The major components of human diet both past and present may be estimated by measuring the carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (δ 13 C and δ 15 N) of the collagenous proteins in bone and tooth dentine. However, the results from these two tissues differ substantially: bone collagen records a multi-year average whilst primary dentine records and retains time-bound isotope ratios deriving from the period of tooth development. Recent studies harnessing a sub-annual temporal sampling resolution have shed new light on the individual dietary histories of our ancestors by identifying unexpected radical short-term dietary changes, the duration of breastfeeding and migration where dietary change occurs, and by raising questions regarding factors other than diet that may impact on δ 13 C and δ 15 N values. Here we show that the dentine δ 13 C and δ 15 N profiles of workhouse inmates dating from the Great Irish Famine of the 19th century not only record the expected dietary change from C 3 potatoes to C 4 maize, but when used together they also document prolonged nutritional and other physiological stress resulting from insufficient sustenance. In the adults, the influence of the maize-based diet is seen in the δ 13 C difference between dentine (formed in childhood) and rib (representing an average from the last few years of life). The demonstrated effects of stress on the δ 13 C and δ 15 N values will have an impact on the interpretations of diet in past populations even in slow-turnover tissues such as compact bone. This technique also has applicability in the investigation of modern children subject to nutritional distress where hair and nails are unavailable or do not record an adequate period of time.
We report δ13C and δ18O results from carbonate-cemented cave sediments at Malapa in South Africa. The sediments were deposited during a short-period magnetic reversal at 1.977±0.003 Ma, immediately preceding deposition of Facies D sediments that contain the type fossils of Australopithecus sediba. Values of δ13C range between -5.65 and -2.09 with an average of -4.58±0.54‰ (Vienna Pee Dee Belemnite, VPDB) and values of δ18O range between -6.14 and -3.84 with an average of -4.93±0.44‰ (VPDB).
The type specimen of Australopithecus sediba (MH1) is a late juvenile, prompting some commentators to suggest that had it lived to adulthood its morphology would have changed sufficiently so as to render hypotheses regarding its phylogenetic relations suspect. Considering the potentially critical position of this species with regard to the origins of the genus Homo, a deeper understanding of this change is especially vital.
The bacteria that make their home in the intestines of modern apes and humans arose from ancient bacteria that colonized the guts of our common ancestors. Moeller et al. have developed a method to compare rapidly evolving gyrB gene sequences in fecal samples from humans and wild chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas (see the Perspective by Segre and Salafsky). Comparison of the gyrB phylogenies of major bacterial lineages reveals that they mostly match the apehominid phylogeny, except for some rare symbiont transfers between primate species. Gut bacteria therefore are not simply acquired from the environment, but have coevolved for millions of years with hominids to help shape our immune systems and development. Science , this issue p. ; see also p.  : /lookup/doi/10.1126/science.aaf3951 : /lookup/doi/10.1126/science.aag2788