Inverse Daily: Explaining the modern human face

Is a long history of accumulated genetic mutations the reason the human face looks like it does? Seems that way.

Today we have stories about brains changing, faces evolving, the winners and losers of CES, new information about our Sun, and more. Let’s dive in and emerge together with something Good and Weird.

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INVERSE QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We really ended in places no one has a reason to go, not even reindeer!”

— Mathilde Le Moullec, who searched for reindeer in the far reaches of Norway to track their recovery.

Brain change

Birth control pills are one of the most popular ways American women prevent pregnancy, but scientists still don’t fully understand the medication’s unintended side effects. Now, a study points to a newly detected byproduct of birth control: physical changes to a crucial area of the brain.

Brain scans from 50 women show that oral contraceptive pills may impact brain structure — something that previous studies haven’t really looked into, Michael Lipton, a professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the study’s lead author, tells Inverse.

Lipton and his team determined that oral contraceptive pills, or OCPs, were linked to lower brain volume in the hypothalamus. This is the area of the brain that affects body processes, like body temperature and heart rate, and brain processes, like appetite, mood, and sex drive. The new findings add an extra dimension to these known side effects.

Read more in our new explainer →

More about reproductive science:

About face

Is a long history of accumulated genetic mutations the reason the human face looks like it does? Seems that way.

It’s likely this is no biological accident. The finding supports the theory of “self-domestication,” which is the idea that ancient people chose to mate with more docile partners and used facial appearances as clues to who was the least aggressive.

It all comes down to a gene called BAZ1B. All animals have this gene, but scientists determined that in humans it’s presented in a mutated form. The idea is that it drove us to have slimmer facial features that our ancient peers, Neanderthals and Denisovans, and likely played a role in the development of cooperative societies.

Get some facetime with this story →

Learn more about how the human face evolved:

CES in the 2020s

The Consumer Electronics Show is entering its seventh decade of existence, and it’s about to chart a bold new course in technological history — more mobile, more smart, and altogether a lot less visible.

The Las Vegas-based show (January 7-10, 2020) has cemented itself as one of the most vital dates in the industry’s annual calendar. Spanning over 2.9 million square feet, the show plays host to more than 4,500 companies.

As tech reporters descend onto the Las Vegas Convention Center, their filings paint a picture of where the industry is at. While some of these visions turn out woefully misguided in hindsight — remember 3D TVs? — a number of them capture the growth of emergent technologies as they break out from their lab-based beginnings and flourish in the real world.

How an old show can learn new tricks →

Related stories:

Mic Check

Like you, we spend a lot of time on the internet. We also spend a lot of time managing the stress that comes with staying informed.

Mic Check is a place where we can work through what’s happening in the world together, and have a little fun in the process.

For a daily morning brief on politics and culture, sign up here

Vapor scare

Popcorn lung; wheezing; sketchy black market vape companies that sparked a public health emergency. Things are looking very bad for vaping enthusiasts these days. New research shows they could get worse in an even more unexpected way as vaping could have ties to mental health issues like depression.

Analysis of a recent survey of over 800,000 people found that current vapers were twice as likely to have had a depression diagnosis compared to non-vapers. People who vaped in the past were 1.6 times more likely to have had a depression diagnosis. This connection has been seen before by other scientists.

The big question is why does this weird connection exist? Right now there are two explanations. People could be self-medicating with vaping or vaping could increase the likelihood of depression. As the authors of this most recent study argue, it could be a bit of both.

Read this new feature →

Related stories:

Here comes the Sun

On August 12, 2018, a small spacecraft the size of a car started its incredible journey to the surface of the Sun. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is designed to plunge into the solar atmosphere at a distance of around 4 million miles from the Sun’s surface — closer than any other spacecraft has ever gotten to our star.

The probe may resolve some of the many mysteries surrounding the Sun. Among the questions it could answer: Why is the Sun’s outer atmosphere much hotter than the surface? Why does the Sun’s magnetic field switch every 11 years? And what propels the flow of charged particles from its atmosphere known as solar wind?

Scientists are finally starting to get some answers →

The latest in space news:

Today’s good thing

Scientists think they have found a treatment for the virus that is destroying the world’s pork supply, reports OneZero.

Reporter Chris Baraniuk writes that a group of scientists in New York has created a prototype vaccine for African swine fever, which is thought to have led to the deaths of 25 percent of the world’s domestic pigs.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Douglas Gladue, one of the study’s co-authors. “I think it will be possible to commercialize the vaccine.”

Read more at OneZero.

Meanwhile …

  • Astronomers have discovered a giant planet orbiting around a tiny, dying star.
  • The final Daniel Craig movie may have already revealed Bond’s replacement as 007.

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That’s all for today!

Thank you for reading, and if you have a suggestion for how to make this newsletter better, drop me a line at nick@inverse.com. And follow me on Twitter, where I retweet the best of Inverse every day.