Ignored Cancer Symptoms

Before you discount that persistent cough as just another part of flu season, you might want to ask your doctor to give it a second glance. According to a recent study by Cancer Research U.K., more than half of adults have experienced alarm bells that could mean cancer, yet just 2% of them believed cancer could be a possible cause.

Researchers sent questionnaires to nearly 5,000 U.K. residents registered with general practitioners—in other words, men and women who have and visit a primary care doctor. Just shy of 1,800 people completed the questionnaire, and five were eliminated because they indicated they’d already been diagnosed with cancer. They asked participants if, in the last three months, they’d experienced a host of different symptoms (some of which could be possible signs of cancer), ranging from persistent coughing and unexplained weight loss to having low energy. If they had experienced any of these symptoms, they were asked to write in what they thought caused it and whether it was serious.

“We aren’t sure why, but it seems there is a mismatch between what people know in practice and whether they apply the knowledge to themselves,” says study co-author Katriina Whitaker, PhD, senior research fellow at University College London. “So while awareness of many of these signs and symptoms is quite high, very few people mention cancer as a possible cause when it’s them who is experiencing the symptom.”

Here, we take a look at the 10 symptoms researchers consider to be red flags. While they could be nothing, the researchers say the point is to recognize that they could also be cancer—and to ask your doctor to check your symptoms out.

1. Persistent cough or hoarseness
While a cough here and there is nothing to worry about, a consistent cacophony or a cough accompanied by blood is definitely cause for concern. “Most coughs are not cancer,” says Therese Bartholomew Bevers, MD, professor of clinical cancer prevention and the medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. “But certainly a persistent cough needs to be evaluated to see if it could be lung cancer.” Your physician should recommend a chest X-ray or CT scan to rule out cancer as a possibility.

2. Persistent change in bowel habits
When your bowel movements aren’t as easy as they once were or your stool appears larger than normal or somewhat deformed, this could be a sign of colon cancer, says Bartholomew Bevers. “It could be a sign that there is a mass impeding the transit of the stool from the bowel,” she says. “This is a symptom where a person should go to the doctor and schedule a colonoscopy to see if there indeed is a mass.”

3. Persistent change in bladder habits
“If there is blood in the urine, that could be indicative of bladder or kidney cancer—but more commonly this is a sign of a urinary tract infection,” says Bartholomew Bevers. Check for an infection first, then pursue other treatment options.

4. Persistent unexplained pain
“Most pain is not a sign of cancer, but persistent pain must be checked out,” says Bartholomew Bevers. “If you have persistent headaches, for example, you likely don’t have brain cancer—but it is still something that must be looked into. Persistent pain in the chest could be a sign of lung cancer. And pain in your abdomen could be ovarian cancer.”

5. Change in the appearance of a mole
While not all moles are indicative of melanoma, spotting a new mark or one that has changed is something you should bring up with a dermatologist who can screen for skin cancer, says Bartholomew Bevers. (Check out these new signs of skin cancer you need to know about.)

6. A sore that doesn’t heal
If you have a sore that’s hanging on past the three-week mark, you should bring it up with your doctor. “We would have expected our body to have healed itself by now,” says Bartholomew Bevers, “and you should absolutely get that checked out.” That kind of sore could be a sign of carcinoma.

7. Unexpected bleeding
Vaginal bleeding—outside of your normal cycle—could be an early sign of cervical cancer, while bleeding from the rectum could indicate colon cancer, says Bartholomew Bevers.

MORE: 10 Weird Things That Destroy Your Immune System

8. Unexplained weight loss
“As adults, we try very hard to lose weight,” says Bartholomew Bevers. “But if weight is falling off of you without any effort on your part, that is a big concern and can be indicative of a serious medical problem.” One of those problems, she says, could be malignancy or a tumor.

9. An unexplained lump
“Any time you have a lump that is new or a lump that is changing, that is something you should absolutely have looked at by your doctor,” says Bartholomew Bevers. While it could be a benign cyst (and likely is), it could also be “a cancer that is in the subterranean tissue. A lump in the breast, of course, is a very common symptom of breast cancer.” See your physician to get more information.

10. Persistent difficulty swallowing
Two cancers may be behind this symptom, including neck and esophageal cancer. “People who see these symptoms will often start to modify their diets, eating softer foods without thinking there could be a more serious issue.”

“The bottom line,” says Whitaker, “is that if people are experiencing any persistent symptoms, they should go to their doctor for advice.”

Earth’s most abundant mineral finally has a name .

An ancient meteorite and high-energy X-rays have helped scientists conclude a half century of effort to find, identify and characterize a mineral that makes up 38 percent of the Earth.
A section of meteorite that landed in Australia in 1879. Bridgmanite was formed and trapped in the dark veins from the intense, quick shock of asteroid collisions. A team of scientists clarified the definition of Bridgmanite, a high-density form of magnesium iron silicate and the Earth’s most abundant mineral – using Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source.

An ancient meteorite and high-energy X-rays have helped scientists conclude a half century of effort to find, identify and characterize a mineral that makes up 38 percent of the Earth.

And in doing so, a team of scientists led by Oliver Tschauner, a mineralogist at the University of Las Vegas, clarified the definition of the Earth’s most abundant mineral — a high-density form of magnesium iron silicate, now called Bridgmanite — and defined estimated constraint ranges for its formation. Their research was performed at the Advanced Photon Source, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility located at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory.

The mineral was named after 1964 Nobel laureate and pioneer of high-pressure research Percy Bridgman. The naming does more than fix a vexing gap in scientific lingo; it also will aid our understanding of the deep Earth.

To determine the makeup of the inner layers of the Earth, scientists need to test materials under extreme pressure and temperatures. For decades, scientists have believed a dense perovskite structure makes up 38 percent of the Earth’s volume, and that the chemical and physical properties of Bridgmanite have a large influence on how elements and heat flow through the Earth’s mantle. But since the mineral failed to survive the trip to the surface, no one has been able to test and prove its existence — a requirement for getting a name by the International Mineralogical Association.

Shock-compression that occurs in collisions of asteroid bodies in the solar system create the same hostile conditions of the deep Earth — roughly 2,100 degrees Celsius (3,800 degrees Farenheit) and pressures of about 240,000 times greater than sea-level air pressure. The shock occurs fast enough to inhibit the Bridgmanite breakdown that takes place when it comes under lower pressure, such as the Earth’s surface. Part of the debris from these collisions falls on Earth as meteorites, with the Bridgmanite “frozen” within a shock-melt vein. Previous tests on meteorites using transmission electron microscopy caused radiation damage to the samples and incomplete results.

So the team decided to try a new tactic: non-destructive micro-focused X-rays for diffraction analysis and novel fast-readout area-detector techniques. Tschauner and his colleagues from Caltech and the GeoSoilEnviroCARS, a University of Chicago-operated X-ray beamline at the APS at Argonne National Laboratory, took advantage of the X-rays’ high energy, which gives them the ability to penetrate the meteorite, and their intense brilliance, which leaves little of the radiation behind to cause damage.

The team examined a section of the highly shocked L-chondrite meteorite Tenham, which crashed in Australia in 1879. The GSECARS beamline was optimal for the study because it is one of the nation’s leading locations for conducting high-pressure research.

Bridgmanite grains are rare in the Tenhma meteorite, and they are smaller than 1 micrometer in diameter. Thus the team had to use a strongly focused beam and conduct highly spatially resolved diffraction mapping until an aggregate of Bridgmanite was identified and characterized by structural and compositional analysis.

This first natural specimen of Bridgmanite came with some surprises: It contains an unexpectedly high amount of ferric iron, beyond that of synthetic samples. Natural Bridgmanite also contains much more sodium than most synthetic samples. Thus the crystal chemistry of natural Bridgmanite provides novel crystal chemical insights. This natural sample of Bridgmanite may serve as a complement to experimental studies of deep mantle rocks in the future.

Prior to this study, knowledge about Bridgmanite’s properties has only been based on synthetic samples because it only remains stable below 660 kilometers (410 miles) depth at pressures of above 230 kbar (23 GPa). When it is brought out of the inner Earth, the lower pressures transform it back into less dense minerals. Some scientists believe that some inclusions on diamonds are the marks left by Bridgmanite that changed as the diamonds were unearthed.

The team’s results were published in the November 28 issue of the journal Science as “Discovery of bridgmanite, the most abundant mineral in Earth, in a shocked meteorite,” by O. Tschauner at University of Nevada in Las Vegas, N.V.; C. Ma; J.R. Beckett; G.R. Rossman at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.; C. Prescher; V.B. Prakapenka at University of Chicago in Chicago, IL.

This research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, and NSF.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Argonne National Laboratory.Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. O. Tschauner, C. Ma, J. R. Beckett, C. Prescher, V. B. Prakapenka, G. R. Rossman. Discovery of bridgmanite, the most abundant mineral in Earth, in a shocked meteorite. Science, 2014; 346 (6213): 1100 DOI:10.1126/science.1259369

Which Sleep Position is the Best?

Your p.m. pose can affect a lot more than just your slumber.

Your sleeping pose can have a major impact on your slumber—as well as your overall health. Poor p.m. posture could potentially cause back and neck pain, fatigue, sleep apnea, muscle cramping, impaired circulation, headaches, heartburn, tummy troubles, and even premature wrinkles. Wondering which sleep spot is best? Check out the rankings, below, from best to worst.

1. On Your Back

Though it’s not the most popular position—only eight percent of people sleep on their backs—it’s still the best. By far the healthiest option for most people, sleeping on your back allows your head, neck, and spine to rest in a neutral position. This means that there’s no extra pressure on those areas, so you’re less likely to experience pain. Sleeping facing the ceiling also ideal for warding off acid reflux. Just be sure to use a pillow that elevates and supports your head enough—you want your stomach to be below your esophagus to prevent food or acid from coming up your digestive tract. However, snoozing on your back can cause the tongue to block the breathing tube, making it a dangerous position for those who suffer from sleep apnea (a condition that causes periods of breathlessness). This position can also make snoring more severe.

2. On Your Side

This position (where your torso and legs are relatively straight) also helps decrease acid reflux, and since your spine is elongated, it wards off back and neck pain. Plus, you’re less likely to snore in this snooze posture, because it keeps airways open. For that reason, it’s also the best choice for those with sleep apnea. Fifteen percent of adult choose to sleep on their side, but there’s one downside: It can lead to wrinkles, because half of your face pushes against a pillow.

3. In the Fetal Position

With 41 percent of adults choosing this option, it’s the most popular sleep position. A loose, fetal position (where you’re on your side and your torso is hunched and your knees are bent)—especially on your left side—is great if you’re pregnant. That’s because it improves circulation in your body and in the fetus, and it prevents your uterus from pressing against your liver, which is on your right side. This pose is also good for snorers. But resting in a fetal position that’s curled up too tightly can restrict breathing in your diaphragm. And it can leave you feeling a bit sore in the morning, particularly if you have arthritis in your joints or back. Prevent these woes by straightening out your body as much as you can, instead of tucking your chin into your chest and pulling your knees up high. You can also reduce strain on your hips by placing a pillow between your knees.

4. On Your Stomach

While this is good for easing snoring, it’s bad for practically everything else. Seven percent of adults pick this pose, but it can lead to back and neck pain, since it’s hard to keep your spine in a neutral position. Plus, stomach sleepers put pressure on their muscles and joints, possibly leading to numbness, tingling, aches, and irritated nerves. It’s best to try to choose another position, but if you must sleep on your stomach, try lying facedown to keep upper airways open—instead of with your head turned to one side—with your forehead propped up on a pillow to allow room to breathe.

Scripps Florida Scientists Win Grant to Uncover Ways to Erase Toxic PTSD Memories

Scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have been awarded $2.3 million from the Department of Health and Human Services of the National Institutes of Health to better understand how memories are stored in the hopes of eventually being able to treat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by erasing traumatic memories without altering other, more benign ones.

Courtney Miller, a TSRI associate professor, is the principal investigator for the new five-year study.

“We hope this new study will make a significant contribution to the goal of developing new and more effective treatments for mental illness,” Miller said.

While literally thousands of mechanisms for how a memory initially forms have been identified, only a few mechanisms are known for how the brain stores these memories for weeks to years. To produce a memory, a lot has to be done, including the alteration of the structure of nerve cells via changes in the dendritic spines—small bulb-like structures that receive electrochemical signals from other neurons. Normally, these structural changes occur via actin, the protein that makes up the infrastructure of all cells.

Miller is investigating the possibility that microRNAs, naturally occurring small RNAs that act to suppress the production of proteins, may be capable of coordinating the complexity required for the brain to maintain this actin-based structural integrity of a long-lasting memory.

“Our study will investigate the microRNA profile of a PTSD-like memory, with the idea that the persistence of a traumatic memory is maintained by the recruitment of a unique set of microRNAs within the amygdala—the brain’s emotional memory center and a critical participant in PTSD,” Miller said.

An understanding of how the brain actually stores these toxic memories should result in the development of new targets that can then be exploited to selectively target harmful memories, as in the case of PTSD, or to preserve fading memory, such as with age-related cognitive decline.

In 2013, Miller and her colleagues were able to erase dangerous memories associated with drugs of abuse in mice and rats, without affecting other more benign memories. That surprising discovery, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, pointed to a clear and workable method to disrupt unwanted memories while leaving others intact.

The number of the new grant is 1R01MH105400.

Can My Diet Make Me Less Intelligent?

Obviously, your diet is one of the major external factors that can impact your intelligence to certain extent. According to the researches, toddlers who were fed a diet packed with high fats, sugars, and processed foods had lower IQs than those fed with pasta, salads and fruit. Even researchers from the University of Bristol said that children with a “healthier” diet may get an IQ boost. The impact of the diet is not just prevalent among the kids but also grown-ups.

There are certain foods that need to be avoided if you don’t want to put a speed breaker in the lane where your intelligence runs. Also there are certain foods that can boost your intelligence and IQ as well.

Foods To Avoid For A Healthy Brain:

Sugar: You’ve probably heard that sugar is bad for you. It’s bad for your teeth, your liver and makes you put on weight. Moreover, when sugar is consumed in large amounts (think a whole packet of lollies) over an extended period of time, it alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information.

Salt: Salt also affects your cognitive functioning. In 2011, scientists found that eating a high-salt diet was strongly linked with a faster cognitive decline in elderly people. Adding raw salt to your food is worse than cooking with salt, so when you do eat it make sure it’s cooked in your meal.

Tofu: Research from Loughborough University and Oxford suggests that tofu can be harmful if consumed in large quantities. The results from the researches show that those who consumed a lot of tofu were more at risk for memory loss.

Junk Food: Many reports online suggest that eating junk food triggers symptoms similar to withdrawal, depression and anxiety. And from there it’s often a dark spiral downward as depressive symptoms often prompt a desire to eat junk food, and so on.

Alcohol: A person who drinks heavily over a long period of time may have memory deficits that persist long after they regain sobriety. The effects of heavy and long-term drinking on the brain are blackouts, memory lapses and serious brain disorders like Wernicke – Korsakoff Syndrome.

Processed Foods: Science has shown that high-fat processed foods cause damage to the hypothalamus in the brain – the area responsible for monitoring and signalling levels of hunger, thirst and the body’s natural rhythms and cycles.

So steer clear of these, no matter how yummy they look.

Foods That Help Increase Intelligence

Oily fish: More than half of the brain mass is made up of lipids, and over 65% of these are fatty acids that belong to the well-known Omega family. Oil-rich fish like wild salmon, fresh tuna and sardines contain Omega 3 fats that help your brain cells interrelation to each other.

Dairy Products: The American and Australian scientists measured I.Q. of 972 volunteers and came to a conclusion that those participants of experiment, who daily used dairy products, were tested on logical thinking and memory much more successfully, than those who neglected yogurts and cheese. Fatty dairy products are especially useful as our brain more than half consists of fat.

Liver: The brain accounts for around 25% of the body’s oxygen needs. Iron is required to get oxygen to the brain by means of the blood’s hemoglobin. Liver is one of the diet’s assets guaranteed to contain this metal. Additionally, liver is one of the most important sources of Vitamin B. Since the mid-1990s, it has been known that these vitamins, mainly B1, B6, B9 and B12, improve cognitive function and the results of intelligence tests.

Whole Grains: Recent research shows that whole grain diet may be linked to lower risk of the mild cognitive impairment that can progress to degenerative diseases. This type of diet can reduce oxidative stress, inflammation and other vascular risk factors such as high blood pressure. All of that may have a role in increasing risk for brain malfunction and diseases.

Eggs: Eggs contain phospholipids and lecithin, integral to build up membrane of brain cell. In terms of boosting intellect, their value lies mainly in their proteins. Long used as points of reference when analyzing the quality of other dietary proteins, eggs are actually rich in amino acids, vital in the production of the principal neurotransmitters.

Spinach: Studies show that people who take in more vitamin C perform better in tests for attention, recall and memory. Experts suggest eating at least 5 portions of vegetables and/or fruit a day, but the key is to eat a variety.

Are your young kids fighting a cold? Don’t give them medicine.

Your toddler is coughing and sneezing with a runny nose and a fever. When the common cold strikes, it’s a parental instinct to look after your child, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should give your baby or toddler cough and cold medicine.

In a timely message as the cold and flu season arrives, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is recommending against over-the-counter cold medication in young kids. It’s still unclear how beneficial they are while the risks of overdosing or side effects are more worrisome, the FDA warns.

Production of cough syrup halted after stars glamourize 'sizzurp' use
It’s specifically against over-the-counter (OTC) medication for children under 2.

“A cold is self-limited; and patients will get better on their own in a week or two without any need for medications. For older children, some OTC medicines can help relieve the symptoms – but won’t change the natural course of the cold or make it go away faster,” Dr. Amy Taylor, the FDA’s pediatrician, said in a consumer update.

The common cold is a viral infection – it can’t be treated with antibiotics, she explained. Ultimately, watchful waiting works best.

“Kids are going to get colds. They’re going to get four, five, six a year sometimes. We don’t necessarily have to do anything. They’re going to last seven to 10 days regardless of what we do, and kids are generally going to eat and sleep adequately and then bounce back nicely,” according to Dr. Deb Lonzer, a Cleveland Clinic pediatrician.

The FDA’s consumer update builds on other guidelines that advise against OTC cough and cold meds for young kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, says that kids under 4 should never take a cough or cold medicine.

In 2008, Health Canada told parents not to give OTC medicines to their kids under 6 who were battling the common cold. It was due to “limited evidence” that the medication worked.

It even forced manufacturers to relabel more than 700 products so that “do not use in children under 6” warnings were slapped on. Health Canada made that call after an extensive review – its concern was dosages and side effects.

Within a 13-year timespan leading up the review, the federal agency received 164 reports of adverse reactions in kids under 12 because of OTC cough meds. Young kids encountered increased heart rate, decreased consciousness, abnormal heart rhythms and even convulsions.

“We found that parents often can make errors with liquid medications. It’s often difficult for them to correctly measure liquid medications because they don’t understand what a millilitre is or may be confused about the difference between a teaspoon and tablespoon,” Taylor said.

So what options do parents have? Earlier this year, a Canadian researcher and family doctor studied what works best against the common cold. A laundry list of remedies – vitamin C, Echinacea, vapour rub, ginseng, gargling salt water, nasal sprays – were all considered in the review.

“People get frustrated when there’s not much they can do so they go looking. We believe in theories or possible naturopathic therapies that really don’t have a lot of research to back them in hopes that they do something,” Dr. Michael Allan told Global News.

“It’s born out of a hope that there could be something to prevent or improve your situation.”

Allan is a family physician and professor at the University of Alberta.

There’s some research that suggests that adults could get a small or moderate benefit from a combination of antihistamines and decongestants with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (Allan couldn’t name brand names in the case of drugs, but typical antihistamines include Benadryl or Sudafed, while acetaminophen is more commonly known as Tylenol and ibuprofen as Advil.)

Kids under five years old shouldn’t be taking any antihistamines — but if they’re dealing with aches, pains or a sore throat, acetaminophen or ibuprofen are good choices, the latter being the best option, Allan said.

Honey was even a promising candidate to tame a child’s cold, but not for babies 12 months and under. For other youngsters, Allan said research pointing to 2.5 to 10 millilitres — or half a teaspoon to two teaspoons — of honey right before bed. It’ll help kids and parents sleep through the night.

Cough medicines didn’t seem to benefit kids but they might offer a “slight” benefit in adults.


Top 6 Cancer Causing Foods to Avoid .

The word cancer makes us all cringe; we all know someone who has had. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1 million people in the United States get cancer each year.


There are many factors that attribute to cancer including genetics, lifestyle, tobacco use, diet, and physical activity. Certain exposures can also add to the risk for cancer such as radiation and chemicals. I personally believe your diet can make or break a situation, and I do not think cancer is any different. People have become so entwined into the western way of eating, and it is killing us!

There are many foods that you can eat to help prevent cancer, but if you are eating huge quantities of bad processed food than you are being counterproductive.  So let’s take a look at the foods that you should cut out of your diet, to keep you healthy and happy with a long life!

  1. Processed Meats

Hotdogs, lunch meat, bacon, and sausages are over loved unhealthy foods! You may love them, but they are among the worst of the worst for your health. When you eat foods like this, you are more than likely getting a huge serving of sodium nitrate, which is added to processed or cured meats as preservatives, flavoring, and color fixative. Unfortunately, nitrites can be converted into cancer-causing nitrosamines in your body, which may explain why numerous studies have linked processed meat consumption to cancer.

  1. Red and well-done meats

Red meat is a favorite among many, but there is evidence that eating too much red meat can increase your risk for cancer. One study found that eating red meat daily increased men’s risk of dying from cancer 22 percent and women’s by 20 percent.

Charred or Well Done: Another factor is the way you cook your meat! Well-done and char-grilled are among the worst offenders. Studies have shown that eating meat cooked at high temperatures increases your risk of cancer, and at least part of the reason is due to toxic chemical byproducts. When amino acids and creatine interact with high cooking temperatures, heterocyclic amines are formed.

  1. French Fries and Potato Chips

Potato chips and other snack chips and fries may contain high levels of acrylamide, another carcinogenic substance that forms when foods like potatoes are heated at high temperatures, such as with frying or baking.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that the levels of acrylamide in foods pose a “major concern” and that more research is needed to determine the

  1. Processed foods

More than likely if it comes frozen, in a box, or you can get it in the drive through you do not need it. These types of “food” are filled with preservatives, chemicals, refined sugars, and additives. That do a lot of harm to your body as a whole including being one of the top causes of cancer!

  1. Aspartame

If it says, Splenda or aspartame put it down and walk away! Aspartame is found in all sorts of foods, drinks, and even most gums!

  1. Excess Alcohol

There is a strong scientific consensus of the link between alcohol drinking and several types of cancer. The more alcohol a person regularly drinks  over time—the higher his or her risk of developing an alcohol-associated cancer. Just like with everything in life moderation is key!





Sprouting feathers and lost teeth: scientists map the evolution of birds

Sprouting feathers and lost teeth: scientists map the evolution of birds
Mass genome sequencing reveals avian family tree – and how imitative birdsong gives birds genetic similarities to humans

More than 200 scientists in 20 countries joined forces to create the evolutionary tree, which reveals how birds gained their colourful feathers, lost their teeth, and learned to sing songs.

Red-tailed Hawk
A remarkable international effort to map out the avian tree of life has revealed how birds evolved after the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs into more than 10,000 species alive today. More than 200 scientists in 20 countries joined forces to create the evolutionary tree, which reveals how birds gained their colourful feathers, lost their teeth, and learned to sing songs.

The project has thrown up extraordinary similarities between the brain circuits that allow humans to speak and those that give some birds song: a case of common biology being arrived at via different evolutionary routes.

Some birds are shown to have unexpectedly close relationships, with falcons more closely related to parrots than eagles or vultures, and flamingoes more closely related to pigeons than pelicans. The map also suggests that the earliest common ancestor of land birds was an apex predator, which gave way to the prehistoric giant terror birds that once roamed the Americas.

Some birds are shown to have unexpectedly close relationships, with falcons more closely related to parrots than eagles or vultures, and flamingoes more closely related to pigeons than pelicans.

Some birds are shown to have unexpectedly close relationships, with falcons more closely related to parrots than eagles or vultures, and flamingoes more closely related to pigeons than pelicans. Photograph: Alamy
“This has not been done for any other organism before,” Per Ericson, an evolutionary biologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, told the journal Science. “It’s mind-blowing.”

The scientists began their task by analysing fingernail-sized pieces of frozen flesh taken from 45 bird species, including eagles, woodpeckers, ostriches and parakeets, gathered by museums around the world over the past 30 years. From the thawed-out tissue, they extracted and read the birds’ whole genomes. To these they added the genomes of three previously sequenced species. It took nine supercomputers the equivalent of 400 years of processor time to compare all the genomes and arrange them into a comprehensive family tree.

Members of the project, named the Avian Phylogenomics Consortium, published the family tree and their analysis on Thursday in eight main papers in the journal Science, and in more than 20 others in different scientific journals.

The loss of so many species in a mass extinction freed up vast ecological niches, giving feathered animals an unprecedented chance to diversify.

The loss of so many species in a mass extinction freed up vast ecological niches, giving feathered animals an unprecedented chance to diversify. Photograph: Alamy
The rise of the birds began about 65m years ago. A mass extinction – probably caused by an asteroid collision – wiped out most of the larger-bodied dinosaurs, but left a few feathered creatures. The loss of so many other species freed up vast ecological niches, giving these animals an unprecedented chance to diversify.

Comparisons of the birds’ genomes with those of other animals pointed researchers towards a host of genes involved with the emergence of coloured feathers. While feathers may first have emerged for warmth, colourful plumage may have played a part in mating success. Researchers at the University of South Carolina found that waterbirds had the lowest number of genes linked to feather coloration, while domesticated pets and agricultural birds had eight times as many.

Further analysis of the genomes revealed that the common ancestor of all living birds lost its teeth more than 100m years ago. Mutations in at least six key genes meant that the enamel coating of teeth failed to form around 116m years ago. Tooth loss probably began at the front of the jaw and moved to the rear as the beak developed more fully.

Despite sharing many of the same genes, parrots and songbirds gained the ability to learn and copy sounds independently from hummingbirds.

Despite sharing many of the same genes, parrots and songbirds gained the ability to learn and copy sounds independently from hummingbirds. Photograph: Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty Images
“Ever since the discovery of the fossil bird Archaeopteryx in 1861, it has been clear that living birds are descended from toothed dinosaurs. However, the history of tooth loss in the ancestry of modern birds has remained elusive for more than 150 years,” said Mark Springer at the University of California, Riverside.

Birdsong has evolved more than once. Despite sharing many of the same genes, parrots and songbirds gained the ability to learn and copy sounds independently from hummingbirds. More striking is that the group of 50 or so genes that allow some birds to sing is similar to those that give humans the ability to speak. “This means that vocal learning birds and humans are more similar to each other for these genes in song and speech areas in the brain than other birds and primates are to them,” said Erich Jarvis at Duke University in North Carolina.

The scientists began their task by analysing fingernail-sized pieces of frozen flesh taken from 45 bird species, including eagles, woodpeckers, ostriches and parakeets. Photograph: Martin Harvey/Getty Images/Gallo Images
The common genes are involved in making fresh connections between brain cells in the motor cortex and those that control muscles used to make sounds.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the scientists found differences in the vocal regions of the parrot brain. These birds had an area of brain for producing song that was surrounded by a secondary region, leading to what the researchers called “a song system within a song system”.

David Burt at Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute said the results, the first to be released by the consortium, were only the beginning. “We hope that giving people the tools to explore this wealth of bird gene information in one place will stimulate further research,” he said. “Ultimately, we hope the research will bring important insights to help improve the health and welfare of wild and farmed birds.”

How penguins adapted to frigid conditions
Penguin DNA collected for the avian family tree project has cast light on how the flightless birds endure the Antarctic’s cold hostile environment.

Researchers led by Cai Li, at the Beijing Genomics Institute, analysed the genomes of Adélie and emperor penguins and found scores of genetic changes that help them adapt to the frigid conditions.

Both penguins were found to have a beefed-up gene set for making proteins for feathers, ensuring a densely packed covering of the short, stiff feathers, which keeps heat in and water out.

The scientists also spotted a gene, known as DSG1. In humans it causes thick skin on the hands and feet; in the penguins this adaptation, present all over the body, is beneficial.
Research suggests emperor penguins have been better able to handle the harsh environment than other penguin species. Photograph: Frans Lanting/Getty Images/Mint Images
Penguins must withstand the cold and go without food for months on end, making fat storage a crucial factor in survival. The Adélie penguin were seen to have eight genes involved with metabolism of fatty lipids, though the emperor had only three.

The birds lost their ability to fly but their wings became supremely adapted to underwater acrobatics. Writing in the journal GigaScience, Li’s team describes 17 genes that have driven the re-shaping of penguins’ forelimbs. Mutations in one of those genes, called EVC2, causes Ellis-van Creveld syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes short-limb dwarfism and short ribs in people.

The first penguins evolved about 60m years ago, but the emperors and Adélies have markedly different histories. The Adélie penguin population grew rapidly 150,000 years ago as the climate warmed, but crashed by 40% when a cold and dry glacial period arrived 60,000 years ago.

The emperor penguins fared better, their numbers hardly changing, pointing to a better ability to handle the harsh environment.

Scientists produce new type of ice

Water is one of the relatively few compounds in which the solid is less dense than the liquid. That, of course, is why ice floats in your glass. But not all ice is created equal. Researchers today unveiled a new solid phase of ice that’s the lowest density version known. Known as ice XVI, the 17th solid phase of ice discovered to date, it has a cagelike structure that can trap other molecules (green and gray above). Such ice cages, known as clathrates, are known to store enormous quantities of methane on the deep ocean floor. The new clathrate, by contrast, is empty, though it didn’t start that way. The cagelike structure originally formed surrounding neon atoms (blue). The neon was then leached out of the clathrate through rings of water molecules (red dashed lines). The new form of ice may help researchers better understand clathrates in general, and perhaps ease the flow of oil and gas through pipelines at low temperatures.


Scientists produce new type of ice

1795 time capsule found in Boston capitol

A time capsule buried in 1795 by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams was unearthed Thursday in Boston at the Massachusetts Statehouse, possibly the oldest such U.S. artifact ever uncovered.

About the size of a cigar box, the copper container — green from oxidation and caked in plaster — was found in the cornerstone of the “new” statehouse on Beacon Hill, which was completed in 1798.

As Boston Museum of Fine Arts Conservator Pam Hatchfield chiseled away for hours to free the box, five silver coins spilled from the stone block — measures of good luck tossed in when the capsule was entombed by the revolutionary heroes 219 years ago, officials told the Boston Globe. At the time, Adams was known as the governor, not a beer.

The world will have to wait a little longer to learn what’s inside. The museum will X-ray the box over the weekend and reveal its contents next week.

It’s the second time the time capsule has seen the light of day. It was dug out in 1855 during emergency repairs to the building, which houses the legislature and governor’s offices, and replaced when the cornerstone was reset.

Another bit of hidden history was uncovered in September in the city that practically invented American history. A 113-year-old time capsule was found in the golden lion atop the original state capitol.