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The Human Family’s Earliest Ancestors | Science

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Tim White is standing with a group of restless men atop a ridge in the Afar desert of Ethiopia. A few of them are pacing back and forth, straining to see if they can spot fragments of beige bone in the reddish-brown rubble below, as eager to start their search as children at an Easter egg hunt. At the bottom of the hill is a 25-foot-long cairn of black rocks erected in the style of an Afar grave, so large it looks like a monument to a fallen hero. And in a way it is. White and his colleagues assembled it to mark the place where they first found traces, in 1994, of “Ardi,” a female who lived 4.4 million years ago. Her skeleton has been described as one of the most important discoveries of the past century, and she is changing basic ideas about how our earliest ancestors looked and moved.

More than 14 years later, White, a wiry 59-year-old paleoanthropologist from the University of California at Berkeley, is here again, on an annual pilgrimage to see if seasonal rains have exposed any new bits of Ardi’s bones or teeth. He often fires up the fossil hunters who work with him by chanting, “Hominid, hominid, hominid! Go! Go! Go!” But he can’t let them go yet. Only a week earlier, an Alisera tribesman had threatened to kill White and two of his Ethiopian colleagues if they returned to these fossil beds near the remote village of Aramis, home of a clan of Alisera nomads. The threat is probably just a bluff, but White doesn’t mess with the Alisera, who are renowned for being territorial and settling disputes with AK-47s. As a precaution, the scientists travel with six Afar regional police officers armed with their own AK-47s.

Arranging this meeting

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PhysIQ and Purdue University launch study to develop algorithms for detecting earliest signs of COVID-19 from biometric smartwatch data

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Certain changes in a person’s heart and breathing rates could precede symptoms of COVID-19, an increasing number of studies suggests.

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Purdue University researchers are helping to develop physIQ software that could indicate that a person should get tested for COVID-19 by detecting specific changes in heart and breathing rates while the person wears a smartwatch. Pictured: Jennifer Anderson, Ph.D. student, Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

Purdue University researchers have begun a study that would help determine if continuously collected biometric smartwatch data could be used to reliably and accurately detect these signs early, which could indicate that a potentially asymptomatic user should get tested for COVID-19.

Data from the study will inform new algorithms to be developed by physIQ, a Purdue-affiliated digital health technology company based in Chicago. The company has support from the Purdue Research Foundation’s Foundry Investment Fund.

Smartwatches on the market already collect a wide range of physiologic data, but incorporating metrics such as heart rate, heart rate variability and respiration rate that may help detect COVID-19 at the earliest stages will take more research, studies by companies such as Fitbit have stated.

Although smartwatch-like devices are not currently substitutes for gold-standard diagnostic tests used in clinics and hospitals, some wearable devices are starting to serve as tools for helping a clinician make a diagnosis.

“There won’t be a point where a smartwatch can tell you that you’re COVID-19 positive, but it could potentially say, ‘Within the next couple of days, you might be getting sick and should go get tested,’” said Craig Goergen, Purdue’s Leslie A. Geddes Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering.

Previous studies have shown that viral infections increase resting heart and respiration rates and decrease heart rate variability