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Matthew Collins
University of York account
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"A trio of researchers has presented their preliminary findings regarding a mitochondrial DNA study they have undertaken as part of an effort to learn more about the domestication history of the modern house cat. Evolutionary geneticist Eva-Maria Geigl gave the presentation at this year's International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.
To learn more about the ancestry of the common house cat, the researchers (which also included colleagues Thierry Grange and Claudio Ottoni) obtained mitochondrial DNA samples of 209 cats from multiple archaeological sites around the world—the ages of the remains ranged from approximately 15,000 years ago to just 300 years ago. After sequencing the samples, the researchers made some interesting discoveries surrounding the history of cats partnering with humans. The first was that there appeared to be two big migration waves—the first occurred not long after the development of agriculture by humans and the second shortly after the domestication of cats in ancient Egypt.
The researchers suggest that the first wave was likely the result of small cats coming into contact with humans due to hunting the increased populations of rodents consuming the grains they grew—the researchers found a link between cats in the Fertile Crescent and other parts of the Mediterranean. The second wave occurred several thousand years later and appeared to be driven by human migrations out of Egypt—the researchers found links between cats there and throughout Eurasia and parts of Africa—likely due, the team suggests, to farmers and seafaring travelers taking cats with them to reduce rat and mouse populations.
There were a couple of other surprises as well—one was that the fierce Vikings apparently had a soft spot for little kitties—one of them was found buried alongside its master in a common grave site that was dated back 1000 years. The other was that tabby cats did not evolve until Mediaeval times".

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"An international team of scientists led by The University of Manchester has used state-of-the-art X-ray methods to analyse the chemistry of feathers of birds, in order to discover the true colours of extinct ancient animals such as dinosaurs.
Melanin is the dominant pigment in mammals and birds that gives them either a black/dark brown colour, for example in ravens, or a reddish/yellow hue, as in foxes. The black pigment is called eumelanin, while the reddish type is pheomelanin.
Pioneering research at The University's Interdisciplinary Centre for Ancient Life has studied the feathers of modern birds in order to find long-lived chemical markers for these different pigments, so that traces may be reconstructed in fossil specimens.
In collaboration with the UK's Diamond Light Source x-ray laboratories and Stanford University in the USA, the scientists analysed feathers shed by birds housed in animal sanctuaries. Their research has been able to show that the trace metal zinc, when it is bonded to sulphur compounds in a specific way, is a reliable and sensitive indicator for the presence of pheomelanin within the distinct feathers of birds of prey.
This remarkable discovery means that scientists may perhaps now be able to go beyond monochrome depictions of extinct creatures, and make the first steps towards portraying colours based upon chemical evidence.
"A fundamental rule in geology is that the present is the key to the past" said Roy Wogelius, Professor of Geochemistry at The University of Manchester and senior author of the study. "This work on modern animals now provides another chemical 'key' for helping us to accurately reconstruct the appearance of long extinct animals".
"Melanin is a very important component in biology, but its exact chemistry is still not precisely known, especially as to how metals such as calcium, copper and zinc interact with it" said Nick Edwards, a Post Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Manchester and the lead author of the study. "Here we have used a new approach to probe these components of melanin and have found that there are subtle but measurable differences between the different types of melanin with regards to certain elements".
"The avian descendants of dinosaurs have kept the chemical key to unlocking colour precisely locked in their feather chemistry!" added Professor Phil Manning, co-author of the study".

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Fast Company: Meet Trace Genomics, The "23andMe" Of Soil.

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Click Format > Columns in Docs to split your document into two or three sections #TuesdayTip

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"As silent witnesses to the past, ancient Egyptian mummies can add to our knowledge of their society well beyond what we can learn from the study of texts, art and funerary rituals.
In a study led by Macquarie University, researchers have successfully identified proteins present in skin samples from 4200-year-old mummies with evidence of inflammation and activation of the immune system, as well as possible indications of cancer.
The researchers performed proteomics analysis on four skin samples and one muscle tissue sample taken from three ancient Egyptian mummies of the First Intermediate Period (FIP).
"We identified numerous proteins that provide evidence of activation of the innate immunity system in two of the mummies, one of which also contained proteins indicating severe tissue inflammation, possibly indicative of an infection that we can speculate may have been related to the cause of death," says Professor Paul Haynes from the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences.
Dr Jana Jones from the Department of Ancient History describes the FIP as the first Egyptian 'Dark Age'.
"It was marked by political unrest, changed economic conditions, mega drought and famine," she says.
"Our scientific study of mummies provides a historical context for medical conditions that are found in the modern world such as cardiovascular disease and cancer".

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