July 13, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Pinpointing humans’ ancestral home; the suspension of fracking in England; and the new dangers of measles.

In this week’s I, Science News Roundup, read on to find out about a new study potentially pinpointing where humans first evolved, the suspension of fracking in England, and how measles may be even more dangerous than once thought.

The ancestral home of humans traced to northern Botswana

Whilst there is overwhelming evidence that the human species originated in Africa, we’ve not known exactly where. A new study believes it has pinpointed our ancestral home to a vast wetland that would have sprawled across modern day Botswana, just south of the Zambezi river.

They came to this conclusion after analysing 1,217 samples of mitochondrial DNA from people living in southern Africa to build a genetic tree, as well as looking at geological, archaeological and fossil evidence.

The claim hasn’t been accepted without criticism however. Other experts believe that using one part of the genome from a modern population, who are all based in one region, cannot capture the full complexity of our origins. Other methods looking at Y chromosomes or whole genomes have respectively suggested origins in western and eastern Africa. Others believe that there is no single homeland with interbreeding populations all over Africa.

Fracking halted in England

The government has immediately and indefinitely suspended fracking in England after a new report by the Oil and Gas Authority warned that it’s not possible to predict the probability or size of tremors that fracking can cause.

This comes after fracking at the UK’s only active site in Lancashire came to a halt this summer as it triggered tremors that breached the government’s earthquake limit.

It’s important to note that fracking hasn’t been banned, but paused, until such a time that the government believes it would be safe to recontinue. However, scientists say that with our technology it’s difficult to see a way that fracking wouldn’t cause earthquakes in the UK due to the large number of criss-crossing faults the nation has and how difficult they can be to detect.

Measles wipes out the body’s immune memories

A new study has definitively shown that measles is able to wipe out your body’s ability to “remember” past infections, making it harder to fight them off in the future. They found that memory B-cells, the immune cells that have a memory of past infections and can produce antibodies to fight them if reinfected, are significantly reduced after having measles.

On average, the children in the study lost 20% of the repertoire of antibodies they’d normally be able to produce, effectively resetting their immune systems to a baby-like state.

The research shows that measles is even more dangerous than we realised, which is increasingly important considering there were more measles cases in the first half of 2019 than in any year since 2006.

This week’s news was written by Harry Jenkins, who is studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London. Banner image credit: pixabay