The original paper is here:
I was recently interviewed on my opinion on the new paper arguing for the medicinal use of C. rotundus in Ancient Sudan. "Very exciting" indeed (that was my only quote)! Though it is not clear whether S. mutans was even common in the oral microbiomes of these peoples, it is still a fascinating hypothesis: that ancient peoples were consuming these tubers for their caries-inhibiting benefits, or at least that this was a side effect of their use for another purpose.
The original paper is here:
I was very excited to see the media buzz surrounding Humphrey et al.'s new paper entitled "Earliest evidence for caries and exploitation of starchy plant foods in Pleistocene hunter-gatherers from Morocco" in PNAS. This is a sample with a unprecedentedly high caries prevalence for pre-agricultural groups, 51.2% of adult teeth. I look forward to comparing these results with those generated from my dissertation research on caries, periodontal disease and tooth loss in Late Pleistocene humans in Western Eurasia. Caries were significantly higher around the Northern Mediterranean than the rest of Europe (results to be presented at the Paleopathology Association Meetings in Calgary, April 2014), but Northern Africa materials were unavailable to me at the time. Is it a latitudinal effect on available food stuffs or proximity to the Mediterranean? Humphrey and co-authors did not have any recent surveys of oral health in the Late Pleistocene within which to contextualize their results, so I guess I better get my work published. I wonder if I can get this much media attention!
Original publication: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/01/03/1318176111.full.pdf+html?sid=75088d65-097e-4aa2-b692-25031c64739a
Popular summaries: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24332237
The popular media definitely took the New PLOS ONE paper on the Mezzena mandible out of context. After the Discovery magazine summary, I was excited to see a paper that demonstrated DNA admixture between Neandertals and early modern humans: http://news.discovery.com/human/evolution/neanderthal-skeleton-provides-evidence-of-interbreeding-with-humans-130327.htm
Not so. Just a Neandertal mandible with Neandertal mDNA, but a bit of a mental trigone. I don't think this is demonstrable proof of interbreeding, though of course, I believe interbreeding occurred in general. And the paper certainly does not make the claim attributed to it by Discovery magazine that this is an example of a Neandertal mother and modern human father! I was just hoping for better evidence of interbreeding. I have personally used the chin as a marker of modernity (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpp.2012.06.003), but not necessarily when there is other evidence to the contrary. There are a number of African specimen with mixed archaic and modern features (of course, Loiyangalani!), but I am not aware of other specimens outside the continent with similar mosaics--besides the occasional occipital bun on a modern human, etc. Hopefully further DNA testing can elucidate this specimen's standing; however, at this point, it is still a Neandertal.
On a personal note, I find it increasingly infuriating that not only the popular media, but major players in the field of paleoanthropology, refer to specimens--or others' interpretations of said specimens--as hybrids. NO ONE involved with the Lager Velho child described it as a hybrid, but merely as potentially the product of a population that experience hybridization in the past. I've had to update a number of wikipedia entries on this very subject. And certainly with the data presented, the Mezzena individual was not a hybrid!
The AAPA Pollitzer award essay prompt for 2013 asked graduate students to come up with a 4 minute elevator speech for President Obama and congressional leaders about why physical anthropology deserves more federal funding. It got me thinking a lot about federal versus private grant funds in biological anthropology and science in general. Why is there such a focus on funding fields that are already of interest for the private sector (medicine, chemistry, etc)? I know the medical research field is even more dependent on grant funds than we are (often including for their own salaries) and this blog entry from Kate Clancy really drove it home:
And now with the fight in large public research universities to defend their research agendas to state legislatures which are more focused on the "bottom line", I have to wonder what my job search next year is going to look like. I guess grant money doesn't matter that much if you can't find a professorship or post-doc or he only job you can find has such high teaching demands (i.e., efficiency according to the Texas Public Policy think tank) that you won't be doing any research anyways.
I think I've received at least ten emails about this interview with George Church in Der Spiegel, mostly because I've been joking about this for years: "I'll carry the Neandertal baby!". I can joke about this since I know the capabilities to clone or hybrid a Neandertal are not even close to being possessed nor is there a desire--that I am aware of--in the scientific community to bring Neandertals back. Except maybe to prove a bet.
Church claims he was mistranslated; however, the interview was conducted in English and Church approved the transcript. People are clearly very intrigued by this idea, and I don't know if it is because of some morbid curiosity, genuine disgust, or sincere interest in this being true. I can't imagine this would pass any human research subjects board, though apparently Church has been getting emails from women offering to be a surrogate. Church initially suggested that a female chimp carry the Neandertal baby which is much more outrageous to me. It indicates very little knowledge about paleoanthropology and perhaps someone thinks Neandertals are a missing link between modern humans and chimpanzees?
The original artcle:
Der Spiegel's comments about the media frenzy surrounding the first article: