Our ancestors lost nearly 99% of their population 900,000 years ago

download Nature podcast September 06, 2023

In this episode:

00:30 Pushing the first humans to the brink of extinction

About 900,000 years ago, the ancestors of modern humans were pushed to the brink of extinction, according to new research. Genetic studies indicate that the reproductive number of our ancestors in Africa dropped to just 1,280 and did not expand again for another 117,000 years. This population collapse likely had an impact on human genetic diversity, and may have driven the evolution of traits important to modern humans, such as brain size.

Nature news: Human ancestors almost became extinct 900,000 years ago

3:49 The legacy of pollution from research stations in Antarctica

Poor historical waste practices have left high levels of pollution around research facilities in Antarctica. By surveying the sea floor near the Casey Research Station in Australia, the researchers revealed high concentrations of hydrocarbons and heavy metals. This pollution is likely to be widespread, but its impact on the continent is unknown.

Nature news: Research stations in Antarctica have polluted a pristine wilderness

07:43 Melting sea ice causes penguin breeding to fail

Continuous decline in sea ice levels around Antarctica has caused emperor penguins to abandon their breeding colonies early, resulting in the death of large numbers of chicks. Although the affected populations represent only a small number of the total number of emperor penguins on the continent, it is unclear how they will fare if melting sea-ice trends continue.

Sciences: Emperor penguins abandon their breeding grounds as the snow melts around them

09:23 The AI ​​has been trained to describe smells

Researchers have developed an artificial intelligence that can describe the smell of compounds by analyzing their molecular structure. The system’s description of odors is often similar to that used by trained human sniffers, and may have applications in the food and perfume industries. Currently, AI works on single molecules, and is unable to recognize odors associated with complex groups of molecules, something that human noses easily do.

nature: Artificial intelligence predicts the smell of chemicals from their structures

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