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Arsenic spurs adaptation in Argentinian villagers

San Antonio de los Cobres, Argentina

The village of San Antonio de los Cobres is high in the Argentinian Andes. The groundwater is contaminated with arsenic, and the people local to the region may have adaptations to its poisonous presence.

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The groundwater in San Antonio de los Cobres in northwestern Argentina averages around 200 micrograms of arsenic per liter, 20 times the level deemed acceptable by the World Health Organization. A genetic analysis reveals that people from this region have different genes for the liver enzyme that breaks down arsenic than do people from neighboring areas where arsenic levels are not so high.

The genetic differences might help the people of San Antonio de los Cobres efficiently get rid of arsenic, though scientists still don’t know if residents are less susceptible to arsenic-caused diseases, researchers report March 3 in Molecular Biology and Evolution.

“It is the first example of human adaptation to a toxic environment,” says study coauthor Karin Broberg, a geneticist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. She says that the negative effects of arsenic early in life, which make infants susceptible to diarrhea and other illnesses, could have provided the selective pressure over thousands of years that accounts for the genetic differences. 

Animals,, Biophysics

How pigeons bob and weave through obstacles

By Helen Thompson 3:52pm, March 3, 2015
When navigating an obstacle course, pigeons weigh energy efficiency against the danger of collision, research finds.
Health

Despite risks, vaccine delay requests are common

By Nathan Seppa 4:47pm, March 2, 2015
A survey of pediatricians and family doctors finds parents frequently put off vaccines for babies even though doctors warn it can place the children at risk of illness.
Plants,, Climate

Plant growth patterns changing on much of Earth’s surface

By Kate Baggaley 3:40pm, March 2, 2015
More than half of Earth’s land surface has seen major changes in factors such as leaf-on date and how much vegetation grows in a season.
Evolution,, Microbiology

Superfast evolution observed in soil bacteria

By Helen Thompson 9:00am, February 27, 2015
Natural selection resurrects flagella in soil bacteria in just four days.
Health,, Science & Society

CDC panel gives thumbs up to vaccine against nine HPV types

By Nathan Seppa 6:44pm, February 26, 2015
A federal vaccine advisory committee voted February 26 to recommend use of an expanded version of the human papillomavirus shot marketed as Gardasil.
Planetary Science

Mysterious bright spot on Ceres has a partner

By Christopher Crockett 2:45pm, February 26, 2015
A new image from the Dawn spacecraft finds two bright patches within a basin, possibly caused by an ice volcano.
Animals

Some cicadas drum up a beat with the help of their wings

By Allison Bohac 2:00pm, February 25, 2015
By using their wings as drumsticks, so-called “mute” cicadas can make themselves heard.
Computing,, Technology,, Numbers

Artificial intelligence conquers Space Invaders, Pong, Q*bert

By Lila Guterman 1:09pm, February 25, 2015
With a single algorithm, a computer can learn dozens of classic video games, researchers from Google DeepMind in London report.
Biomedicine,, Cells

Stem cells from wisdom teeth could help repair corneas

By Helen Thompson 12:55pm, February 24, 2015
A study points to a potential new treatment for corneal blindness: Stem cells extracted from pulp from pulled wisdom teeth.
Chemistry,, Science & Society

Brute-force chemistry study retracted

By Beth Mole 2:00pm, February 19, 2015
The journal Science has retracted a notable 2011 chemistry study in which authors reported a brawny method to break sturdy chemical structures.
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