Coincidence? You Decide!


 New York Times (NYT), LaChance et al1(L) Blindsight endnotes (BSE), “Vampire Domestication: Taming Yesterday’s Nightmares for a Better Tomorrow” (VD)


Dr. Tishkoff’s team interprets these divergent DNA sequences as genetic remnants of an interbreeding with an archaic species of human … the geneticists estimate that the archaic species split from the ancestors of modern humans about 1.2 million years ago.


Homo sapiens vampiris was a short-lived Human subspecies which diverged from the ancestral line between 800,000 and 500,000 year BP … Vampires and humans never achieved complete reproductive isolation.


Genetic calculations suggest the interbreeding took place between 20,000 and 80,000 years ago.




Two of the hunter-gatherers in the study, the Hadza and Sandawe of Tanzania, speak click languages and carry ancient DNA lineages that trace to the earliest branchings of the human family tree.


Jukka Sarasti … clicked to himself when thinking. This is thought to hail from an ancestral language, which was hardwired into a click-speech mode more than 50,000 years BP. Click-based speech is especially suited to predators stalking prey on savannah grasslands. The Human language most closely akin to Old Vampire is Hadzane.


Richard Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford University, said the new claim of archaic and modern human interbreeding “is a further example of the tendency for geneticists to ignore fossil and archaeological evidence, perhaps because they think it can always be molded to fit the genetics after the fact.”

The archaic sequences make up only 2.5 percent of the genomes of the living hunter-gatherers…. They may, therefore, have no effect on a person’s physical form, which could explain why the fossils show little sign of them…



Due to the relatively brief lifespan of this lineage, these changes were not extensive and overlapped considerably with conspecific allometries; differences become diagnostically significant only at large sample sizes (N>130) …

While this provoked radical neurological and behavioral changes, significant physical changes were limited to soft tissue and microstructures that do not fossilise. This, coupled with extremely low numbers of vampire even at peak population levels (existing as they did at the tip of the trophic pyramid) explains their virtual absence from the fossil record.


…we identify numerous loci that harbor signatures of local adaptation, including genes involved in immunity


Since cannibalism carries with it a high risk of prionic infection, the vampire immune system displayed great resistance to prion diseases, as well as to a variety of helminth and anasakid parasites.


…metabolism, olfactory and taste perception, reproduction, and wound healing.


Extended periods of lungfish-like dormancy (the so-called “undead” state)—and the consequent drastic reduction in vampire energetic needs— developed as a means of redressing this imbalance. To this end vampires produced elevated levels of endogenous Ala-(D) Leuenkephalin (a mammalian hibernation-inducing peptide) and dobutamine, which strengthens the heart muscle during periods on inactivity.



1 Cell abstract only. I was recently shocked to learn that my U of T library/journal access expired last month.

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 29th, 2012 at 9:02 am and is filed under blindsight, evolution. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

19 Responses to “Coincidence? You Decide!”

  1. Hljóðlegur

    I love me some side-by-side table comparisons of things.

  2. Madeline Ashby
  3. Rick York

    So, when can we expect your Phizer Pharm endowed chair at Stanford to be announced?

  4. Aaron

    Oh God. It was bad enough discovering that Phil Dick was right about the shape of things to come. Please, Mr. Watts, don’t you be right too.

  5. Derryl Murphy

    Maybe an Ignobel will be in the offing for you. That’d be cool.

  6. Joris M

    Amazing. And slightly scary, I don’t know where I’d want you to be prescient the least, here in Blindsight or in the Rifters trilogy.

  7. Bastien

    Madeline Ashby:

    I concur.

    Oh God. It was bad enough discovering that Phil Dick was right about the shape of things to come. Please, Mr. Watts, don’t you be right too.

    Yeah, I think we need Daryl Bem to use you on his next precog study Peter, you’re getting a wee bit too prophetic for comfort.

  8. Lynn

    This is just creepy. Makes me think the vampire scenario is just a tiny bit more plausible. Maybe zombies, too…

    I also agree with above posters: please stop being right about things that scare the shit out of all of us.

  9. Nestor

    Does biology show any examples of a split off species becoming predatory on the main branch like the vampires do?

  10. Whoever

    More importantly, have you run into anyone who fits the description of having been Jurassic Park’d into being?

    Would be hysterical if, due to metabolic requirements beyond hibernation and average diet, realworld vampires had to be under five feet tall.

  11. Mr Non-Entity

    Well, Peter isn’t the only one, though he certainly hit more nails and hit them more squarely on the head. Then again, he’s actually a scientist. He’s also a scientist writing from a time rather more advanced than when I wrote Tracy: The Genetic Analysis Wars, Part One in 1988, a bit before DNA was first accepted as forensic evidence in US court cases, a bit before the InterNet became available to non-academics and non-military. BTW if you do read that short, feel free to skip the intro and please understand that I’m not a professional writer and this was in fact one of my first tries at SF or any other kind of writing. Mea culpa, blushing etc.

    I’d love to suggest that “great minds think alike” but I am not all that great. However, in a novel of badly-done-ness of perhaps greater hackery than the short cited above, I did have a segment where I delved briefly into “the nightspeech”, phrasings of clicks and whistles generally intermixed with Mainstream speaking so as to form a sort of overlaid double-talk, a rather threadbare but sufficient battle language that could be used to organize and direct an attack even while the lead unit seemed to be having a pleasant conversation with the quarry. (I lived at the edge of the Navajo Reservation for my first six years, and they have at least four clicked consonants as well as a few different glottal stops, all of which can profoundly alter meaning in words. Most adult “belegaana” never learn to hear them, much less differentiate between them. PS this is not slander on the Navajo… but it’s where I got the idea for nightspeech.)

    See also George RR Martin’s exceptional novel “Fevre Dream”, an Old South Mississippi Riverboat mystery and horror story all rolled up in (so far as I know) the first of the “vampires are another kind of human beings, successfully predatory ones, obligate cannibals due to inherited digestive disorder” stories. Martin’s “Night People” seem to be implied to have evolved more for the mountains of northern Central Europe than for Africa, however.

    Peter Watts, and GRR Martin, may have been inspired by one of the basic maxims of evolutionary theory: things never evolve to specialize beyond their needs to do so. So one might ask, what could have so forced the evolution of the human brain and culture to the extant levels? It’s easy to dismiss this curious notion by deciding that it’s only all about forcing evolution on ourselves, with competition between members of the same species. Then one realizes that there were really quite few hominoids of any type back in the day when the Cro-Magnons and Anatomically Modern Humans erupted onto the scene, and pressures to compete against each other would have been low indeed. So what forced the specialization of the mind?

    Perhaps it has roughly the shape, and habits, of what all the little kids fear: it likes to hide in dark places and wait for you to go to sleep. Better get daddy to check and make sure that it’s safe before you lay down and close your eyes. Maybe we never really outgrow that instinct, and maybe there’s a reason for that… or perhaps there once was. Something that can talk to you, but generally doesn’t see much of a reason, something that understands you very well indeed and cannot possibly care at all beyond caring how to convince you to put yourself right where it wants you. Something that could be poised like a mantis for perhaps days at a stretch, just blending in until the quarry is within range to strike, conceal, and devour. Something that you cannot out-fight, but which you must outwit… something which might have a weakness to exploit, if only you can figure out what it is…

    And Peter did seem to leave this out of his table, presumably because there’s no mention of it in the article describing the new species, but you can look at the time-frame and cross reference that to paleo-archaeology and the eruption of new arts and symbols from the mind of the new men into the artifacts of those early days… yet even to this day, wherever Mankind makes itself comfortable, there’s a profusion of right angles. 😉

  12. Matt

    Crazy! Also made want to re-read Blindsight.

  13. Mr Non-Entity

    What freaks me out is this little bit from the NYT article:

    [ … ] The costs of whole-genome sequencing have fallen so much that the technique can now be applied to populations for the first time, said Dr. Tishkoff, who paid the company Complete Genomics around $10,000 for each of the 15 genomes. [ … ]

    For what it’s worth, this study would be a lot more interesting with a larger sampling base. 15 individuals, 5 from each of 3 ethnic groups, isn’t that large a sample size.

    Africa is known already to be the hotbed of human diversity. This test, in terms of finding “something new and exciting”, is a bit like a marksman knowing where to expect the targets might be, and plinking with a small caliber weapon. A good marksman hits his targets, even if they weren’t exactly what he expected them to be, they were where he expected them to be.

    Can you imagine what might be discovered if the cost of a total genome sequencing came down to, say, U$ 500 or so? With a decent grant, you could sample as if with a shotgun, as opposed to a small caliber weapon, to return to the analogy. Instead of sequencing one person, you could sequence 20. Leaving aside the implications to medicine of such low costs, genetic anthropology (molecular paleoanthropology?) becomes a great deal more interesting, and one might think the science would become more certain about pinpointing times and distribution of emergence of new traits or introduction of new traits from the outside.

    I wonder if they’ve published their data set? Might be something interesting around FOXP2, often associated with the evolution of human language.

  14. Yukon Val

    Does biology show any examples of a split off species becoming predatory on the main branch like the vampires do?

    I don’t know of any that have gone that far…I can think of a few scenarios that might head that way under the right environmental circumstances. NA black and brown bear boars both attack/eat enough same species bear cubs to impact the reproductive success/behaviour of NA black and brown bear sows. Sows may be eating cubs too, but I have not read/heard examples of that. There has been recent documentation of polar bear cannibalism, which has been attributed to climate change stress…which it may be, but I’m guessing this behaviour is a result of food stress from a variety of factors and is not newly emerged, but just newly observed. P. bears are hard for scientists to observe generally and it just seems weird to me that THE most predatory of the NA bears hasn’t bothered to prey on its own kind until right now. Meanwhile, the kinds of bears that live close to roads and grad students have been doing it for years.

    And…Bears are opportunistic omnivores…just like early humans. Their social structure is less…cozy, but they all have one. Some bear biologists think they are as smart/complex as the great apes, so yeah…why not? There’s lots of evidence for early non ritual cannibalism in Neanderthals too.

    @Peter…you are saying clicks became hard-wired at some point? Not that they are now in modern populations? I learned to click from Sotho speakers as a toddler and was taught they were just consonants that non-native speakers struggled with, so this bit seems odd to me.

    And I totally agree about the lack of physical evidence…preservation/non-preservation is huge! Parts of Beringia have been frozen forever…no human remains even though people have been there, conservatively, for 14,000 yrs…top predators are just thin on the ground…we barely have lions and bears in the frozen fauna record. Could get missed,

  15. Mark C

    … And don’t forget the chimps that hunt lower primates for meat. They use complex, organised groups made up of spotters, beaters and chasers, each with different calls to lead each other toward their frantic prey whom they rip limb from limb as they share the poor animal’s meat as spoils. First time I saw this in a documentary, I couldn’t believe my eyes! Brutally fascinating… EDIT: Though, when I think about it, this prob aint what Nestor meant.

  16. Yukon Val

    @Mark C…chimp cannibalism has been documented as well. Groups of males eating infants from other groups and females who killed and ate the infants of other females (same group, I think) and taught the behaviour to their offspring.

  17. Mr Non-Entity

    I recall Jane Goodall speaking in some documentary, hard to remember which one as there have been so many. She was recounting, as a side-bar to her fairly early-on studies on chimp aggression in group-on-group warfare, on the precautions she’d had to take with a human child at the campsite. (Her own child, I think.)

    She said something to the effect of “and now and then a group of chimps would wander into camp, and I’d have to hurry about to make sure that [so-and-so] (the child) was securely locked in, because if the chimps had got hold of him, they’d have killed and eaten him for certain”.

    It’s difficult to know whether this is just a mother being a trifle overcautious as is often the case, or a leading scientist stating her professional opinion. I’ll say it’s possibly a bit of both, but I lean towards the side of professionalism in attributing motive on this statement.

    So, if Jane Goodall is giving us the pure and simple truth, and if chimpanzees and humans came off of the same branch, one might provisionally answer Nestor’s question with “yes, chimpanzees”, with the proviso of “but they only eat the children of neglectful or ignorant humans”. Thus as a predator of humans we couldn’t call them particularly successful. This also might tend to explain why there aren’t a lot of stories about children raised by chimps as they have often been raised by wolves, and it might also tend to explain why Africans and chimps aren’t spending much time together as easy cohabitants on the same village terrains.

  18. Mr Non-Entity

    Sorry to double post, but here is an interesting link on chimp predation on human children from National Geographic.

    From that article:

    [ … ]
    By the time help arrived from the research team, Frodo had scrambled up a tree and was holding the limp form of the baby, which he had begun to eat. Lacking the defensive support that the larger group would have lent him, Frodo was easily scared off, and the baby girl’s dead body was recovered.

    While representatives of the Tanzanian National Parks Department debated euthanizing Frodo, the Gombe research team weighed alternative courses of action and struggled to put his behavior into context. Pressed to clarify the circumstances surrounding the assault, Dr. Kamenya furnished the primatologists’ perspective: What we see as murderous conduct, he explained, is standard for chimps in the wild. Characterizing Frodo’s attack as the “natural hunting behaviour of chimpanzees,” Dr. Kamenya pointed out that the animals regard human babies “just as they view the young of other species such as colobus monkeys and baboons—as potential prey.

    “This was not the first case of human babies being taken by chimps in the Gombe area,” Dr. Kamenya elaborated. (Abductions resulting in child deaths also occurred in 1987, 1984, and in the 1950s.) “But it was the first within the park, and the first involving a habituated chimp of the research community.”
    [ … ]

    One might wonder if some sort of “ancestral memory” of the risks to infants and children from chimps might be at the root of the tales of “ogres”, which in at least several European cultures were characterized quite frequently as being particularly fond of eating babies and children, though any human being would do in a pinch. See also the tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm.

  19. Mr Non-Entity

    FYI: New fossil skull from Africa reveals tangled roots at base of the human family tree (Vastag, Brian. The Washington Post. August 8, 2012.)