Researchers discover connection between early humans and Neanderthals' genome

A striking discovery in the study of human genetics was the focus of the most-visited press release posted on EurekAlert! in 2011. Researchers found that part of the non-African human X chromosome came from Neanderthals, confirming that they interbred with early human populations.

Breakthroughs in mathematics, physics, chemistry, and medicine, along with discoveries in zoology, psychology, and astrobiology, were also featured in the 10 releases most often viewed by EurekAlert! readers in 2011.

Website statistics collected over the course of the year identified the year's 10 most-visited news releases. The No. 1 most-visited press release garnered over 102,000 views.

The (love) connection between early humans and Neanderthals described in 2011's most-visited news release

Researchers from the University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center answered a nearly 10-year-old question concerning the origin of a part of the human X chromosome that shows characteristics different from the rest of the chromosome.

Using the Neanderthal genome, which was sequenced in 2010, to compare with the human genome, researchers found a match. The mysterious piece of the human X chromosome's sequence matches the Neanderthal's. From this, the researchers conclude that all non-African humans are in part descended from Neanderthals.

The finding was published in Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Uncovering new ground in medical and health sciences

Major advances in the health and medical sciences again drew significant attention from EurekAlert! readers in 2011.

In the tenth most-visited press release, Carnegie Mellon researchers replicated the hemoglobin protein from woolly mammoths. Their work may assist in developing blood products for people undergoing surgery-induced hypothermia, making such medical procedures safer.

The Mayo Clinic reported on a new therapy for individuals with multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, in the fourth most-visited press release of 2011. Researchers found that the drug thalidomide, which caused birth defects when it was first used by pregnant women suffering severe morning sickness, is effective in treating multiple myeloma tumors in some patients. The finding opens up a new avenue for exploring personalized treatment options for myeloma patients based on biomarkers.

News releases on psychology studies were the ninth and sixth most heavily trafficked stories.

A study on meditation posted by Massachusetts General Hospital was the ninth most-viewed release. It showed that regularly practicing meditation not only makes people feel better, but it also physically alters parts brain that control stress, memory, self-awareness, and learning.

The article's first author, Britta H-lzel, Ph.D., said, "It is fascinating to see the brain's plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life."

In the sixth, a researcher explores the root of that all too familiar experience of walking from one room to another and forgetting what it is you were going to do. In a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, a University of Notre Dame professor conducted experiments that demonstrate how the brain interprets moving between rooms as "event boundaries," thus making it difficult to recall memories even if they are only recently stored.

Novel research from the many and varied realms of science

The remainder of the 10 most-viewed stories of 2011 represents a variety of disciplines, including math and physics.

The seventh and eighth most-visited releases concern technological advances at the intersection of chemistry and physics. The eighth most-viewed release deals with "invisibility cloaking." It details work by assistant professor Yaroslav Urzhumov of Duke University. He applies invisibility cloaking principles that involve covering objects moving through water, such as ships, with a sponge-like coating equipped to push water out and away from the vessel. He posits that doing so could make water travel more energy efficient.

Ludovico Cademartriri, Ph.D., from Harvard University reports on his "electrical wave blaster" designed to fight fires in the seventh most-viewed story. "Controlling fires is an enormously difficult challenge. Our research has shown that by applying large electric fields we can suppress flames very rapidly," Cademartriri said. He and his team presented the device at the 241st American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition in March 2011.

The journal ZooKeys published an article on the discovery of the world's smallest frog species, which is the focus of the fifth most-viewed press release. The tiny frogs from the genus Paedophryne were found in New Guinea.

Astronomers from the University of Hong Kong discovered that stars naturally produce organic compounds originally thought to be found only in living systems. Their work was featured in the third most-visited story and published in Nature. The discovery prompts questions into whether these stellar organic compounds had any role in the development of life on Earth.

In the second most-visited press release, a theoretical mystery that has long vexed mathematicians was finally solved by Ken Ono of Emory University and his research group. They figured out that partition numbers, assorted number sequences that add up to equal the same number, are fractals. Fractal theory states that what appears complex and irregular from afar is actually made up of repeated patterns when examined up close.


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