Have you ever found yourself wondering what are the key differences between modern humans and our closest known relatives, namely Denisovans and Neanderthals? Well, a group of scientists may have found the answer to that. Partially, at least. They took a human gene and swapped it with that of a Neanderthal to see how that would affect cell behavior and genetics.
Is Genetics the Reason Humans Survived and the Neanderthal Went Extinct?
As far as science can tell, Neanderthals and Denisovans were very similar to modern humans in that they used sophisticated tools, managed to adapt to harsh environments, and made art. But, their population was scarce, and when modern humans joined the picture in Eurasia, our numbers grew quickly, and the Neanderthals and Denisovans gradually went extinct. To test whether that was the result of genetic differences, scientists decided to target a specific gene found both in humans and in Neanderthals but in a different form and study the differences.
Finding the right gene to target wasn’t easy, and it was only made possible by modern technology. After analyzing tens of thousands of genes, they separated only 61 genes that fit the description. That’s how they decided to focus on NOVAI, a gene associated with cancer (neuro-oncological ventral antigen 1). The difference in NOVAI found in a Neanderthal and that of a human is subtle — a single amino acid in a single gene location, but the result of that seemingly small discrepancy is significant.
What NOVAI essentially does is it can change the types of proteins made in our nerve cells. It basically dictates the splicing of cells where the gene is active.
What scientists uncovered from a series of experiments is that the nerve cells created by the Neanderthal version of NOVAI were smaller, took more time to form, and led to cell death more often. In other words, this new study finds a great difference between the neural development of Neanderthals and modern humans, which might explain why we survived and our close relatives didn’t.
Recently, WhatsApp announced that its users outside the European Union and the UK could lose access to their accounts unless they agreed to allow its parent company Facebook to collect their WhatsApp data. Apparently, after February 8, Facebook will get access to the user’s WhatsApp locations and phone numbers. After that announcement, rivals of the messaging service have experienced a huge surge in popularity, including the encrypted messaging service Signal.
The Encrypted Messaging Service Has Seen a Huge Rise In Popularity
WhatsApp was purchased by Facebook some two years ago, and back then, users were given a one-time opportunity to refuse to share their data. However, new users would not be offered the same choice. Soon after WhatsApp’s announcement, an app-analytic company revealed data that showed a 4,200% weekly increase in downloads for Signal – a rival encrypted messaging service. Apparently, people are not very happy to share more of their information with the social media giant and prefer using a more secure service.
Signal Saw Nearly 7.5 Million Installs and Was Endorsed By Elon Musk
While Signal was rising in popularity, another encrypted messaging service, Telegram, also experienced a huge growth of 91%, getting 9 million new users. Most of the new users of these encrypted messaging apps were located in India. For Signal, some one million downloads occurred in America, making it the largest market for the company.
Tesla billionaire and the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, recently endorsed Signal by posting a tweet that simply instructed people to use Signal. That same day, Freedom of the Press president Edward Snowden also tweeted to say that he uses Signal himself. This sudden increase in downloads has also caused a temporary slow-down of the verification service of Signal. Signal tweeted regarding the slow-down, saying that signal verification codes were delayed because many new people were trying to join the service. Signal officials also said that they could barely register their own excitement and added that they were working with carriers to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.