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A woman who held a deer-tooth pendant some 20,000 years ago left her genetic calling card on the ancient treasure. Scientists unearthed the pendant in Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia, which was once home to several ancient human species, including the Denisovans. To glean details about who made or wore the pendant, researchers coaxed DNA from inside pores of the tooth — without damaging the priceless item — then compared the genetic sequences with other sets of ancient DNA. The woman was a member of our own species, Homo sapiens, and had north Eurasian ancestry. “It’s almost like you open a time travel machine,” says study co-author Elena Essel.
Read an in-depth analysis of the research
Reference: Nature paper or try the very readable Research Briefing summary by co-author Marie Soressi (Nature | 6 min read, Nature paywall)
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved GSK’s vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) for use in people aged 60 years and older. Arexvy is the first RSV vaccine to gain approval anywhere in the world. The disease is usually mild, but it kills or hospitalizes tens of thousands of people over 65 in the United States every year. RSV is also dangerous for babies, who are harder to vaccinate because their immune systems are immature. A jab for pregnant people that also protects their newborns is under review by the FDA. The technology underlying the RSV vaccine has been almost 60 years in the making. “This is my lifetime’s work. It’s very gratifying to see this finally happening,” says physician-scientist Barney Graham. “It’s a good day for RSV.”
Read more: The race to make vaccines for a dangerous respiratory virus (Nature | 8 min read, from 2021)
A list of the astronomy projects that European funding agencies should prioritize has been unveiled by Astronet, a network of European funding agencies and research organizations. Among the recommendations is a gravitational-wave detector still at the concept stage known as the Einstein Telescope. Also on the wish list: the European Solar Telescope, which will study the Sun’s magnetic field, and a follow-up to the Gaia spacecraft that is currently mapping billions of stars.
Reference: Astronet 2022-2035 astronomy roadmap
Features & opinion
There are estimated to be thousands of mental-health smartphone apps available, helping to reach those who don’t have access to human therapists in mental-health systems that are often struggling, expensive or fractured. But most of the apps are based on little evidence and some have raised concerns over privacy, efficacy and safety. Now, the use of advanced artificial-intelligence (AI) systems such as ChatGPT in mental-health apps poses fresh questions. For example, both conventional therapy and automated versions have a vested interest in retaining patients. What would be the result if a therapeutic AI chatbot, trained on innumerable interactions, was to be optimized to prioritize keeping users hooked?
The ‘great houses’ built by Ancestral Puebloans featured hundreds of thousands of huge, straight timber beams. But suitable trees grow nowhere near the area, in what is now Chaco Culture National Historical Park in northwestern New Mexico. Evidence from isotopes in the wood and tree-ring patterns support Indigenous oral traditions and archaeological evidence that Ancestral Puebloans roamed across some 20,000 square kilometres to harvest the timber. Researchers also hypothesize that the extensive Chacoan system of wide, straight roads was used to transport the logs over long distances.
Infographic of the week
An analysis of data from the US National Institutes of Healthshows that many diseases that affect more women than men are underfunded relative to how much disability and death they cause — measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). In an infographic-packed feature, explore how boosting investment could reap big rewards for women’s health and lifespans. (Nature | 7 min read)