as to who are the happiest people in the world.

The 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index ranked 142 countries by surveys and empirical data across eight areas: Economy, Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Governance, Education, Health, Safety & Security, Personal Freedom and Social Capital. Wealthy northern European nations Norway, Sweden and Denmark topped the list.

The United States ranked high, but came in 12th. It was the first time it wasn’t in the top ten. The two lowest ranking scores for the U.S. were in the Economy, and Safety & Security. But the biggest drops in the last two years of the Index for the U.S. were in Entrepreneurship & Opportunity, Personal Freedom and Governance.

However, a Gallup survey published last year found different results. In their survey to find the most positive nation in the world, Gallup asked citizens in 148 countries if they experienced a lot of enjoyment the previous day. They also asked if respondents felt respected, well-rested, laughed and smiled a lot, and did or learned something interesting the day before the survey. Who were the most positive people? Citizens in Panama and Paraguay answered yes to all those questions 85% of the time. In fact, eight out of the top ten countries were in Latin America: El Salvador, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala, Ecuador and Costa Rica. The other two countries in the top 10 were Thailand and the Philippines. Only 76% of U.S. respondents said yes to all of the questions, placing it in 35th place.

What might cause the different results? Gallup’s poll asked respondents more subjective questions about themselves, while the Legatum survey used both questionnaire and hard data. There could also be cultural differences as well: people in certain countries may be more or less likely to express happiness than others. Just Explain It - News )

But then again, isn’t perceived happiness, still happiness?

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Obama names five new national monuments

Obama names five new national monuments - The White House defended President Barack Obama's decision on Monday to designate five new national monuments—one each in Delaware, Maryland, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington state—while the country braces for sequester impacts.

"These kinds of designations are important … for the local economy [and] oftentimes they will designate and commemorate important parts of our nation's history," White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said at Monday's White House briefing.

Additionally, Earnest said, the land was already owned by the federal government or was donated, and the "immediate costs" are "pretty minimal."

The monuments designated Monday were: the Rio Grande del Norte, natural lands marked for protection in New Mexico; Delaware lands that will be deemed the First State national monument in that state; the Harriet Tubman underground railroad in Maryland on its Eastern Shore; the Wilberforce, Ohio, home of Charles Young, a West Point graduate who was the first black national park superintendent; and the San Juan Islands in Washington.

“These sites honor the pioneering heroes, spectacular landscapes and rich history that have shaped our extraordinary country,” Obama said during a White House ceremony. “By designating these national monuments today, we will ensure they will continue to inspire and be enjoyed by generations of Americans to come.”

The president holds the authority to designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act.
Monday's closed press event was attended by Vice President Joe Biden, who hails from Delaware, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. ( The Ticket )

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How Waterproof Are Your Gadgets?

How Waterproof Are Your Gadgets? - It's summer, and that means the beach, the pool, or the lake! While water may be great for us, it's not always so good for our electronic gadgets. So here are my top tips for how to protect the gear you already own, plus the best waterproof gear to buy new.

Protecting the Gear You Own

If you keep your phone in your pocket, it can get really sweaty, especially in summer humidity. Moisture can seep into the phone and damage it, but an easy preventative measure? Put one or two desiccant packages, like the ones you get in a new pair of shoes (or you can buy these online for about 50 cents), in the back of your phone case, and it'll absorb some of the moisture.

But if you're on a boat or at the beach, you'll need to protect your gadgets from more than just sweat. Here, you need truly waterproof solutions:
  • For phones and tablets, I recommend Dry Case. They are waterproof to 100 feet and you can still use the touch screen and the camera. Cost: about $30.
  • For Kindles, Nooks, and tablets, I tried cases by TrendyDigital. They were inexpensive, and still made it easy to read the protected eReader.
New Waterproof Gear

Your summer vacation won't be complete without pictures to prove you were actually there. Good news: there are cameras specifically made for water that don't cost a lot more than their non-waterproof cousins. Nikon's COOLPIX AW100 costs about $270, and it takes nice pics and video both above and under the water.

For a splash-proof, poolside speaker, I like the G-Go ruggedized Bluetooth speaker. This is my new favorite summer gadget. There are more expensive, fully waterproof options, but for $70 this thing lets you remotely control the music on your phone or iPod with wet hands.

If you're going to spend a lot of time out on the water, consider a waterproof phone — like the Samsung Rugby Smart, which can be fully submerged up to a meter for a half an hour.

Finally if you are a serious water enthusiast, there are some awesome audio products to make your swim workouts more enjoyable.
  • Waterfi makes both a waterproofed iPod Nano and a Shuffle. Costs as little as $134 and you need waterproof headphones. Best part is that it is a true iPod, so you just plug it into iTunes and you are good to go.
  • If you already have an iPod, H20 Audio makes waterproof cases — just make sure you get the right one so all the buttons line up; they are model specific.
  • And I was most impressed by the Finis SwiMP3 bone conducting MP3 player. Get this: no earphones. Instead, the device clips onto your goggles and conducts vibrations through your jaw to transmit sound while you swim. The sound quality is excellent, which is pretty awesome; if I'm listening to books on tape or podcasts while I swim, I tend to last longer and get a better workout. The only downside is that the transfer process between my computer and the device (getting music on the Finis) was kind of a pain, not as easy as just syncing iTunes.
After-market Waterproofing?

HZO technology to waterproof phones and iPods AFTER you purchase them made a big splash (sorry couldn't resist the pun) at the Consumer Electronics Show in January but it has not been released as a public service or product. The HZO folks told me they are working with major electronics manufacturers to add the feature to products during assembly, before they ever hit the stores or customers hands, but no definitive plans or products are available for release now. ( Upgrade Your Life )

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Website lets world admire 'Ghent Altarpiece' in 100 billion pixels

Website lets world admire 'Ghent Altarpiece' in 100 billion pixels - Minute details of Ghent Altarpiece now available to view online in 100 billion pixels - Project emerged from documentation process prior to conservation work - Website shows under-drawings beneath surface of the painting - Site -- a rich resource for scholars -- is open to all

With its remarkably realistic depictions and dramatic history, the Ghent Altarpiece (1432) is widely thought to be one of the most famous panel paintings in the world.

Thought to be one of the most famous panel paintings in the world, the Ghent Altarpiece, completed in 1432, can now be viewed on a specially-designed, open source website.
Thought to be one of the most famous panel paintings in the world, the Ghent Altarpiece, completed in 1432, can now be viewed on a specially-designed, open source website.

Stolen several times (most notoriously during World War II by the Nazis, who hid it in a salt mine), the altarpiece, currently housed in St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, depicts among other things a 'Mystic Lamb' bleeding into a chalice.

It has been admired and coveted for centuries. Now an ambitious digital documentation project is allowing scholars and art-lovers alike to pore over the minute details of Jan and Hubert van Eyck's multi-part painting in a specially-designed, open source website entitled 'Closer to Van Eyck: Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece.'

Consisting of 12 panels (one of which is a copy, the original having been stolen in 1934) and depicting numerous complex theological scenes, the documentation project has rendered the already composite work into 100 billion pixels using the highest resolution photography.

A collaboration between the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Lukasweb, Belgium, and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, and funded with support from the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles and the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, the venture to digitally document the work took 9 months, initially to assess it for conservation.

"And then it grew into 'These results are interesting, how can we share this information with the widest possible audience on a website?'" said Deborah Marrow, Director of the Getty Foundation.

The documentation process -- which made use of macrophotography in visible light, macrophotography in infrared light, infrared reflectography and X-radiography -- probed beneath the painted surface to reveal the under-drawings.

It's technically an amazing feat that they were able to juxtapose the regular image, as you would normally see it, with the under-drawing

Antoine Wilmering, Getty Foundation

"One of the big open questions surrounding the polyptych is the involvement of Hubert van Eyck, the older brother of Jan van Eyck, in the production of the painting," said Ron Spronk, Professor of Art History at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, who led the project.

"We ought to look for Hubert's hand in the under drawings of the panels, which were revealed with infrared macrophotography, and with infrared reflectography," he explained.

Entirely open-source, the website that came out of the documentation process is now live and accessible to art-lovers as well as scholars, allowing users not only to zoom in on tiny details of the work, but also to go beneath the surface of the paint and see how the composition evolved over time.

"At the Getty Foundation, we've always supported the less sexy things that go on behind the scenes of great public projects -- conservation, research, planning -- things that are really crucial but less visible," said Marrow.

"But recently we've made a greater effort to take the results of those behind-the-scenes activities and make them more immediately available to a wider public," she continued.

"It's technically an amazing feat that they were able to do this so precisely and present the images in such a way that you can juxtapose the regular image, as you would normally see it, with the under-drawings," said Antoine Wilmering of the Getty Foundation.

While the website has a wide appeal, he said, it will also be an invaluable tool for the next generation of scholars.

The Ghent Altarpiece has kept scholars, very different types of scholars, busy for centuries
Ron Spronk, Professor of Art History at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario

"The last conservation on the altarpiece took place in the 1950s with a little bit of work done in the '80s, and the technology was not as advanced as it was today," he said.

The Altarpiece is to undergo a full, five-year-long restoration treatment beginning in September 2012.

The panel will be disassembled in three stages, and the parts being restored will be taken to the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, where the public will be able to view the treatments taking place from behind a pane of glass.

Spronk, who lived with the altarpiece for six months while documenting it, told CNN: "The Ghent Altarpiece has kept many scholars -- and very different types of scholars for that matter -- busy for centuries, and will doubtless continue to do so."

He believes the website will open up a "whole new world" for scholars who have toiled for years either working from color reproductions or from the work itself.

Still, Spronk concedes that it is no substitute for seeing the work in person.
"What you can't show on a website is the sheer monumentality of the altarpiece, the incredible realism of the painting," he said.

"When you are looking eye to eye with the Deity... It's hard to explain, but I can see why the polyptych still grips so many people," he said. ( )

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