Project description:Recent developmental studies demonstrate that early fossil hominins possessed shorter growth periods than living humans, implying disparate life histories. Analyses of incremental features in teeth provide an accurate means of assessing the age at death of developing dentitions, facilitating direct comparisons with fossil and modern humans. It is currently unknown when and where the prolonged modern human developmental condition originated. Here, an application of x-ray synchrotron microtomography reveals that an early Homo sapiens juvenile from Morocco dated at 160,000 years before present displays an equivalent degree of tooth development to modern European children at the same age. Crown formation times in the juvenile's macrodont dentition are higher than modern human mean values, whereas root development is accelerated relative to modern humans but is less than living apes and some fossil hominins. The juvenile from Jebel Irhoud is currently the oldest-known member of Homo with a developmental pattern (degree of eruption, developmental stage, and crown formation time) that is more similar to modern H. sapiens than to earlier members of Homo. This study also underscores the continuing importance of North Africa for understanding the origins of human anatomical and behavioral modernity. Corresponding biological and cultural changes may have appeared relatively late in the course of human evolution.
Project description:Kynureninase is a member of a large family of catalytically diverse but structurally homologous pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (PLP) dependent enzymes known as the aspartate aminotransferase superfamily or alpha-family. The Homo sapiens and other eukaryotic constitutive kynureninases preferentially catalyze the hydrolytic cleavage of 3-hydroxy-l-kynurenine to produce 3-hydroxyanthranilate and l-alanine, while l-kynurenine is the substrate of many prokaryotic inducible kynureninases. The human enzyme was cloned with an N-terminal hexahistidine tag, expressed, and purified from a bacterial expression system using Ni metal ion affinity chromatography. Kinetic characterization of the recombinant enzyme reveals classic Michaelis-Menten behavior, with a Km of 28.3 +/- 1.9 microM and a specific activity of 1.75 micromol min-1 mg-1 for 3-hydroxy-dl-kynurenine. Crystals of recombinant kynureninase that diffracted to 2.0 A were obtained, and the atomic structure of the PLP-bound holoenzyme was determined by molecular replacement using the Pseudomonas fluorescens kynureninase structure (PDB entry 1qz9) as the phasing model. A structural superposition with the P. fluorescens kynureninase revealed that these two structures resemble the "open" and "closed" conformations of aspartate aminotransferase. The comparison illustrates the dynamic nature of these proteins' small domains and reveals a role for Arg-434 similar to its role in other AAT alpha-family members. Docking of 3-hydroxy-l-kynurenine into the human kynureninase active site suggests that Asn-333 and His-102 are involved in substrate binding and molecular discrimination between inducible and constitutive kynureninase substrates.
Project description:How did human symbolic behavior evolve? Dating up to about 100,000 y ago, the engraved ochre and ostrich eggshell fragments from the South African Blombos Cave and Diepkloof Rock Shelter provide a unique window into presumed early symbolic traditions of Homo sapiens and how they evolved over a period of more than 30,000 y. Using the engravings as stimuli, we report five experiments which suggest that the engravings evolved adaptively, becoming better-suited for human perception and cognition. More specifically, they became more salient, memorable, reproducible, and expressive of style and human intent. However, they did not become more discriminable over time between or within the two archeological sites. Our observations provide support for an account of the Blombos and Diepkloof engravings as decorations and as socially transmitted cultural traditions. By contrast, there was no clear indication that they served as denotational symbolic signs. Our findings have broad implications for our understanding of early symbolic communication and cognition in H. sapiens.