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Research Roundup: Alzheimer’s, the San Andreas Fault and ancient Chinese monkeys

ASU research from the last week

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Illustration published on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.     

This week in ASU research

Monkey mystery in the tomb of a Chinese empress

An international team of researchers that included ASU anthropologist Alejandra Ortiz, from the Institute of Human Origins, discovered a new species of ape in the ancient tomb of Chinese Empress Liang, also called Lady Xia. 

The new species is Junzi imperialis, and it belongs to the family of apes commonly called gibbons. The Junzi gibbon lived in central China until around 2,200 years ago. 

The gibbon bones found in Lady Xia’s tomb may be some of the last to have ever lived given estimates of the gibbon’s extinction. 

The discovery is made even more noteworthy by the tomb's resident. Lady Xia was the grandmother of unified China's first emperor, the legendary and brutal Qin Shi Huang. 

When will we see another big California quake? 

A new research study by ASU geophysicists shows that the mechanism causing the San Andreas Fault to shift is different than scientists once thought. 

The central portion of the fault was thought to be relatively stable, slowly offloading pressure through a creeping, continuous movement. This is unlike the northern and southern portions, running near San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively, which have been very active sources of earthquakes. 

But a new paper published in Nature Geoscience, co-authored by ASU researchers Mostafa Khoshmanesh and Manoochehr Shirzaei, shows that the central portion of the fault is prone to stop-and-start abrupt movements, which is similar to how the more volatile sections of the fault move. This goes against old assumptions about the central portion’s potential for big movements. 

The researchers told ASU that this finding increases the likelihood of a large earthquake in the near future. 

A new connection: Alzheimer’s, viruses and DNA

Scientists from ASU, Banner and Mount Sinai collaborated on a new study linking Alzheimer’s to the prevalence of two common viruses. 

The lead author of the study was Associate Research Professor Ben Readhead of ASU’s Biodesign Institute

The study examined the differences between the brains of 622 donors who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s before their deaths and 322 brains without the disease. Researchers found that two viruses in particular — HHV 6A and 7 — were in greater abundance in the DNA of the brains of those who had Alzheimer’s. 

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