Nature Briefings trashes LSS. And gives us a lesson in thinking

Yesterday we published a slightly peevish piece on early human migration. We pointed to all the different species, all the different tool assemblages and all the scattered sites across Eurasia, and bemoaned the implausibilities of the various theories which have been adduced to try to link them all up.

About an hour later a regular update from Nature Briefings dropped into our in-box. And what it contained blew us away. Read this:

Humans did not emerge from a single region of Africa, but from several populations that moved around the continent one million years ago and intermingled for millennia. The widely held idea of a single origin of Homo sapiens is based in part on fossil records. Computer modelling and genome data from modern African and European populations revealed that “our roots lie in a very diverse overall population made up of fragmented local populations”, says evolutionary archaeologist Eleanor Scerri. This means human evolution looks more like a tangled vine than a ‘tree of life.’Nature | 4 min read
Reference: Nature paper

OK, the authors are talking about the situation 1 million years ago and the emergence of Homo sapiens in particular, not 2 million years and the emergence of the Homo genus. But the message is the same for both. If you spend your time looking for this specimen, which made that tool kit, which makes your discovery the key ancestor of us all, you are wasting your time. It looks like our tree is a ramifying bush of wondering tribes, some of whom may have changed shape a bit in response to various ecological and environmental pressures. Rivers flooded, volcanoes went off, droughts scorched the earth. The survivors were driven into the arms of other groups-and genes and ideas flowed as they have always done. After all it took humans and chimpanzees about three million years to finally give up interbreeding. What was to stop a few Homo habilis types getting up to monkey business with some itinerant Denisovan folk, if the mood took them?

We suspect the real problem arose from the fact that early investigators were trained in the old school. Where every new discovery, plant, animal or fungus had to be given a new species name, with a Latin binomial- Felis domesticus, Quercus robur, or whatever. Don’t get us wrong: naming things is incredibly important and useful. We think Linnaeus was one of the all time greats. But there comes a point at which getting hung up on names and labels is no longer helpful. In fact it affords the opposite of true understanding. Locally that’s true in human evolution. We hope people might laern this lesson a little more widely. And thanks to Nature Briefings for showing the point to us.

#nature briefings #human evolution #homo sapiens #homo erectus #classification #tool cultures #acheulian #oldowan

Human Migration: not a mystery, a mess

For those who like their truths cut and dried, the story of the wanderings of our earliest ancestors[1] is a bewildering mess. So much so that all we can do is start with a sort of fairy story and then ask a series of rather wistful questions. We hope this blog will act as a sort of inoculation against anyone who tells you confident, otiose stories and try to give the impression that they have spoken the last word on any subject. Especially economics and holiday villas.

A Fairy Story (for children) Once upon a time a group of nasty little apemen in Africa called Australopithecus invented stone tools. Somehow they evolved into another little creature called Homo habilis, which made them better. Then somehow, still in Africa, a much larger, altogether more noble fellow called Homo erectus evolved. They made magnificent Acheulian tools and marched out to conquer the world. Reaching as far as places like Java and Flores.

The truth has to be rather different, as we wonder below

1 The Dmansi finds[2] (Homo georgicus?) are alleged to be an early form of H erectus up in the Caucasus(1.8m years bp) But they were rather small, primitive looking people. Would classic Homo erectus like the Turkana boy really recognise them as being the same people? And why is their technology of the old fashioned Oldowan type, beloved of the Austraolopithecines?

2 Ubeidiya If the Dmansi people came out of Africa, they must have passed through the Middle East. The only site on the route of any significance is at Ubeidiya in Israel. The date and location are about right. But the only bone suggests a bigger creature, in line with the classic Turkana Homo erectus. Are we really implying this species started small (H habilis), got bigger(Turkana boy) marched off north, then got small again in the Caucasus? [3]

3 Name me a name What exactly is Homo erectus any way. And what is Homo ergaster? It’s a concept that is profoundly fuzzy round the edges

4 Dear Little Hobbits Homo floresiensis is often held to be a last offshoot, on the extreme geographical range of Homo erectus. Yet some researches assert it has skeletal resemblances to Australopithecus rather than Homo. What was it doing there?

5 China Crisis Who or what made the incredibly early assemblages in Gongwangling in China?

6 Out of Africa, 2-and the sequel And finally-why do all the migrations seem to start in Africa? First Homo erectus. Then Homo Heidelbergensis. Then Homo sapiens. Always one way, spreading a more advanced way of doing things every time. Or were there larger populations of hominins spread right across Africa and Eurasia, for much longer than we suspect? Much more digging is needed, in places which haven’t been tried, Until that happens, believe nothing.






#human evolution #paleoanthropology #homo erectus #pleistocene #stone tools

This week: Genomes, Noses, help-outs, and mushrooms x 2

A look at the week’s news stories

Genes are here to stay Older readers, especially those from scientific and medical backgrounds will recall the excitement back in 2000 when the first human genome map came out. Now it gets better, so much so that we have two links for you. This one is going to be important!

The first draft of a human ‘pangenome’ has been published. Unlike the first complete human genome sequence, which was derived mostly from the DNA of just one person, the pangenome is drawn from 47 people from around the globe, including individuals from Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. More genomes are being added — 350 will be analysed by mid-2024. They will allow geneticists to identify variations in the genomes of diverse populations and investigate links between genes and disease. “This is like going from black-and-white television to 1080p,” says genome scientist Keolu Fox.Nature | 5 min read
Read more: discover related research and analysis in the Nature Portfolio Collection of Human Pangenome Ref

Help me if you can News of the UK Coronation’s big help out came from regular contributor Gary Herbert who may be seen cleaning the chalk lion which overlooks Whipsnade, the country arm of London Zoo. A worthy day out indeed! he claims to be at the front

Mushrooms and the mind Not the first time we’ve alluded to the amazing properties of fungi this week. Today, more on our running theme of how researches may be using fungal products to investigate the mysteries of the human mind

Neanderthal Nose best Apparently our Neanderthal cousins used their huge conks to warm the air in their glacial environments. As their genes passed down to us, the hooters came with them. Here’s how.


Mushroom dance as it’s been fungi all week on this blog, we’ll leave you with the famous Mushroom dance from Disney’s 1940 Fantasia. The music of course was from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite

#fugi #genome #coronation #fantasia

Friday Night: The 30 best bars in the world?

Ok, you’ve got the clothes, you’ve got the style and the look (see LSS passim) But where on earth can you go to actually drink all these lovely cocktails? After all, we can’t wear Brooks Brothers in the Dog and Duck, they’ll think we’re in fancy dress or something. Well, as we always say, if you’re in a a bother about where to find a drink, ask a journalist. These people just know where the nearest boozer is-they have a sort of mystic instinct. We’ve watched them sense a pub unseen in a strange town, and describe it down to the last sports screen before we even got there. Not kidding.

Which is why we place high faith in the words of Krisanne Fordham of CNN. For she has compiled a list of 30 (count ’em-30!) of the worlds’ top hotel bars. [1] And there are some real highlights here, gentle readers. Find out about the Connaught, London. For swanky exclusivity, this joint has always been hard to beat. Or you could channel your inner gaucho at the Alvear Palace Hotel in Buenos Aires. And there’s 28 others scattered across the globe, all proclaiming their excellent decor, quality service and a complete absence of Riff-Raff. What’s not to like?

Before we go, a health warning. This article was published in 2015 before Mr Putin decided to appanage Ukraine to his empire, so there’s a couple of Russian gaffs in here. Might be wiser to avoid them just for a while. However, we at LSS have no quarrel with the Russian people, never have had. And we feel certain they will return to the comity of civilised cocktail bars one day, when Mr Putin realises what a terrible mistake he has made and pulls his troops home. That day the drinks will definitely be on him.


#cocktail #hotel #cnn #putin

Plastics Pollution-are microbes the answer?

Nothing blights a seaside walk like plastic rubbish does. Bags and bottles roll along the shore like some multicoloured spindrift from hell. Discarded nets and fishing gear trip humans and dogs alike. We’re the lucky ones; out at sea they condemn thousands of marine creatures to an agonising death daily. We avert our eyes and turn inland. To find the hedges and fields littered with the same-the fallen leaves of a dying economic system. And everywhere on sea, land, in the mountains, in the air, these strange new  solids are piling up into continents of waste and pollution. [1] And that’s before you start thinking about the sorts of people that dropped them.

Well, there’s a nice gloomy start to today’s blog, gentle readers. But LSS is nothing if not  hopeful. So we’ll shine not one but two rays of hope into your lives today. And both of them  ways of overcoming plastics pollution. Using our microbe friends to eat it, for the record.

The first comes from Helena Horton of the Guardian. [2] The ingenious Dr Rüthi and his colleagues in Switzerland have been investigating all sorts of bacteria and fungi which might actually digest plastics at room temperature. This, gentle readers, is key:for any discovery must function out there, in the real world, if it’s to be any good. So far the results are mixed. Good for some plastics like polyurethanes, less good for those stubborn ol’ polyethylenes. But a start nonetheless, and much to be welcomed.

By coincidence our regular correspondent Ms Gaynor Lynch has contacted us on this very selfsame day with much the same idea. Via Ocean Blue Project she has a whole series of initiatives on how mushrooms might yet digest our way out of this insidious mess. There’s a good one from  ABC Australia on how fungi of the genus Aspergillus seem to be able to eat polypropylene [3] [4] [5] And we also share a link to how  the resourceful Dr Ken Cullings of NASA is hoping to develop new biological initiatives to deal with the problem in our seas.

Our thoughts? Funny how the educated, thinking section of the population is having to clear up the mess left by those who obey “the invisible dictates of the market” Perhaps some of those very well funded “free enterprise” think tanks might like to take note.

[1] Plastic pollution | Greenpeace UK

[2] Microbes discovered that can digest plastics at low temperatures | Microbiology | The Guardian

[3] Plastic-eating backyard fungi discovery boosts hopes for a solution to the recycling crisis – ABC News

[4] Oyster mushrooms expected to break down toxins and microplastics in cigarette butts in Australian trial | Waste | The Guardian

[5] The fungus and bacteria tackling plastic waste – BBC News

[6] Fungi Cure for Clean Water Research • Environmental Nonprofit Organization (

#plastic pollution #bacteria #fungi #environmental degradation

How Sir Harold Evans discovered a greater truth

For a few fleeting years between the Suez debacle and the rise of Margaret Thatcher, there seemed a genuine chance that the declining British state might reform itself. Mainly by a pragmatic recognition of its new place in the world and adapting to it. A wave of middle-class reformers, newly emancipated from National Service and by attendance at university seemed poised to take control of  society. In science, social policy, economics, journalism and TV, they meant to sweep aside the old elites of money and land, and create a new more egalitarian society, able to take its place alongside the modernising nations of Europe.

Their flagship journal was The Sunday Times under the leadership of its young, working class editor Harold Evans and his teams of mightily serious and hard working investigative reporters, who set out to shed Truth on all aspects of this transforming zeitgeist. They did good; only a a churl would deny their achievements on matters as diverse as thalidomide, Kim Philby the Death Penalty, and much besides.[1]

But they forgot one inescapable truth, which someone else had grasped intuitively. They were middle class, educated, and therefore few in number.  The mass of the population, lost in their ancient preoccupations of sport, sex and shiny toys, are mainly indifferent to the efforts of reformers. And when the Old Powers of the British State felt themselves threatened by the industrial militancy of the 1970s they turned to Rupert Murdoch. He sacked Evans (who had disparaged Thatcher, a key Murdoch ally) and delivered over the allegiance of the working classes via the Sun.  British Rulers have never been seriously inconvenienced ever since.

Today a large meeting-no, a summit– of those surviving reformers will take place in London. It will be filled with some of the brightest and the best-Woodward, Bernstein, Maitless, Tina Brown to name but a few. Their courage and intelligence are beyond doubt. All will intone solemnly on the need for truth, open information and honest reporting. [2] And they will be right.

But their connection to the lives and preoccupations of ordinary people is at best exiguous. Magnates like Murdoch, and many like him around the world, have made the deep and necessary connections with the masses which are essential for political and economic power.   And until the middle classes find a way of breaking that link, in many countries, our present plight will continue. Indefinitely.



#journalism #free speech #fake news #tribalism #education #reform

Hiding in Plain Sight? The origin of some dreadful diseases

Parkinsons is a dreadful condition, which gradually takes away the mobility and co ordination from 145 000 victims in the UK alone. Robbing them of dignity, happiness and any chance of a decent life. It seems to come in at least three forms, and is associated with the progressive loss of dopamine secretion in the brain. But up to now its cause remains unknown.[1]

However, a new study by scientists at he University of Helsinki suggests a link to a common gut bacterium called Desulfovibrio, which seems to produce a protein called α-synuclein, which may damage nerve cells and lead to the onset of the condition. You can read an excellent story on the whole thing in the Mail here [2] by Hannah Macdonald. It’s early days yet, and the samples are small. But it leads us on to something which has intrigued us for a long time.

One of the pleasures of being a science journalist, as opposed to a scientist, is that it leaves one free to speculate, and make connections where the strict rules of scientific procedure preclude wiser heads from speaking. For some time now, the medical press has been buzzing with intriguing speculation about the origins of diseases and disorders of the digestive tract. To give another digestive example: The Conversation recently carried a piece on the origins of Alzheimers and gum health [3] Again, not conclusive; but pointing somewhere, perhaps? And we could add two other diseases of mysterious origin, which ravage the lives of millions; Motor Neurone Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. Would it be a total waste to gamble a little money on further research into the gut, its microbiomes and general health, in the pursuit of such a good cause?

We at LSS love it when the truth was discovered to be there all along hiding in plain sight. We still recall our delight when it was revealed that dinosaurs had never gone extinct, but were floating around on the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, calling loudly for supplies of bread. Could it be that our gut instinct is right?




#parkinsons #dopamine #hannah macdonald #gingivalis #alzheimers #dinosaurs #MS #MND

Why Prince Andrew should have listened to the Talking Heads

Take it from us, we feel sorry for Prince Andrew, the disgraced member of the British Royal Family who used to be HRH Duke of York, colonel of regiments, darling of the popular rags and mags, and many other things. Perhaps he still is some of them. However, it doesn’t really matter. Because he has fallen so very far, so very completely, from such a position of grace, that it would be inhuman not to feel some sympathy. And above all to ask why. Because if it can happen to him, it can happen to any one of us.

“Prince Andrew has no hinterland” explains Royal Correspondent Valentine Low. [1] Why should he? Unlike his more cerebral elder brother, this Prince passed straight from hyperprivileged upbringing to posh school to immediate commission in the Royal Navy. (an admirable institution in many ways but not one in which qualities such as reflection and contemplation are strongly encouraged) From then on, the young man’s dream: war hero, celebrity, and unrivalled access to young females in breeding condition, as the zoologists say. It must have seemed great-why waste time to stop and think?

“The unexamined life is not worth living” asserted Socrates. No one would dream of asking Prince Andrew to study Socrates, or any other philosopher. It would be unnecessarily cruel, and futile. But there was someone else around, in his youth, who said the same thing more accessibly. That someone was David Byrne and his popular musical singing group the Talking Heads. who famously observed:

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?
” [2]

Andrew never seemed to stop to muse upon the fragility of the human condition. How provisional good fortune can be. Many like him, who have fallen, find comfort in intellectual or religious beliefs developed when the good times still seemed to roll. Did he not hear this song once, while entering a nightclub in all his pomp? While navigating his expensive motor car along the well-manicured lanes of Surrey? And if not, how does he cope now, when all is stripped away? Look on this Prince, this hero-and feel pity.


[2] extract courtesy

#price andrew #socrates #talking heads #fate

and if you’re interested, here’s the song in full

Microbiome Studies show why it’s good to be cautious with antibiotics

Pets are good for you. Playing in the garden mud is good for you. Being poor is good for you. Antibiotics are bad for you.  If you want to avoid Inflammatory bowel disease, that this. What! Have we gone completely mad? Have we overthrown the whole raison d’etre of LSS at a stroke? Should someone ring down to security and have the entire editorial board ejected into George Street, stripped of their security passes, and admonished never to return again?

The truth, as in so many cases is more subtle and nuanced. That’s why you’ve come to this site and not places like Fox News, where concepts like nuance, subtlety complexity and interpretation seem, shall we say, less prized. Allow us to explain.

There exists, in the University of Newcastle in Australia, a very clever lady called Nisha Thacker. And she has carried out one of those very thorough Metastudies which look at the connections between Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and early life experiences in children.  To summarise:

Children and adolescents face greater risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) when exposed to antibiotics or a Western diet at early ages, or when their family has higher socioeconomic status, according to a study being presented today at Digestive Disease Week (DDW) 2023.

The full story can be found here [1] in the Medical Express. Our researchers also found her speaking on the BBC  (PM programme 8 May 2023; look at 45 minute marker)[2]

One particularly intriguing finding was that, after a course of antibiotics, children in less developed countries recover their gut biota much more rapidly than their over sanitised peers in richer regions It’s one of several factors which might affect the development of IBS-but read for yourself.

So, does all this mean antibiotics are bad, and we should all go pout in the garden and get filthy dirty? Of course not, and that’s not what Nisha is saying. What she does imply is a cautious, balanced approach to antibiotic prescription, much more sensible diets, and of course no smoking. Wise advice all round, in fact.

[1] Pediatric IBD risk linked to antibiotics, Western diet and higher family income (

[2] BBC iPlayer – Home

#health #medicine #antibiotic resistance #microbiome #gut #superbug

We won’t beat Computers. So why not join them?

“If you can’t beat them, join them” was our weary response to the current buzz around AI, Chat GPT and Quantum Computing. Wherever we have been in the last week-round these offices, along the streets of Croydon, mingling with the crowd in the Porter’s Arms-we hear the same worries and fears. ” blimey-these ‘ere computers, guvnor-they’re cleverer than us! They can write better’ n wot we can, play chess better-they’ll be running the country next thing you know, innit!”

On that last one, we wish.

It’s like standing with a bunch of Homo erectus the day after Homo sapiens have moved into the valley. The former may survive for a bit, but their days of being number one are already over. There’s nothing you can do when basically, your brain just can’t think fast enough for the next level in the game. Except one maybe.

We must look now to fuse our beings with the cyber entities which stand ready to replace us. One of the reasons they look so scary is that they run on electricity, whereas we and every other living thing there has ever been on this planet run on flesh and blood. Good old DNA is our data base, none of your nasty silicon and gallium arsenide, thank you very much. Yet DNA is a fantastic medium for the collection and storage of data, as this entry from Wikipedia makes abundantly clear. [1] Theoretically at least it should now be possible to engineer human-computer hybrids of immense intelligence and longevity, ready for the challenges ahead, such as the exploration of space. True, these creatures will not be exactly like us. They will require a new species name at the very least. But it has happened before. As Arthur C Clarke presciently observed, the very invention of tools led to new selection pressures on the users which modified them out of all recognition. But the human line survived, and prospered. At least until now.

There’s an old saying in the East. “When a King nears the end of his reign, he should give less thought to how he might extend his dominions, and more to who might with honour replace him.” Time to start thinking, gentle readers.


#ai #quantum computers #chatgpt #evolution #humanity