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Skull of a Neolithic farmer // Image Credit: Daniel Bradley, Trinity College Dublin
Skull of a Neolithic farmer // Image Credit: Daniel Bradley, Trinity College Dublin

Human Remains Found Under Pub May Help Rewrite Irish History

Skull of a Neolithic farmer // Image Credit: Daniel Bradley, Trinity College Dublin
Skull of a Neolithic farmer // Image Credit: Daniel Bradley, Trinity College Dublin

It’s easy to imagine history as a static, objective truth: here’s what happened. But history is more like a tree: a growing understanding pruned by certain hands, changing as we learn more about the past. That’s what’s happening now, as new DNA evidence from human remains found in Ireland upends long-held ideas about the ancient Celts. A report of these findings was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers sequenced the genomes of four human bodies, three of which were discovered behind a pub in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Pub owner Bertie Currie was in the process of digging out a new driveway when he uncovered a big, flat stone. Currie moved the stone aside and was horrified to find human bones. "I shot the torch in and saw the gentleman, well, his skull and bones," Currie said this week, as reported by The Washington Post.

Alarmed, Currie called the police, but the bones were not recent—not by a long shot. Archaeologists say the men interred in Currie’s yard had been there since the Bronze Age. Their remains, along with those of a Neolithic woman found near Belfast, have shaken up the long-established timeline of Irish history.

For centuries, the story has been the same: Between the years 1000 and 500 BCE, invading Celts crossed from central Europe into Ireland, where they settled, made babies, and created the Irish people.

But the four subjects of the recent research tell a very different story. The paper’s authors say the DNA bears a “striking” resemblance to that of modern Irish—but their bones predate the supposed arrival of the Celts by more than 1000 years.

“The genomes of the contemporary people in Ireland are older—much older—than we previously thought,” senior author Dan Bradley said.

The researchers were able to determine that the woman, who was most likely a farmer, had black hair and brown eyes, like southern Europeans.

Reconstruction of the farmer's face by Elizabeth Black. Image credit: Barrie Hartwell

The men’s DNA included two key gene variants: one for blue eyes and another for a condition called haemochromatosis, in which iron slowly builds up in the body until it reaches toxic levels. The allele (gene variant) for haemochromatosis is so common in Irish people that it is sometimes called "the Celtic curse."

This study is not the first to suggest a new timeline for Celtic history, but it does present some of the most compelling evidence.

Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe is unaffiliated with the study, but he believes it has huge implications; he argued in a 2001 book that archaeological evidence points to a migration of peoples into Europe from its Western, Atlantic edge. “If [proponents of this theory are] right,” he told The Washington Post, “the roots of what is known as ‘Celtic’ culture go way way back in time. And the genetic evidence is going to be an absolute game-changer.”

[h/t The Washington Post]

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Courtesy of Nature
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science
Scientists Create Three Puppy Clones of 'Snuppy,' the World's First Cloned Dog
Courtesy of Nature
Courtesy of Nature

Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog, died in 2015, but his genetic legacy lives on. As the National Post reports, South Korean scientists recently described in the journal Scientific Reports the birth of three clone puppies, all of which are identical replicas of the famous Afghan hound.

Those who lived through the 1990s might remember Dolly, the Scottish sheep that gained fame for being the very first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. Following Dolly's 1996 cloning, scientists managed to replicate other animals, including cats, mice, cows, and horses. But dog cloning initially stymied scientists, Time reports, as their breeding period is limited and their eggs are also hard to extract.

Ultimately, researchers ended up using somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) to clone a dog, the same method that was used to make Dolly. In the early 2000s, a team of South Korean scientists inserted DNA harvested from an Afghan hound's skin cells into a dog egg from which the DNA had been removed. The egg divided, which produced multiple cloned embryos.

The scientists implanted 1095 of these embryos in 123 dogs, an exhaustive initiative that yielded just three pregnancies, according to NPR. Of these, Snuppy—whose name is a combination of "puppy" and Seoul National University's initials—was the only survivor.

Snuppy died from cancer in April 2015, just shortly after his 10th birthday. To celebrate his successful life, the same South Korean researchers decided to re-clone him using mesenchymal stem cells from the dog's belly fat, which were taken when he was five. This time around, they transferred 94 reconstructed embryos to seven dogs. Four clones were later born, although one ended up dying shortly after birth.

The tiny Snuppy clones are now more than a year old, and researchers say that they don't think that the pups face the risk of accelerated aging, nor are they more disease-prone than other dogs. (Dolly died when she was just six years old, while cloned mice have also experienced shorter lifespans.) Snuppy's somatic cell donor, Tai, lived just two years longer than Snuppy, dying at age 12, the average lifespan of an Afghan hound.

Researchers say that this new generation of Snuppys will yield new insights into the health and longevity of cloned animals. Meanwhile, in other animal cloning news, a Texas-based company called ViaGen Pets is now offering to clone people's beloved pets, according to CBS Pittsburgh—a service that costs a cool $50,000 for dogs.

[h/t National Post]

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Food
Researchers Pinpoint the Genes Behind the Durian's Foul Stench
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iStock

Durian is a popular fruit in parts of southeast Asia. It's also known for having the most putrid, off-putting odor of any item sold in the produce section. Even fans of durian know why the fruit gets a bad rap, but what exactly causes its divisive scent is less obvious. Determined to find the answer, a team of researchers funded by "a group of anonymous durian lovers" mapped the fruit's genome, as reported by the BBC.

The study, published in the journal Nature Genetics [PDF], contains data from the first-ever complete genetic mapping of a durian fruit. It confirms that durian's excess stinkiness comes from sulfur, a chemical element whose scent is often compared to that of rotten eggs.

Analysis of the fruit's chemical makeup has been done in the past, so the idea that sulfur is a major contributor to its signature smell is nothing new. What is new is the identification of the specific class of sulfur-producing genes. These genes pump out sulfur at a "turbocharged" rate, which explains why the stench is powerful enough to have durian banned in some public areas. It may seem like the smell is a defense mechanism to ward off predators, but the study authors write that it's meant to have the opposite effect. According to the paper, "it is possible that linking odor and ripening may provide an evolutionary advantage for durian in facilitating fruit dispersal." In other words, the scent attracts hungry primates that help spread the seeds of ripe durian fruits by consuming them.

The revelation opens the door to genetically modified durian that are tweaked to produce less sulfur and therefore have a milder taste and smell. But such a product would likely inspire outrage from the food's passionate fans. While the flavor profile has been compared to rotten garbage and dead animal meat, it's also been praised for its "overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana, and egg custard" by those who appreciate its unique character.

[h/t BBC]

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