Autism shows a correlation to environmental toxins, the adipose fin may not be so vestigial after all, economists revisit the effects of an early-childhood program 49 years later, and an ancient weather report gets a new translation.
A new translation of the inscription on a 3,500-year-old Egyptian calcite statue known as the Tempest Stela suggests a different chronology for events in the ancient Middle East. Oriental Institute scholars Nadine Moeller and Robert Ritner, PhD’87, concluded that the inscription on the six-foot-tall Tempest Stela—describing tumultuous rain, daytime darkness, and “the sky being in storm without cessation, louder than the cries of the masses”—is actually an account of a huge volcano explosion on Thera, now the Greek island Santorini.
Their translation also suggests that the reign of Egyptian pharaoh Ahmose, depicted by the stela, may have taken place 30–50 years earlier than the commonly accepted date of 1550 BCE. This change in chronology also provides an explanation for how Ahmose rose to power, say Moeller and Ritner: the Thera eruption would have destroyed the ports of the Hyksos, the previous rulers of Egypt. The Tempest Stela, arguably the world’s oldest weather report, was found in Thebes (modern-day Luxor), where Ahmose ruled at the start of the New Kingdom, the peak of Egypt’s power. Moeller and Ritner’s research appeared in the spring 2014 Journal of Near Eastern Studies.
Autism and intellectual disability are heavily correlated with environmental factors, according to a study coauthored by University of Chicago geneticists Andrey Rzhetsky; Christopher Lyttle, AM’83; Robert Gibbons, PhD’81; and grad student Kanix Wang.
Working with scientists at Stanford and the University of Illinois at Chicago, the researchers analyzed roughly 100 million American insurance claims, using congenital malformations in the male reproductive system as an indicator of parents’ exposure to environmental toxins. They found that a 1 percent increase in a county’s incidence of these malformations corresponded to a 283 percent increase in autism rates and a 94 percent increase in intellectual disability rates, indicating a link between these disorders and parental exposure to toxins such as environmental lead, sex hormone analogs, medications, and other synthetics. The findings were published in the March 13 PLOS Computational Biology.
The adipose fin—the small appendage between a fish’s dorsal fin and tail, which shows up in over 6,000 living species—is not just an evolutionary leftover. UChicago biologist Michael Coates, grad student Thomas Stewart, and W. Leo Smith from the University of Kansas used genetic information and fossil data from 200 fish species to recreate how adipose fins evolved.
They found that the appendage originated repeatedly and independently in catfish and other species whose fins are supported by bony spines. Species rarely evolve new limbs, say the authors, so adipose fins offer a new way to study the range of fin and limb diversity. The study appeared in the April 22 Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
Giving children access to high-quality education, health care, nutrition, and other developmental programming can prevent or delay adult chronic disease. In the March 28 Science, UChicago economist James Heckman and a team of researchers analyzed the long-term health effects of the Carolina Abecedarian Project (ABC), a landmark early childhood development program that ran from 1972 to 1977.
The ABC program gave roughly five dozen low-income children from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, daily “cognitive and social stimulation” from infancy through age 8, including two meals a day and health screenings. The Science study, coauthored by researchers from London, Dublin, the University of North Carolina, and UChicago, is the first to analyze the health outcomes of the ABC alums—now in their 30s and 40s—compared to a control group. The ABC men had lower blood pressure and less risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes; the women had a lower incidence of abdominal obesity. Both men and women were less likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking or underage drinking.