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15 May 2010 | NewScientist | 3 WE HUMANS like to see ourselves as special, at the very pinnacle of all life. That makes us keen to keep a safe distance between ourselves and related species that threaten our sense of uniqueness. Unfortunately, the evidence can sometimes make that difficult. Decades ago, when the primatologist Jane Goodall told anthropologist Louis Leakey that chimps used sticks to scoop up termites, he wrote: “Now we must redefine tool, redefine man or accept chimpanzees as human.” The news this month that humans and Neanderthals interbred (see page 8) presents us with a similar conundrum – only this one lies far closer to home. Must we now consider Neanderthals as one of our own, another twig on the branch called Homo sapiens? Svante Pääbo, the pioneer of palaeogenetics, equivocated when a reporter asked whether his genome study suggested Neanderthals are the same species as us: “I would more see them as a form of humans that were a bit more different than people are from each other today, but not that much.” Why so shy? Putting aside the vexing question of what defines a species – which flummoxed even Linnaeus and Darwin – it is hard to see why Neanderthals should now be considered as anything other than Welcome to the human family EDITORIAL Homo sapiens. We know that Neanderthals bred with our ancestors and produced fertile offspring, which is one hallmark of a species. And there is plenty more evidence to support giving them the status of Homo sapiens neanderthalis. Neanderthals shared a common ancestor with modern humans around 500,000 years ago. Its descendants went their separate ways as the Neanderthals adapted to colder climes, but then, at least 50,000 years ago, they resumed relations in the eastern Mediterranean, where the two populations met again. This pattern wouldn’t necessarily merit separate species status for most animals, so why for us and Neanderthals? There is, of course, more to the concept of being human than ecology and genetics: we are human because we think, talk, love and believe. It is impossible to know the mental life of a Neanderthal, but there is reason to think that it was not so different from our own. The Neanderthal genome differed little from ours, encoding fewer than 100 changes that would affect the shape of proteins. True, some of these differences occur in genes linked to brain function, but similar variation is found among humans today. Moreover, Neanderthals share with us a version of a gene linked to the evolution of speech, and recent archaeological evidence suggests that their minds were capable of the symbolic representations that underlie language and art. If that’s not human, then what is? n Is there any reason not to allow Neanderthals into the fold with Homo sapiens? On NewScientist.com THE oil industry is in dangerous waters. In 2007, one-third of all crude oil came from offshore sources, according to the International Energy Agency. Last week saw a find off the Falkland Islands – in waters three times as deep as the source of the ongoing Gulf of Mexico spill – and it is clear that rigs will increasingly operate in abyssal marine environments. Yet the oil industry has been complacent about the risks of deep-water drilling (see page 20). To focus minds, White House officials and Democratic lawmakers in Congress are seeking to raise the cap on liabilities from $75 million to $10 billion. Such a stringent requirement is welcome. But to keep oil companies from moving to less-regulated waters, the principle of “polluter pays” should be applied to deep-water drilling worldwide. n When the oil industry stares into the abyss Ditch the omega-3s OUR appetite for “miracle” foods is insatiable – and food companies know it. That is why everything from bread to yoghurt now comes with added omega-3 fatty acids. These molecules are said to prevent heart disease, dementia, depression and cancer, and even make our kids brainier. Too good to be true? Sadly, yes. As the evidence piles up, their feted health benefits are melting away (see page 32). Like every other so-called superfood, claims about omega-3s need to be taken with a big pinch of salt. n ª We cannot know the mental life of a Neanderthal, but it may not have been so different from our own” BUMPOLOGY Breastfeeding by creating a vacuum The way babies suck on the nipple looks painfully like chewing, but new ultrasound images show that the infant actually removes milk by creating a vacuum. The finding could explain why some babies fail to take to the breast GLOBAL WARMING Earth too hot for humans by 2300 Climate change could make much of the world too hot for us within just three centuries, according to a model of long-term warming that predicts temperature increases of 12 °C ENVIRONMENT Sun sets on 2010 biodiversity targets Animal populations have dropped by 30 per cent in 40 years, species are moving closer to extinction and many natural habitats continue to decline in size. The UN Global Biodiversity Outlook report says the Convention on Biological Diversity has failed ZOOLOGGER Attack of the parasite clones It may be just 1 millimetre long, but the wasp Copidosoma floridanum is the source of an army of genetically identical parasites – complete with kamikaze shock troops BLOG Dictionary definition of ` siphon' wrong for 99 years The Oxford English Dictionary, and apparently pretty much every other dictionary, has contained the same glaring mistake for nearly a century – what other science words are ill-defined? TECHNOLOGY Transistors controlled by fuel of life Metabolism relies on the molecule ATP to work – and so does a new carbon-nanotube transistor. The device could one day lead to electronic prosthetics that wire straight into the body For breaking news, comment and online debate, visit newscientist.com

Just an ordinary superfood

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15 May 2010 | NewScientist | 3

WE HUMANS like to see ourselves as special, at the very pinnacle of all life. That makes us keen to keep a safe distance between ourselves and related species that threaten our sense of uniqueness. Unfortunately, the evidence can sometimes make that difficult.

Decades ago, when the primatologist Jane Goodall told anthropologist Louis Leakey that chimps used sticks to scoop up termites, he wrote: “Now we must redefine tool, redefine man or accept chimpanzees as human.” The news this month that humans and Neanderthals interbred (see page 8) presents us with a similar conundrum – only this one lies far closer to home. Must we now consider Neanderthals as one of our own, another twig on the branch called Homo sapiens?

Svante Pääbo, the pioneer of palaeogenetics, equivocated when a reporter asked whether his genome study suggested Neanderthals are the same species as us: “I would more see them as a form of humans that were a bit more different than people are from each other today, but not that much.”

Why so shy? Putting aside the vexing question of what defines a species – which flummoxed even Linnaeus and Darwin – it is hard to see why Neanderthals should now be considered as anything other than

Welcome to the human family

EDITORIAL

Homo sapiens. We know that Neanderthals bred with our ancestors and produced fertile offspring, which is one hallmark of a species. And there is plenty more evidence to support giving them the status of Homo sapiens neanderthalis.

Neanderthals shared a common ancestor with modern humans around 500,000 years ago. Its descendants went their separate ways as the Neanderthals adapted to colder climes, but then, at least 50,000 years ago, they resumed relations in the eastern Mediterranean, where the two populations met again. This pattern wouldn’t necessarily

merit separate species status for most animals, so why for us and Neanderthals?

There is, of course, more to the concept of being human than ecology and genetics: we are human because we think, talk, love and believe. It is impossible to know the mental life of a Neanderthal, but there is reason to think that it was not so different from our own. The Neanderthal genome differed little from ours, encoding fewer than 100 changes that would affect the shape of proteins.

True, some of these differences occur in genes linked to brain function, but similar variation is found among humans today. Moreover, Neanderthals share with us a version of a gene linked to the evolution of speech, and recent archaeological evidence suggests that their minds were capable of the symbolic representations that underlie language and art. If that’s not human, then what is? n

Is there any reason not to allow Neanderthals into the fold with Homo sapiens?

On NewScientist.com

THE oil industry is in dangerous waters. In 2007, one-third of all crude oil came from offshore sources, according to the International Energy Agency. Last week saw a find off the Falkland Islands – in waters three times as deep as the source of the ongoing Gulf of Mexico spill – and it is clear that rigs will increasingly operate in abyssal marine environments.

Yet the oil industry has been complacent about the risks of deep-water drilling (see page 20). To focus minds, White House officials and Democratic lawmakers in Congress are seeking to raise the cap on liabilities from $75 million to $10 billion. Such a stringent requirement is welcome. But to keep oil companies from moving to less-regulated waters, the principle of “polluter pays” should be applied to deep-water drilling worldwide. n

When the oil industry stares into the abyss

Ditch the omega-3sOUR appetite for “miracle” foods is insatiable – and food companies know it. That is why everything from bread to yoghurt now comes with added omega-3 fatty acids. These molecules are said to prevent heart disease, dementia, depression and cancer, and even make our kids brainier. Too good to be true? Sadly, yes. As the evidence piles up, their feted health benefits are melting away (see page 32). Like every other so-called superfood, claims about omega-3s need to be taken with a big pinch of salt. n

ª We cannot know the mental life of a Neanderthal, but it may not have been so different from our own”

bumpOlOgy Breastfeeding by creating a vacuum The

way babies suck on the nipple looks painfully like chewing, but new ultrasound images show that the infant actually removes milk by creating a vacuum. The finding could explain why some babies fail to take to the breast

glObal WarmiNg Earth too hot for humans by 2300 Climate change could make much of the world too hot for us within just three centuries,

according to a model of long-term warming that predicts temperature increases of 12 °C

eNvirONmeNt Sun sets on 2010 biodiversity targets Animal populations have dropped by 30 per cent in 40 years, species are moving closer to extinction and many natural habitats continue to decline in size. The UN Global Biodiversity Outlook report says the Convention on Biological Diversity has failed

zOOlOgger Attack of the parasite clones It may be just 1 millimetre long, but the wasp Copidosoma floridanum is the source of an army of genetically identical parasites – complete with kamikaze shock troops

blOg Dictionary definition of ̀ siphon' wrong for 99 years The Oxford English Dictionary, and apparently pretty much every other dictionary, has contained the same glaring mistake for nearly a

century – what other science words are ill-defined?

techNOlOgy Transistors controlled by fuel of life Metabolism relies on the molecule ATP to work – and so does a new carbon-nanotube transistor. The device could one day lead to electronic prosthetics that wire straight into the body

For breaking news, comment and online debate, visit newscientist.com