Notes and shorts from around the world


Tolerating cold is in our DNA
Early humans successfully migrated to freezing northern climates thanks to a genetic mutation that made them better able to withstand the cold, but which also made them more prone to migraine headaches, new research suggests. In the human body, there is only one known receptor that controls how we respond to the sensation of cold. A team led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has now discovered that a variant in the DNA upstream of the TRPM8 gene that codes for this receptor is far more prevalent at northern latitudes. The further north you go, the more widely the variant is found. Only 5% of people with Nigerian ancestry carry it, but 88% of Finns do. As previous studies have found that some mammals that live in cold conditions have adapted different versions of TRPM8, the scientists speculate that the variant also makes humans more tolerant of cold. The new research suggests that when Homo sapiens began migrating from Africa to Europe around 50,000 years ago, those with the variant were more likely to prosper in the freezing north, and thus it spread. Intriguingly, the variant is also strongly associated with migraines. Why it should have this side effect is not clear, but it could help explain why these headaches are most commonly reported in people of European descent.
Water crisis
Venezuela’s capital is in the grip of a chronic water shortage caused by the effective collapse of Hidrocapital, the utility company owned by the state. Although it is the rainy season and the reservoirs are full, millions of people in Caracas have not had regular running water for three months. Over the years, billions have been invested in reservoirs and pumps to bring water to the city, but owing to the economic crisis – and hyperinflation – wages are so low that Hidrocapital’s maintenance staff are not bothering to turn up to work, and there is no money for spare parts. President Maduro vowed to repair the economy after his recent re-election, but he has not said how he plans to do so.
An unfortunate mistake
A Russian woman who thought she was entering her PIN into the credit card machine at a Swiss café was in fact paying a tip. As a result, Olesja Schemjakowa paid 7,709.70 Swiss francs (AU$10,400) for a coffee and cake. The credit card company would not reverse her payment because it was not considered fraudulent. The café owner later promised to repay her, but filed for bankruptcy before the money was returned. “That’s just not fair!” said Schemjakowa.
Bons mots
“At 18 our convictions are hills from which we look; at 45 they are caves in which we hide.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, author, USA


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