Secrets of the Grave, Chimp Personhood, and Extreme Diets

Shaiith/iStockphoto/Thinkstock; Francesco Coschino; Wikimedia

Top Stories: Secrets of the Grave, Chimp Personhood, and Extreme Diets

The Thousand-Year Graveyard

Scientists digging up ancient graves in Tuscany, Italy, have uncovered a tortured history of disease and death. Plague, cholera, sexually transmitted diseases—you name it, our ancestors had it. Researchers are testing the skeletons they’ve uncovered and tracing the origin of deadly diseases, and figuring out what these ancient deaths can tell us about how our ancestors lived.

Extreme Diets Can Quickly Alter Gut Bacteria

With all the recent research on gut bacteria, it's starting to feel like bugs are in charge of our bodies. But we can have our say, by what we eat. For the first time in humans, researchers have shown that a radical change in diet can quickly shift our gut’s microbial makeup. The study is the first step toward figuring out exactly how to use our gut bacteria to keep ourselves healthy and fight disease.

A Sequester Reprieve

Early this week, key members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives announced a 2-year budget deal that will wipe out a major portion of the impending mandatory budget cuts that have struck fear into many government-funded researchers—at least temporarily. The House overwhelmingly approved the deal on Thursday, and the Senate is expected to approve it next week.

Bolstering a Link Between Alzheimer’s Disease and Lead Exposure

Researchers trying to figure out the origins of dementia are building the case against a possible culprit: lead exposure early in life. A 23-year study has now revealed that monkeys who drank a lead-rich formula as infants later developed tangles of a key brain protein linked to Alzheimer's disease. Though neuroscientists say more work is needed to confirm the connection, the research suggests that people exposed to lead as children could have an increased risk of the common, late-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease.

Judges Deny Chimpanzees 'Personhood'

Three lawsuits filed last week that attempted to achieve “legal personhood” for four chimpanzees living in New York have been struck down. The suits were the first step in a nationwide campaign to grant legal rights to a variety of animals.