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Evidence of a worm-like creature about the size of a grain of rice has been uncovered in South Australia, and researchers believe it is the oldest ancestor on the family tree that includes humans and most animals.

The creature lived 555 million years ago.

It’s considered to be the earliest bilaterian. Bilaterians are organisms with a front, back, two openings on either end and a gut that connects them. They were an evolutionary step forward for early life on Earth.

Some of the oldest life on Earth, including those sponges and algal mats, is referred to as the Ediacaran Biota. This group is based on the earliest fossils ever discovered, providing evidence of complex, multicellular organisms.

But those aren’t directly related to animals living today. And researchers have been trying to find fossilized evidence of the common ancestor of most animals.

Developing bilaterian body structure and organization successfully allowed life to move in specific, purposeful directions. This includes everything from worms and dinosaurs to amphibians and humans.

But for our common ancestor, they knew that fossils of the tiny, simple creatures they imagined would be nearly impossible to find because of its size and soft body.

Burrows were found in stone that belonged to a tiny creature who lived billions of years ago.

Then, they turned to fossilized burrows, dated to the Ediacaran Period some 555 million years ago, found in Nilpena, South Australia. For 15 years, scientists knew they were created by bilaterians. But there was no evidence of what made the burrows and lived in them.

That is, until researchers decided to take a closer look at the burrows. Geology professor Mary Droser and doctoral graduate Scott Evans, both from the University of California, Riverside, spotted impressions shaped like ovals near the burrows.

A 3-D laser scan revealed the impressions contained evidence of a body shaped and sized like a rice grain, with a noticeable head, tail and even V-shaped grooves suggesting muscles.

Contractions of the muscles would have enabled the creature to move and create the burrows, like the way a worm moves. Patterns of displaced sediment and signs of feeding led the researchers to determine that it had a mouth, gut and posterior opening.

And the size of the creature matched with the size of the burrows they found.

The study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We thought these animals should have existed during this interval, but always understood they would be difficult to recognize,” Evans said. “Once we had the 3D scans, we knew that we had made an important discovery.”

A 3D scan revealed the shape and characteristics of the creature that made the burrows.

The researchers involved in the study named the creature Ikaria wariootia. The first name translates to “meeting place” in the Adnyamathanha language. Adnyamathanha is the name of contemporary Indigenous Australian people that live in the area where the fossil was found. And the name of the species is a variation on a waterway in the area, called Warioota Creek.

The fossilized burrows were found beneath the impressions of other fossils in the lowest layer of Nilpena’s Ediacaran Period deposits. During its lifetime, Ikaria searched for the organic matter it fed on by burrowing through layers of sand on the ocean floor. Given that the burrows track through sand that was oxygenated, rather than toxic spots, suggest the creature had basic senses.

“Burrows of Ikaria occur lower than anything else. It’s the oldest fossil we get with this type of complexity,” Droser said. “We knew that we also had lots of little things and thought these might have been the early bilaterians that we were looking for.”

Droser also explained that other, larger fossils belonging to other creatures they found in the past were likely evolutionary dead-ends.

“This is what evolutionary biologists predicted,” Droser said. “It’s really exciting that what we have found lines up so neatly with their prediction.”

Taking up meditation while sheltering-in-place may not only help you cope with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, it may even keep your brain from aging.

A recently pubished 18-year analysis of the mind of a Buddhist monk by the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found daily, intensive meditation slowed the monk’s brain aging by as much as eight years when compared to a control group.

The project started in the 1990s with neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s relationship with the Dalai Lama. Davidson started making connections between positive emotions and brain health, which jump-started research for the study.

“[The Dalai Lama] was really encouraging me to take the practices from this tradition and investigate them with the tools of modern science,” said Davidson, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds. “And if we find through these investigations that these practices are valuable to then disseminate them widely.”

The study began with a Buddhist monk

Using MRI and a machine learning framework which estimates “brain-age” from brain imaging, Davidson and lead scientist Nagesh Adluru studied the mind of Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche over the course of 18 years.

The goal, Davidson said, was to find out whether there was a difference in the rate of aging between the brains of seasoned meditation masters compared to those who were novice practitioners. Rinpoche was first scanned in 2002 at the age of 27. At the time, he had already completed nine years of meditation retreats. He was scanned again at the respective ages of 30, 32 and 41 years old.

The last time he was scanned, he had just returned from a four-and-a-half-year wandering retreat, and his brain was calculated to be 33-years-old, eight years younger than his biological age.
The researchers compared Rinpoche’s aging brain to a control group and his appeared to age much slower than the general focus group.

The results could have lasting implications on health

The magnitude of the effect was pronounced even with a margin of error that is plus or minus two to three years, Davidson said.

“If these effects accumulate over time, we think there will be very important health and well-being implications.”

Everyone, especially now amid the coronavirus pandemic, can benefit from meditation because it is designed to remind us of our own basic goodness, Davidson said.

“I think what is exciting is the invitation that we can impact our own brain … and change the rate at which it ages through engaging in practices that are nourishing and helpful for our well-being.”

The researchers said they are excited to see how Rinpoche’s brain will continue to develop, and how this data can help improve overall well-being.

Viruses like the novel coronavirus are shells holding genetic material

As the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19 spreads across the globe, with cases surpassing 284,000 worldwide today (March 20), misinformation is spreading almost as fast.

One persistent myth is that this virus, called SARS-CoV-2, was made by scientists and escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began.

A new analysis of SARS-CoV-2 may finally put that latter idea to bed. A group of researchers compared the genome of this novel coronavirus with the seven other coronaviruses known to infect humans: SARS, MERS and SARS-CoV-2, which can cause severe disease; along with HKU1, NL63, OC43 and 229E, which typically cause just mild symptoms, the researchers wrote March 17 in the journal Nature Medicine.

“Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” they write in the journal article.

Kristian Andersen, an associate professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research, and his colleagues looked at the genetic template for the spike proteins that protrude from the surface of the virus. The coronavirus uses these spikes to grab the outer walls of its host’s cells and then enter those cells. They specifically looked at the gene sequences responsible for two key features of these spike proteins: the grabber, called the receptor-binding domain, that hooks onto host cells; and the so-called cleavage site that allows the virus to open and enter those cells.

That analysis showed that the “hook” part of the spike had evolved to target a receptor on the outside of human cells called ACE2, which is involved in blood pressure regulation. It is so effective at attaching to human cells that the researchers said the spike proteins were the result of natural selection and not genetic engineering.

Here’s why: SARS-CoV-2 is very closely related to the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which fanned across the globe nearly 20 years ago. Scientists have studied how SARS-CoV differs from SARS-CoV-2 — with several key letter changes in the genetic code. Yet in computer simulations, the mutations in SARS-CoV-2 don’t seem to work very well at helping the virus bind to human cells. If scientists had deliberately engineered this virus, they wouldn’t have chosen mutations that computer models suggest won’t work. But it turns out, nature is smarter than scientists, and the novel coronavirus found a way to mutate that was better — and completely different— from anything scientists could have created, the study found.

Another nail in the “escaped from evil lab” theory? The overall molecular structure of this virus is distinct from the known coronaviruses and instead most closely resembles viruses found in bats and pangolins that had been little studied and never known to cause humans any harm.

“If someone were seeking to engineer a new coronavirus as a pathogen, they would have constructed it from the backbone of a virus known to cause illness,” according to a statement from Scripps.

Where did the virus come from? The research group came up with two possible scenarios for the origin of SARS-CoV-2 in humans. One scenario follows the origin stories for a few other recent coronaviruses that have wreaked havoc in human populations. In that scenario, we contracted the virus directly from an animal — civets in the case of SARS and camels in the case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the researchers suggest that animal was a bat, which transmitted the virus to another intermediate animal (possibly a pangolin, some scientists have said) that brought the virus to humans.

In that possible scenario, the genetic features that make the new coronavirus so effective at infecting human cells (its pathogenic powers) would have been in place before hopping to humans.

In the other scenario, those pathogenic features would have evolved only after the virus jumped from its animal host to humans. Some coronaviruses that originated in pangolins have a “hook structure” (that receptor binding domain) similar to that of SARS-CoV-2. In that way, a pangolin either directly or indirectly passed its virus onto a human host. Then, once inside a human host, the virus could have evolved to have its other stealth feature — the cleavage site that lets it easily break into human cells. Once it developed that capacity, the researchers said, the coronavirus would be even more capable of spreading between people.

All of this technical detail could help scientists forecast the future of this pandemic. If the virus did enter human cells in a pathogenic form, that raises the probability of future outbreaks. The virus could still be circulating in the animal population and might again jump to humans, ready to cause an outbreak. But the chances of such future outbreaks are lower if the virus must first enter the human population and then evolve the pathogenic properties, the researchers said.


There are few more transcendent in pop culture than the late, great Prince. Not only was he a master performer, songwriter, singer and guitar player, he was also a massive music fan who lent his genius to all genres, including country. He often enjoyed working under a pseudonym: Prince had many in his too-short life, from “Jamie Starr” to “Camille” to “Alexander Nevermind” and, of course, the infamous symbol once entirely substituted for his name.

It was as “Joey Coco” where Prince collided with his country side, writing the song “You’re My Love” that was recorded by Kenny Rogers for his 1986 album They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To. [Hear Rogers sing the tune in the clip above]. The Gambler had always been friendly to Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, making it a tour stop early on when few included it on their creative radar, and Rogers was a fan of Prince: he admitted years after the release of “You’re My Love” that Prince was one of two artists he’d yet to see live but wanted to (Garth Brooks was the other).

Prince wrote songs for everyone from Paula Abdul to Sheena Easton — sometimes under his own name, sometimes not, using the pseudonyms to play masterfully with his own identity and our cultural associations. He didn’t want any notion of what he was “supposed” to sound like or produce precede his art, or, maybe worse, dictate it. As Joey Coco, he wrote several tracks with two recorded by country artists: “Telepathy,” by Deborah Allen, and “You’re My Love” by Rogers. Many others are only available on bootlegs or locked away in Prince’s massive archives. Certainly Prince’s overtly sexual persona didn’t mix well with Music Row’s prudish leanings at the time, though his music begged to differ: take his 1980 single “Still Waiting,” which, though absent of twang, is nearly evocative of a country song, or his penchant to write about both God and faith, which sometimes rung as downright gospel.

A slick Eighties power ballad, “You’re My Love” at first listen doesn’t boast many similarities to Prince himself — though there are licks of the heartfelt love odes he was indeed so capable of. The song features vocals from El DeBarge, which, according to Prince lore, are the only thing that remained from his own personal recording of the track.

Rogers himself backs up the story. “Back in the Eighties, I had contacted [Prince] through a mutual friend to ask if he would write me a song. . . and he did,” Rogers wrote on Facebook. “When he sent the song to me, if I remember right, it was him playing all of the instruments on it and he had his background vocals on it. Unfortunately on the finished record, somehow my producer didn’t end up using the music or vocals (the song was re-cut). It was such an incredible thing that Prince took the time to do that for me. He was a brilliant guy and a gifted musician with a lot of feelings, and you could tell his feelings went far deeper than what was written on his face.”

The same year Rogers released “You’re My Love,” Prince offered his own LP, the wildly excellent Parade that concluded with a ballad, “Sometimes It Snows in April.” With his death on April 21st, he proved that to be right.

“Sometimes I wish that life was never ending,” he sang. “And all good things, they say, never last.”

Photos of crowded beaches, packed bars and large crowds at amusement parks like Walt Disney World last weekend shocked many Americans who had decided to heed warnings to hunker down amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Public polling published this week gives a clue into the public mindset before those gatherings, when the scope of the pandemic was becoming clearer: As of last week, only 2 in 5 Americans canceled plans to attend large gatherings, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. That leaves a majority of people in Kaiser’s polling who say they haven’t canceled plans for large gatherings.

The polls did not ask whether the respondents had plans to be in large gatherings, and some of those respondents may not have had plans to be in large gatherings.

Kaiser’s polling, while still relevant, is almost a week old — an eternity in the time of coronavirus, which has proven to be a fast moving pandemic. By Thursday evening, more than 13,000 Americans tested positive for coronavirus and at least 195 people were dead.

As those social media images of packed restaurants and bars circulated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance on Sunday recommending all in-person events of 50 people or more be canceled. The White House then issued recommendations on Monday that people should not gather in groups of more than 10 to help limit the virus’ spread. That’s led to many restaurants and bars being shut down by state or city entities and required to do take out or delivery service only.

The CDC’s guidelines on coronavirus are to take steps to isolate yourself and observe social distancing measures, as well as washing your hands often, keeping a clean home and staying six feet away from others. Many offices have implemented work from home procedures, with millions of Americans secluded in their houses.

That’s led many Americans to take some precautions against getting sick.

Almost 9 in 10 Americans are washing their hands more frequently as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new AP-NORC poll. Almost a third of Americans are extremely or very worried about being infected with the virus, the same poll showed.

The pandemic has also wreaked havoc on planned travel.

Four in 10 people were planning domestic travel in the next three months. Of that group, 51% are planning to keep their plans, while 27% are considering going and 22% have canceled.
Of those who had international travel planned in the next three months (around 12% of those polled), 25% still plan to go, 33% are considering what to do and 41% have canceled their trips.

Other polling within the last week finds similar results. Around 4 in 10 Americans have decided to change travel plans because of the recent outbreak, and 40% have canceled plans to attend large gatherings, the Kaiser Foundation poll found.

The AP-NORC poll found two-thirds of Americans are staying away from large groups, and significantly fewer are keeping children out of school.

Polling shows many Americans are split over how the government is handling the crisis.
An Ipsos/Reuters poll finds half of Americans support the federal government shutting down gatherings of over 100 people. Almost half (46%) support shutting down all overseas flights and 44% support closing public schools.

Fewer people support shutting down nonessential government offices (29%), shutting down public transportation (21%) and enforcing a curfew (19%), the poll showed.

In an NPR/PBS/Marist poll from last week, 46% say the federal government is doing enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus, down from 61% who said so in February.

The AP-NORC poll was conducted March 12 through 16 online among 1,003 adults with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. The Kaiser Family Foundation poll was conducted March 11 through 15 over the phone among 1,216 adults with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The Ipsos/Reuters poll was conducted March 16 through 17 online among 1,115 adults with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. The NPR/PBS/Marist poll was conducted March 13 through 14 among over the phone 835 adults with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

On Wednesday, Gregory Rigano, an advisor to the Stanford University School of Medicine, claimed that a world-renowned French researcher had tested a promising cure for coronavirus.

He tweeted: “Full peer-reviewed study has been released by Didier Raoult MD, PhD. After 6 days 100% of patients treated with HCQ + Azithromycin were virologically cured.”

Appearing on Fox News Wednesday night, Rigano followed up by stating:

And I’m here to report that as of this morning, about 5:00 this morning, a well-controlled peer-reviewed study carried out by the most eminent infectious disease specialist in the world—Didier Raoult, MD, PhD—out of the south of France, in which he enrolled 40 patients, again, a well-controlled peer review study, that showed a 100 percent cure rate against coronavirus. The study was released this morning on my Twitter account, @Riganoesq as well as our most recent website, The study was recently accepted to the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents by Elsevier.

Rigano continued, “In fact to be able to cure a virus was said to be mathematically impossible, and the first company that did it was a small biotech called Pharmacet that was acquired by Gilead Sciences in a cure for hepatitis C. What we’re here to announce is a second cure to a virus of all time.”

On Monday, The Daily Wire reported that an Australian team had announced they might have found a cure for coronavirus, and it was in a similar vein:

According to infectious disease experts at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, they may have found a treatment that could possibly eliminate the coronavirus. “University of Queensland Centre for Clinical Research director Professor David Paterson told today they have seen two drugs used to treat other conditions wipe out the virus in test tubes,” Monday.

The two medications Paterson referred to are Chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, and HIV-suppressing combination lopinavir/ritonavir. Paterson told the outlet that it seemed reasonable to call the drugs “a treatment or a cure … It’s a potentially effective treatment. Patients would end up with no viable coronavirus in their system at all after the end of therapy.”

According to, here are the backgrounds for Didier Raoult and another doctor involved in the study:

Didier Raoult created the Rickettsia Unit at Aix-Marseille University. Since 2008, Dr. Raoult has served as the director of URMITE (Research Unit in Infectious and Tropical Emergent Diseases), collaborating with CNRS (National Center for the Scientific Research), IRD (Research for the Development Institute), INSERM (National Institute of Health and Medical Research) and Aix Marseille University. His laboratory employs more than 200 people, including nearly 100 active researchers who publish between 250 and 350 papers per year and have produced over 50 patents.

Dr. Chandra Duggirala has a bio that states:

He founded Novobionics, a medical device company to treat diabetes and obesity non-invasively and invented it’s double sleeve technology. He lead the company through preclinical trials and several US and international patents. He is also the Principal Investigator of the Reset-Youth trial, one of the largest clinical trials for investigating the reversibility of epigenetic markers of aging. He also founded a software company at the intersection of nutritional biology and A.I.

By Rachael Rettner

A small Italian town appears to have drastically reduced coronavirus infections — reaching zero cases last week — after implementing an aggressive tactic to curb spread, according to news reports.

The town, Vo Euganeo, in northern Italy, saw a cluster of cases of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the third week of February and was home to the country’s first death from COVID-19, on Feb. 21, according to The Straits Times.

Following this death, the town was put on lockdown, and all 3,300 residents were tested for coronavirus, according to Sky News.

This mass testing revealed that about 3% of residents were infected with the virus, and of these, about half did not show any symptoms, according to ProMarket, the blog of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. After two weeks of a strict lockdown and quarantine of cases, only 0.25% of residents were infected. The town isolated these last few cases and has since reopened.

Vo Euganeo has not reported any new cases since Friday (March 13), according to Sky News.

“The lesson we learned is that isolating all positive cases, whether they were sick or not, we were able to reduce transmission by 90 percent,” Andrea Cristani, a professor of microbiology at the University of Padua in Italy who helped carry out the testing, told RFI.

This message echoes a recent statement from the World Health Organization (WHO). “We have a simple message to all countries — test, test, test,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said at a news briefing Monday (March 16). “All countries should be able to test all suspected cases. They cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded.”

COVID-19 cases in the rest of Italy have soared in recent weeks. The country has reported more than 35,700 cases and nearly 3,000 deaths as of Wednesday (March 18).