A vital aspect of human evolution may be due to climate change
Plus: Starlink’s ubiquity problem, and sex differences in intermittent fasting.
I’m going to shock no one by stating this: Climate change is manifesting itself on our planet in historically unprecedented ways. In some parts of the U.S., temperature and rainfall records are being broken on a day-by-day basis. A gigantic maelstrom of fossil fuels is literally on fire in the middle of the ocean. In truth, the climate drives much more than these environmental crises — it changes and shapes our species’ evolutionary path, too.
New results published in Nature Communications suggest the climate has had an enormous effect on the size of human bodies — and a smaller, indirect effect on our brains. Inverse reporter Katie MacBride has the story:
The connection between climate and body size is strikingly clear, the researchers say. In regions with lower mean average temperatures, the body size measurements were larger. This is largely consistent with something called the Environmental Stress Hypothesis, which, according to the study, posits:
“Larger brain and body sizes are found in colder, drier, and nutrient-poorer environments as cognitive and physiological buffers against these circumstances. Environmental stress is countered by adaptive mechanisms to cope with greater environmental extremes over short-term scales by increased behavioral or cognitive flexibility (brain); by higher mobility and reduced vulnerability to predation, or phenotypic adaptation through plasticity or natural selection (body).”
When it came to brain size, however, the results were less clear.
This is just a taste of the full story — scroll down to read more and get the full details.
I’m Claire Cameron, managing editor for Inverse. It’s Monday. (Deep breaths, you got this.) Today, I invite you to greet the week with fascinating deep dives into the emerging science of intermittent fasting, the curious connection between Apple and SpaceX, and more.
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This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Monday, July 12, 2021. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox.
To find aliens, scientists are hunting for interstellar encrypted messages — A recent study suggests that scientists looking for aliens should start hunting for signals of quantum communication.
Inverse space reporter Passant Rabie has the story:
A recent preprint study makes the case for expanding our search for extraterrestrial life to include quantum communication.
Quantum communication uses the properties of quantum physics to relay encrypted messages from point A to point B.
This is a technology that aliens may have already conquered.
Ravi Kopparapu, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, explains to Inverse that scientists typically look for signs of alien technology based on what we have right now on Earth. As quantum communication becomes increasingly sophisticated here on Earth, it would be a good one to add to the arsenal, he says.
“I would say it’s a good way to communicate and send a lot of information to another civilization,” Kopparapu says. “So it’s an interesting idea to propose.”
Bonus quote: “If someone is communicating with quantum technology, I think they may already know we are here.” — Ravi Kopparapu
Should we set up a “Quantum SETI?”
- How do we look for real aliens? 4 projects better than the Pentagon report
- New study disputes the theory of aliens living in the clouds over Venus
- Watch: NASA images capture a phenomenon soaring over the Atlantic
Male and female bodies can respond differently to intermittent fasting — Very few studies have investigated which sex could benefit more from intermittent fasting. But those that exist reveal mixed outcomes, Sophie Putka reports:
Kristina Varady, a professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois, Chicago, studies intermittent fasting in relatively large human trials. Her research suggests men and women respond similarly to alternate-day fasting and time-restricted eating.
“Men and women have similar adherence rates, weight loss, and body composition changes with both diets,” Varady tells Inverse. “However, the data are very limited.”
One study Varady co-authored found no real differences between men and women who tried an “alternate day fasting” diet for 12 weeks. They ate 500 calories every other day and could eat what they wanted on the rest. “Bad” cholesterol decreased slightly more in premenopausal women versus post-menopausal women, but there were no significant differences in weight loss, fasting glucose, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
But other studies find differently — suggesting intermittent fasting’s effects on male and female bodies may be more complex than we realize.
- Intermittent fasting may improve your mood
- Intermittent fasting may not offer dramatic benefits — here’s why
- Intermittent fasting could significantly shape long-term memory
Climate influenced human evolution in two pivotal ways — One of the most consequential evolutionary truths of our species is the dramatic increase in the size of our brains. Katie MacBride reports:
Our species, Homo sapiens, emerged roughly 300,000 years ago. Homo, the larger genus our species belongs to, has been around much longer. Other species in the Homo genus include Neanderthals, Homo habilis, and Homo erectus.
Researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Tübingen measured the brain and body size of over 300 fossils from the genus Homo sourced from around the world.
They then reconstructed the climates of each region at the time to identify what the climate was like when those fossils were living humans.
The results, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggest climate had an enormous effect on the size of our bodies — and a smaller, indirect effect on our brains through the influence temperature has on the environment and, in turn, resources.
Key quote: “It has been argued that modern technology might require us to actually do less thinking, so maybe at some point that could shrink our brains, but it will take a long time.”
Read these next:
- Scientists propose wild new theory for what originally killed the dinosaurs
- Plants may survive the climate crisis through the help of one critical animal
- Here's what would actually happen if we changed the Moon's orbit
Starlink satellites: SpaceX is becoming the iPhone of low-Earth orbit — Alice Gorman, a space archaeologist, tells Inverse reporter Mike Brown that Starlink symbolizes a new era in space.
According to Gorman, low-Earth orbit is changing “really rapidly” as a result of Starlink, which is Elon Musk’s satellite internet service venture. Musk’s grand plan is to launch as many as 42,000 satellites into low-Earth orbit to provide worldwide, reliable, and fast internet service — so long as you have a clear view of the sky.
“You have all the crazy-looking things from the earliest age,” Gorman says. “Some extraordinary looking satellites and bits of stuff that are out there. Now, we're putting these sort of cookie-cutter ones, thousands of satellites which look identical. So the aesthetic landscape of low Earth orbit is changing really rapidly.”
In other words, a more iPhone-like era of orbit.
Read more of this bonus Musk Reads+ story.
- SpaceX Starship: Elon Musk reveals a genius way it solves a major problem
- Virgin Galactic: Kármán line reveals a heater space travel debate
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- Before we go: On this day in 1962, the Rolling Stones, pictured above, played their first gig ever. And something to look forward to, Space Jam: A New Legacy is out Friday, July 16, and we are psyched.