The 5th International conference on Birth defects (ICBD 2022)


It is a 3 day conference aimed to discuss recent advancements in the field of diagnosis and management of birth defects. Various aspects like the molecular and metabolic basis of birth defects, drugs, precision therapy, neoplastic and cardiovascular birth defects, along with laboratory precision medicine will be discussed during the conference.

Birth defects constitute structural or functional defects affecting any part of the body, including metabolic disorders which are present from birth. These conditions ranging from mild to severe are not rare affecting 1 in 33 babies born in the United States each year translating into about 1,20,000 babies. Globally birth defects have been recognized as a major contributor to neonatal and infant morbidity and mortality. The scenario is no different in India having more than 1.7 million children born with birth defects every year. Implementing strategies for their prevention, early identification, and management is of utmost importance considering the impact it can have on our future generation. Studying the genomic alterations leading to these birth defects and identifying genes and pathways may help in designing targeted therapies opening up doors for the new field of Precision Medicine for Birth Defects.



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Halloween Candy Grabber STEM Challenge


A Halloween Candy Grabber is a great STEM challenge for Halloween. Children can investigate by making the grabber shorter and longer or add extra pieces like easy to hold handles or extra grippy bits on the claw part.

I added some teeth and an eye to make my grabber look more Halloween like, but you could make yours much scarier, or just leave out the decorations all together!

If you don’t want to use craft sticks, thick cardboard cut into strips also works well. Cardboard also has the advantage that you can just use a pencil to make the holes for the split pins.

You’ll need

8-12 crafts sticks

Split pins

Drill to make the holes

Double sided tape

Googley eyes and other decorations – optional

How to make a Halloween candy grabber

Step 1

Lay out the craft sticks and ask an adult to help drill a hole into both ends and the centre of each stick.

Craft sticks and split pins laid out on a white background

Step 2

Lay out the craft sticks like the image below, placing the holes over each other.

Craft sticks laid out on a white background for making a grabber

Step 3

Place a split pin through the centre holes of two craft sticks and check the sticks can move.

two craft sticks attached together with a split pin as part of a Halloween grabber

Step 4

Use the split pins to attach the sticks to each other like the image below. Keep going until you have at least 6 crafts sticks attached together.

Step 4 of instructions for a Halloween grabber

Step 5

Cut one craft stick in half carefully and attach both pieces to one end of the grabber. These can be fixed in place with either a split pin or glued.

The teeth and eye decorations are optional!

Step 7

Test your grabber by pushing the two non decorated ends together, it should extend outwards.

More STEM ideas for Halloween

Try an articulated grabber made with cardboard.

Design an build a spider drawing robot.

Or try one of my other spooky science experiments for Halloween!

Candy grabber made from craft sticks for a Halloween STEM challenge

Last Updated on October 5, 2022 by Emma Vanstone



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A New Eye on the Deep Sea | Hakai Magazine


Article body copy

Deep-sea exploration has long been largely a privilege of billionaires, fossil fuel companies, and a select few scientists from wealthy nations. This exclusivity has left the vast majority of the deep sea unexplored, its natural wonders understudied and vulnerable to exploitation. In recent years, scientists and conservationists have called for the democratization of the deep sea. They say this extreme region of the planet needs to be accessible to everyone. Now, a group of scientists, conservationists, and explorers has devised a low-cost device that is helping bring that goal closer to reality.

Called the Maka Niu, which means “coconut eye” in Hawaiian, the device was initially created by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is now being developed by the nonprofit Ocean Discovery League. Looking like little more than a piece of PVC pipe stuffed with gadgets, the compact, customizable, and relatively inexpensive battery-powered data collector can capture video and measure depth, temperature, and salinity at depths as great as 1,500 meters. That’s about five times deeper than even the most specially trained scuba diver can go and deep enough to reach the ocean’s midnight zone, home to deep-sea animals like the vampire squid and chambered nautilus.

A newer version of the Maka Niu can go even deeper says Katy Croff Bell, the deep-sea explorer, scientist, founder of the Ocean Discovery League, and leader of the MIT team. “We have designs that can go to 6,000 meters, which would enable it to reach 99 percent of the seafloor,” she says.

Bell is a vocal advocate for improving equity in deep-sea science, and she hopes the device will aid in the democratization of the deep by giving people the ability to observe it without being reliant on large corporations and the uber-wealthy.

“Ninety-three percent of the ocean is deep sea,” says Bell, “but the technologies that exist today to explore that massive area are expensive, inefficient, and inequitably distributed around the world.”

The Maka Niu can record video and capture a range of important scientific data. The device costs only US $700 to build, and its nonprofit developers hope it will help democratize access to the deep sea. Photo by Lui Kawasumi, Ocean Discovery League

Costing around US $700 to build, the Maka Niu is looking to buck that trend. It’s supported by a highly programmable Raspberry Pi computer chip, which means users can easily add additional sensors to meet their research needs. This device could help scientists, both professional and citizen, discover new species and explore never-before-seen habitats. It could also, says Bell, help communities gather the baseline data needed to monitor the impacts of human activities such as seafloor mining, which threatens to disturb sensitive deep-sea ecosystems by stirring up sediment and damaging habitats that take millions of years to develop.

As they began developing the Maka Niu, Bell and the MIT team sent prototypes to more than a dozen scientists, educators, fishers, and Indigenous people from 11 countries, all of whom provided recommendations on how to improve the device to meet their specific needs. Now, a new crop of improved prototypes is in the hands of scientists in Sri Lanka, Seychelles, the Cook Islands, South Africa, Montserrat, and Portugal, and in Hawaiʻi and Louisiana in the United States.

This technology, says Jon Copley, a deep-sea biologist at the University of Southampton in England who was not involved in the Maka Niu’s creation, will “create opportunities for people anywhere around the world to get involved in deep-ocean science like never before.”

“There are loads of places where you could put this in the ocean straight away and find out things you didn’t know,” Copley says. “This is potentially such a powerful tool for connecting local communities with what’s right off their shores.”

Creating such a connection, Copley says, is a great way to improve conservation of the deep sea. “There’s a saying that you can’t manage what you can’t observe,” he says.

Although the Maka Niu is still being developed, Bell hopes this technology will inspire others to create similar devices and put them to use around the world.

“My hope is that systems like this will be in the hands of a much larger community of ocean explorers around the world who are using them for their own research. And I can’t wait to see what they find and learn,” she says.



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This facial reconstruction shows what a Paleolithic teenage girl looked like more than 30,000 years ago


In the late 19th century, archaeologists found an ancient human skull deep inside the cave of Mladeč, in what is now the Czech Republic. Using limited forensic techniques, initially, the researchers thought the skull was 31,000 years old and belonged to a male. They got the dating right, but not the sex.

Credit: Cicero Moraes/Jiri Sindelar/Karel Drbal.

Now, almost a century and a half later, scientists have returned their attention to the Mladeč 1 skull, revealing previously unknown intimate details about the life of this ancient individual. Over the course of their modern investigation, the team of researchers found the skull actually belonged to a 17-year-old female who lived between 43,000 to 26,000 years ago. They also went the extra mile and used 3D graphics tools and forensics techniques to reconstruct her face.

The researchers, which include Cicero Moraes, a Brazilian graphics expert, Jiří Šindelář, a surveyor with local surveying company GEO-CZ, and Karel Drbal, deputy director of the Cave Administration of the Czech Republic, gathered all the studies and data they could find on Mladeč 1. These included original measurements of the skull and descriptions of the dig.

Additionally, they performed a computed tomography (CT) scan of the skull. However, there was one problem: it was missing the lower jaw. In order to fill in the blanks, the researchers collected 200 CT scans from modern humans and archaeological excavations, then used statistical methods to find the estimated jaw shape that best fits the Mladeč skull.

Credit: Cicero Moraes/Jiri Sindelar/Karel Drbal.

Moraes then applied soft tissue thickness markers across the 3D digital reconstruction of the skull, which is where things like tendons, muscles, and skin attach to shape an actual human face. However, there was only so much he could do with all this data, as the shape and size of the nose, mouth, and eyes cannot be determined this way.

To complement the data, the researchers “imported CT scans of live subjects and deformed the bones and soft tissue from the CT scan to match the face being approximated,” Moraes told Live Science. “In the case of the Mladeč 1 fossil, we deformed two CT scans, one of a man and one of a woman, and the two converged to a very similar result.”

Although the original digs found stone artifacts, bone tips, and several teeth, we know almost nothing about this young woman, but it’s remarkable to be able to imagine what she might have looked like. The end result is the enthralling portrait of a young woman who died too young during very scary and uncertain times when our species was still wandering the world looking for its place. It would be more than 20,000 years until humans invented agriculture, writing, medicine, and all the basic amenities of life we now take for granted.

The researchers described their work in an online paper.



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Behold! Our closest view of Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa in 22 years


NASA’s Jupiter-gazing spacecraft just got a rare closeup of an icy world.

The Juno probe made the closest pass in 22 years of Jupiter‘s icy moon Europa on Thursday (Sept. 29), providing the best view of the ocean world since the NASA’s Galileo spacecraft flew by it 2000.





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“Is This a Good Idea?” – Life Lab, Pt. 3 by Tumble Science Podcast for Kids


So far in Life Lab, we’ve uncovered the power of synthetic biology. But with great power comes great responsibility! In this episode, we’ll ask “Is this a good idea?” when it comes to changing the DNA of mosquitoes to fight a deadly virus.

This episode features Dr. Sam Weiss Evans and his 8 year old daughter, Izzy Weiss Evans.

Hear more from Sam about modified mosquitoes and making decisions about science, in our bonus interview episode! They’re available to Tumble Patrons who pledge just a dollar or more a month, on patreon.com/tumblepodcast.

You can find a transcript and other educational materials about this episode on the blog on our website, sciencepodcastforkids.com.

Life Lab is supported by the Engineering Biology Research Consortium, a non-profit committed to educating the next-generation and building a community dedicated to solving big challenges with engineering biology. Funded by the National Science Foundation.



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New tech could provide cheaper, less-polluting way to refine crude oil


Despite efforts to pivot toward renewable sources of energy, oil remains the backbone of modern society. It provides fuels for heat and transportation, and chemicals for everything from plastics to pharmaceuticals. But all these uses require separating crude oil into its various components. That separation process—which traditionally relies on heat—takes a tremendous amount of energy and accounts for roughly 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions each year.

Now, chemists say a newly developed material might one day help lighten this significant—if largely invisible—carbon footprint, which consumes some 230 gigawatts annually, equivalent to the total energy consumption of Nevada. Researchers report this week that a novel membrane might, if scaled up, reduce the energy required to separate crude oil by more than half. Such membranes would not only make using crude oil greener, but also cheaper for refineries to produce, as it would save them billions of dollars a year in energy costs.

“The potential savings are pretty impressive,” says Ryan Lively, a chemical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology who was not involved in the new work. The new membranes, he adds, must still prove to be durable for months if not years at a time. He and others also caution that conventional oil refineries may be slow to adopt them, because companies have already sunk costs into installing conventional separations systems. However, Lively says, the new membranes could quickly be adopted in new refineries built to separate hydrocarbon mixtures created from biofuels or synthetic fuels made using renewable electricity. “That’s really ripe territory,” Lively says.

Crude oil is a mixture of tens of thousands of chemicals. The first step in petroleum refining is separating that mix through a distillation process. The raw crude oil is heated up to about 500°C. Lighter components, such as those that make up gasoline, vaporize at lower temperatures and are captured. Heavier components, such as home heating oil, vaporize at higher temperatures.

Two years ago, researchers led by Lively and Andrew Livingston, a chemical engineer at Queen Mary University of London, reported in Science that it was possible to separate out these components using membranes rather than distillation. They created membranes with built-in pores that allow small, light hydrocarbons to pass through and keep larger, heavier ones out. But light hydrocarbons passed through the membranes too slowly to make them practical for real-world use.

To get around this, Livingston and his colleagues turned to an industrial approach for making ultrathin water desalination membranes called interfacial polymerization. They hoped thinner membranes would enable the desired hydrocarbons to pass through more quickly. However, Livingston notes, while the membranes typically used for desalination are sturdy in a water-based environment, they quickly fall apart when subjected to hydrocarbons that include industrial solvents.

So, he and colleagues reformed the polymers that make up conventional membranes. First, they made individual polymers, linking a hydrophobic, or oil-like portion, to a hydrophilic, or waterlike strand. When they added these molecules in a mix of oil and water, they spontaneously assembled into tiny bubbles, or vesicles, with the hydrophobic portion facing inward. They then used the interfacial polymerization technique to spread these vesicles into a continuous ultrathin sheet and link all the polymer units together to form a robust membrane.

The approach worked. The hydrophobic cores of the vesicles allowed selected (based on size and other characteristics) hydrocarbons to pass through readily—some 10 times faster than in previous oil-separation membranes, Livingston and his colleagues reported yesterday in Science. The researchers also showed that by tailoring the chemical makeup of the polymers, they could create different membranes that selectively pass through hydrocarbons of different sizes.

According to Neel Rangnekar, a chemical engineer with Exxon and a team member on the new paper, switching from distillation to membrane separation could save up to 50% of the cost of heating the crude oil and 75% of the cost of electricity used in refining, amounting to at least $3.5 billion per year.

“It’s a very exciting result,” says David Sholl, a separations expert at Oak Ridge National Laboratory who was not involved with the study. However, Sholl notes, the novel membranes aren’t yet ready for industrial use. They still need to be scaled up from the size of a piece of writing paper to hundreds of square meters and prove durable for months of continuous use. But Sholl thinks these encouraging findings will ensure oil companies will continue to explore a technology that could both save money and reduce their carbon emissions. “All chemical companies are extremely interested in trying to do that,” he says.



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Research in the second Elizabethan era: A platinum age for the Commonwealth and the UK – Digital Science


From physical empires of the past to information and virtual empires in the modern era, the last 70 years have borne witness to astonishing change in both research and science and how they are communicated. But where have these shifts occurred, and what do they tell us about the future? And what will be the legacy of Elizabeth II’s long-lasting reign for science and technology?

In the UK, Commonwealth countries, and around the world, people have mourned the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. For many, she will be remembered as a dedicated public servant who gave her support to charities and good causes, raising their profile and giving them a voice that helped them to be noticed in the world. For a good deal more than half a century, successive Prime Ministers have regarded her as a giver of context and a provider of a safe space to air concerns and discuss the challenges of the day that they could share with no one else. She has been widely recognised as a constant in our lives and, by some, as the embodiment of all things British in a changing age. An instantly recognisable figure, the Queen has played the role of an observer of that change, unable to be actively involved in politics but having privileged access to politicians, celebrities and changemakers globally during a period of great change.

Billboard in London’s Piccadilly Circus displaying a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II.
Image credit: Ocean Outdoor.

In this brief commemoration in honour of Her Majesty, we wanted to reflect on the changes in research and, in particular, in scientific research that have characterised the modern Elizabethan era. The Queen was crowned in the same year that Watson and Crick (with the significant help of Franklin) published their paper on the double helix structure of DNA in 1953. Over the intervening 70 years, the UK has not only remained at the forefront of research, but has made contributions that have been key to shaping the emerging exponential industrial revolution. From Sir Tim Berner-Lee’s pioneering work around the World Wide Web in the late 1980s, to the London-based DeepMind team who solved the protein-folding problem with AlphaFold, the UK has been the home to some of the greatest scientific advances of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Like her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth married a man who had great interest in, and who consequently was a great supporter of, science and technology. The Victorian era is one that is remembered not only for empire but also for innovation and its technological contribution to the world, and we suggest that the second Elizabethan era will be viewed similarly in this respect. In 1952, the UK produced around 2% of the world’s research output and the broader Commonwealth of Nations, with which the Queen is so intimately related, around 3%. As of 2021, the UK produces around 4% global research and, together with other Commonwealth countries, around 14%.

The influence of the Commonwealth on the world stage often goes unseen but network effects are powerful in today’s world.  Figure 1 shows relative global influence on research of each country or set of countries using a technique that we’ve developed at Digital Science over the last few years based on the eigenvector centrality network measure. The core of the idea is that research volume and research citations only show a superficial picture of research strength. Research is becoming an increasingly collaborative pursuit and success is born of finding the right people with which to work. Eigenvector centrality calculated in the way shown here mixes volume, citation and level of collaboration into one metric that, we argue, is an interesting proxy for influence. In the figure you can see that since 1952 the global influence of the US was strong in the 1950s and 1960s, but decreased in the 1970s and 1980s, stepping down once again in the 1990s and has gradually waned since the turn of the millennium.  On the other hand, China, which had little global research influence at all until the 1980s has grown significantly in the last three decades, overtaking the UK in the last few years.

However, what is striking about Figure 1 is that the Commonwealth has not only established a solid foundation of global research influence (doubtless due to its large “surface area”, with 56 countries collaborating globally), but that it has also begun growing significantly in its influence in the last 20 years. Of course, when the Queen originally became the Head of the Commonwealth, there were just 8 member states and hence their influence would have been even less than shown in the diagrams here. Our analysis follows the influence of the full current 56 member states throughout the life of the Queen’s reign. While the influence of this group may be unsurprising as it counts highly developed research economies such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand amongst its number, it should also be recognised that it is a disparate collection of countries that includes small and developing economies as well as large ones.

The spread of internet technologies (as mentioned above, an innovation that owes an important part of its lineage to the UK) has enabled smaller nations to play on the international stage of research – a distinct advantage for some Commonwealth-member countries who share a common set of values, language, and a legal system, that all facilitate collaboration. In the age of the internet, distance is no longer a barrier to these countries working together on research projects Hence, while the UK (separate from the Commonwealth) has generally waned in its international research influence, it is notable that it has been less susceptible than others such as the US and the EU to decline in influence.  We suggest that this is likely to be due to its strong ties with Commonwealth nations.

Eigenvector centrality.
Figure 1: Eigenvector centrality for US, China, UK, EU and the Commonwealth (not including the UK) from 1952 to 2021. The graph for each country or country grouping shows the influence of the research outputs of that country based on its co-authorship network. (Source: Dimensions.)

Over the modern Elizabethan era, the world has moved from an age of physical empires through the space race and the computer revolution to an age of information and virtual empires. From a political perspective, the UK relinquished its role as global power and instead needed to content itself with the role of influencer on the world stage. In an elegant parallel, the monarchy moved from being a “great Imperial family” to influencers both culturally and politically. The Queen’s personal style transcended the geopolitical zeitgeist as she lent her personal brand to long-term projects such as the Commonwealth.

By all accounts the Queen believed in the Commonwealth as a group of nations who could make positive change and she fought for that. In the case of research, as the US and EU gradually wane in their influence, it may well be that the Commonwealth has the collaborative spirit, as well as the geographical and cultural diversity to continue to influence the world positively. If true, this would be a worthy legacy for someone whose life was one of service.

About Dimensions

Part of Digital Science, Dimensions is a modern, innovative, linked research data infrastructure and tool, re-imagining discovery and access to research: grants, publications, citations, clinical trials, patents and policy documents in one place. www.dimensions.ai



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Newly recognised species of sloth has a head like a coconut


Maned sloths were thought to be one species but a genetic and physical analysis suggests there are actually two



Life



28 September 2022

The newly identified species of sloth

Suelen_Sanches

The world has one more sloth species in it than previously thought. Maned sloths live in a small belt of forest in Brazil and an analysis now suggests those in the south are a different species from those found farther north.

Three-toed sloths were conventionally thought to be divided into four species. One – the maned sloth (Bradypus torquatus) – sports a thatch of coarse, brown hair, making the head resemble a husked coconut.

But there were hints that not all maned sloths were alike, says Daniel …



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Amazing New Fossils Provide Earliest Known Traces of The Evolution of Our Jaws And Limbs


Road excavations in China’s Guizhou Province have unearthed a trove of ancient fish fossils. As a part of rock layers known as the Rongxi Formation, the new fossil bed is filled with never-before-seen species that push back the dates of our first jawed animal ancestors by about 15 million years.

“Until this point, we’ve picked up hints from fossil scales that the evolution of jawed fish occurred much earlier in the fossil record, but have not uncovered anything definite in the form of fossil teeth or fin spines,” says University of Birmingham paleobiologist Ivan Sansom.

Previously, the earliest known jawed animal was a fish that lived some 423 million years ago. A collection of about 20 teeth sifted from the rock bed could be up to 439 million years old. Left by a fish named left by an ancient fish species called Qianodus duplicis, they give us our earliest look at the origins of our very own teeth and jaw.

The development of jaws was a pivotal innovation in the evolution of vertebrates, giving boned animals like ourselves the ability to eat a much larger variety of foods than our ancestors’ filter-feeding mouths would allow. This helped early backboned animals move into new environments which continued to shape their anatomy, leading to the huge diversity of body shapes and different behaviors we see in vertebrates today.

Jaws are clearly one of the success stories of the animal kingdom. Little more than heavily modified fish gills, they can still be found in more than 99 percent of today’s vertebrates.

Relatives of this newly identified toothy animal would give rise to two of the major groups of modern fish – chondrichthyans (sharks and rays) as well as osteichthyans which include almost everything else from seahorses and tuna to lungfish.

In time, descendents from this second group would give rise to tetrapods, which eventually deliver mammals like us.

Qianodus provides us with the first tangible evidence for teeth, and by extension jaws, from this critical early period of vertebrate evolution,” says Qujing Normal University paleontologist Qiang Li.

While researchers can guess at the kinds of features Qianodus might have had, there’s only so much teeth can tell you about what an animal might have looked like.

Reconstruction of Qianodus duplicis. (Heming Zhang)

Thousands of skeletal fragments were also retrieved from the Rongxi Formation. This time researchers could painstakingly piece them back together to reveal more of a body, one that belonged to an ancient shark ancestor they’ve named Fanjingshania renovata.

“This is the oldest jawed fish with known anatomy,” explains vertebrate paleontologist Min Zhu from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “The new data allowed us to place Fanjingshania in the phylogenetic tree of early vertebrates and gain much needed information about the evolutionary steps leading to the origin of important vertebrate adaptations such as jaws, sensory systems, and paired appendages.”

Another shark ancestor Shenacanthus vermiformi and a more ancestral fish species Xiushanosteus mirabilis were also discovered, this time in a South China fossil bed dated to the same period called the Huixingshao Formation.

Diagram of new fossil fish finds.
(NICE Tech/ScienceApe)

These discoveries better align the fish fossil record with molecular clock data derived from the genes of still living and extinct species, which suggest that jawed animals arose around 450 million years ago. The fish fossils provide tangible evidence that this important feature, which eventually led to frogs, dinosaurs and our own existence, was already well established during the Silurian period (around 444 to 420 million years ago).

“These are the first creatures that we would recognize today as fish-like, evolving from creatures often referred to as ‘clams with tails’, from earlier in the Ordovician period,” says paleontologist Plamen Andreev from the University of Birmingham.

But even the jawless fish found at the road excavation sites in China revealed some more clues to our own evolution. The researchers also discovered a 436 million-year-old rock bearing a jawless galeaspid (helmet shield) fish. To Zhu and colleague’s surprise, this prehistoric animal had paired fins.

Illustration of ancient fish in their habitat.
Reconstruction of Tujiaaspis vividus. (Qiuyang Zheng)

Previously only fossilized heads of these Tujiaaspis vividus had ever been found, and it was thought they were finless.

These early fins don’t require specialized muscular input, creating lift passively from forward movement, like a paper plane propelled through the air. This supports a long-debated hypothesis that a single pair of limbs arose in animals first that eventually separated into pectoral (arm) and pelvic (leg) fins over evolutionary time.

“Eventually, these primitive fins evolved musculature and skeletal support, which allowed our fishy ancestors to better steer their swimming and add propulsion,” explains University of Bristol paleontologist Joseph Keating. “It is amazing to think that the evolutionary innovations seen in Tujiaaspis underpin locomotion in animals as diverse as birds, whales, bats and humans.”

These incredible new discoveries help fill in some important waypoints during our prehistoric evolutionary journey from fish to humans.

The research on the oldest fish and shark jaws, early fins and oldest teeth were all published in Nature.



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