We also discovered that the key to humanity may be in our missing DNA, lab yeast can make the evolutionary leap to multicellularity, and one vertebrate can eat with its mouth shut.
Meanwhile, our understanding of human evolution took a sharp left turn. In the wake of the 2010 discovery that humans and Neanderthals interbred, it emerged that our ancestors interbred with several other hominin species – and that the interbreeding may have helped us go global.
Here are our 10 favourite stories from 2011, from the earliest life on Earth to Egyptian archaeology and the latest developments in synthetic biology.
Life began with a planetary mega-organism
The last universal common ancestor may have filled the planet’s oceans before giving birth to the ancestors of all living things on Earth today
Oldest reliable fossils show early life was a beach
The oldest compelling fossil evidence for cellular life has been discovered on a 3.43-billion-year-old beach in western Australia
Brainy molluscs evolved nervous systems four times
Slimy and often sluggish they may be, but some molluscs deserve credit for their brains – which, it now appears, they managed to evolve independently, four times
Skeleton of ancient human relative may yield skin
Two fossils of the extinct hominin Australopithecus sediba could rewrite the history of human evolution. They are in astonishingly good condition, and even their skin may have been preserved
Our ancestors speak out after 3 million years
You may think humanity’s first words are lost in the noise of ancient history, but an unlikely experiment using plastic tubes and puffs of air is helping to recreate the first sounds uttered by our distant ancestors
The vast Asian realm of the lost humans
The Denisovans, mysterious cousins of the Neanderthals, occupied a vast realm stretching from the chill expanse of Siberia to the steamy tropical forests of Indonesia – suggesting the third human of the Pleistocene displayed a level of adaptability previously thought unique to modern humans
First images from Great Pyramid’s chamber of secrets
They might be ancient graffiti tags left by a worker or symbols of religious significance. A robot has sent back the first images of markings on the wall of a tiny chamber in the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, that have not been seen for 4500 years
Eating your greens alters your genes
The Brussels sprout is no mere side dish. A landmark study suggests that this dinky member of the cabbage family – along with rice, broccoli and possibly all the plants you eat – changes the behaviour of your genes in ways that are new to science
Chicken revisits its dinosaur past
Evolution has been rewound to create a “snouted” chicken. That means we might also be able to fast-forward it to create the animals of the future
E. coli’s genetic code has been hacked
The genetic code common to all life is not set in stone – we can change it at its most fundamental level for our own purposes. Genetic engineers have invented a new way to quickly, precisely and thoroughly rewrite the genome of living bacteria
Courtesy: New Scientist