Our ancestors lost about 99% of their population 900,000 years ago

Download The Nature Podcast 06 September 2023

In this episode:

00:30 Pushed early humans to the brink of extinction

The ancestors of modern humans were pushed to the brink of extinction around 900,000 years ago, according to new research. Genetic studies suggest that the breeding population of our ancestors in Africa declined to just 1,280 and did not expand again for another 117,000 years. This population crash likely affected human genetic diversity and may have led to the evolution of important traits of modern humans, such as brain size.

Nature News: Human ancestors became extinct about 900,000 years ago

3:49 Pollution legacy of Antarctica’s research stations

Poor historical waste practices have resulted in high levels of pollution around Antarctic research facilities. By surveying the seabed near Australia’s Casey Research Station, researchers have uncovered high concentrations of hydrocarbons and heavy metals. This pollution is likely to be widespread, but its impact on the continent is unknown.

Nature News: Antarctic research stations have polluted the pristine wilderness

07:43 Penguin breeding fails as sea ice melts

Persistently low levels of sea-ice around Antarctica have caused emperor penguins to leave their breeding colonies early, resulting in large numbers of chicks dying. Although the affected population represents only a small number of the continent’s total emperor penguins, it is unclear how they will fare if sea-ice melting trends continue.

Science: Emperor penguins leave breeding grounds as the ice melts around them

09:23 AI trained to describe smells

Researchers have developed an artificial intelligence that can describe how compounds smell by analyzing their molecular structures. The system’s description of scents is often similar to that of a trained human sniffer and can be applied to the food and perfume industries. Currently AI works on individual molecules, and is unable to identify odors associated with complex combinations of molecules, which the human nose easily does.

Nature: AI predicts the smell of chemicals from their composition

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