The universal grammar of birdsong is genetically encoded.
"A new study
, published online
in the journal Nature
, shows that the songs of isolated zebra finches
evolve over multiple generations
to resemble those of birds in natural colonies. These findings show that song learning in birds is not purely the product of nurture, but has a strong genetic basis, and suggest that bird song has a universal grammar, or an intrinsic structure which is present at birth."
Familial genetic profiling of law enforcement DNA databases
has already been used to succesfully establish both guilt and innocence. Legal and moral questions on these expanded techniques abound and are comprehensively explored by a speaker at a recent FBI symposium on the topic. In the author's words, scenarios previously limited to movies like Minority Report are unfolding quietly, before most of us have thought about the consequences. (Via)
In 2000, the Spanish Pyrenean Ibex
(a type of mountain goat) went extinct. In early 2009 it was brought back to life
, the first time an extinct species has been "successfully" cloned. The newborn bucardo died of respiratory failure minutes after birth, setting a second extinction record.
My Genome, My Self:
Steven Pinker considers what we can expect from personal genomics
. Searching for Intelligence in Our Genes:
Carl Zimmer looks at the hunt to learn about the role of genes in intelligence.
"Leaves that crawl".... Assimilated chloroplasts
give a species of sea slug its deep green glow
; and to keep it, Elysia Chlorotica
becomes even a little more plant-like
Now: The Rest of the Genome.
"Only 1 percent of the genome is made up of classic genes. Scientists are exploring the other 99 percent and uncovering new secrets and new questions."
Dr. Joe Z. Tsien has previously created
a strain of mice unable to form memories, one with much improved memory - "Doogie" mice
- and can now erase single mouse memories. "Our work reveals a molecular mechanism of how that can be done quickly and without doing damage to brain cells." Remembering
How We Evolve:
"A growing number of scientists argue that human culture itself has become the foremost agent of biological change, making us — for the past 10,000 years or so — the inadvertent architects of our own future selves." [more inside]
"The quilts are visually pleasing, with their strong colors and seemingly traditional design, but they hide and reveal an entirely other construct of information." [via
Scientists Repurpose Adult Cells
- "Scientists have transformed one type of fully developed adult cell directly into another inside a living animal, a startling advance that could lead to cures for a variety of illnesses and sidestep the political and ethical quagmires associated with embryonic stem cell research." [nature abstract
, nature writeup
, audio announcement
One Pill Makes You Autistic -- And One Pill Changes You Back. It might also lead to recreational autism, where people who want to take a break from having messy emotions about other people decide to unplug and enter a state where human relationships are no more important than inanimate objects. [more inside]
The first ever, it is believed, has been produced at Cornell University. The feat was apparently much overlooked, and has many concerned
over the lack of public debate
of this field of research. Genetically modified human embryos
A new round of genetic tests has confirmed it:
The 'big lizards' of our childhood fantasies were more likely 'big birds.'
In fact, they probably even had feathers
, and looked more like this
. Mind blowing, I know, but I guess this demonstrates that, despite what some
may think, science really doesn't have a problem admitting that it got something wrong when new evidence comes to light.
Any admixture would have to be driven by male Neanderthals. Two years ago
we discussed morphological evidence of nontrivial interbreeding
. Since then Neanderthal DNA has
been examined for
genetic support for this model of human evolution, largely contradicting
the belief in Neanderthal contribution to modern humanity. Indeed any contribution from the Neanderthal gene pool to the evolution of modern humans might be very rare and indeed it appears that the best candidate gene thus (MC1R
) far likely was a result of convergent evolution
. [more inside]
Want your genome on a hard drive but don't have the money? 23andMe
can give you almost that: a scan of your SNPs, presented online and complete with analyses derived from up-to-date medical research (and a few educated guesses). Eight months ago, blogs were rife with speculation of who 23 could be
and what the connection with Google
could mean. [more inside]
of blue eyes has long been celebrated
. In the Odyssey
, Homer gives the goddess Athena "bright blue eyes," and our fascination persists to this day with actors like Brad Pitt
and Naomi Watts
. Until recently, however, no one could explain the phenomena. [more inside]
Humans are evolving more rapidly
than in the distant past, according to a new study
published in PNAS. "The massive growth of human populations has led to far more genetic mutations, and every mutation that is advantageous to people has a chance of being selected and driven toward fixation. We are more different genetically from people living 5,000 years ago than they were different from Neanderthals
", says lead author John Hawks. [more inside]
Using some very cool genetic tricks, Harvard scientists have found a way to make transgenic mice that express various mixtures of different coloured fluorescent proteins in their neurons. The result, individual brain cells with up to 90 distinct colours
. Not surprisingly, this visually impressive work is in this month's issue of Nature
Devil facial tumor disease
has ravaged the population of Tasmanian Devils in the last decade. DFTD is a transmissible cancer
, i.e. the tumor cells themselves (which differ genetically from their host animal) are the agent responsible. The disease is spread by biting and other contact, and the resulting grotesque tumors interfere with feeding and lead to starvation. Poor immune response
may be partially responsible. This is actually not the only such disease: canine transmissible venereal tumor is an analogue
that has been known to be contagious since the 19th century. (CTVT, however, gets a proper immune response.) [more inside]
More cuckoo than cuckoos: mate two salmon, get a... trout! Just give the parents a sperm transplant.
And the sperm stem cells work in females too:
...Injecting the male cells into female salmon sometimes worked, too, prompting five female salmon to ovulate trout eggs.... The stem cells were still primitive enough to switch gears from sperm-producers to egg-producers when they wound up inside female organs....
U.S. military practices genetic discrimination in denying benefits.
"Those medically discharged with genetic diseases are left without disability or retirement benefits. Some are fighting back."
As advances in DNA testing allow us to discover our genetic origins in ever-greater detail
, many people are making surprising discoveries. Especially in the melting-pot that is the USA
. Of course there are always those who feel that access to such information about who we are will only lead to bad things
is a genetic protein that affects muscle growth in humans
and animals. Scientists have learned a lot about this protein from a noticeable myostatin mutation common in the Whippet dog breed. Whippets with one mutant copy of the gene
are faster, so these are desirable for racing dog breeders. But selective breeding has caused increased instances
of both copies of the myostatin genes mutating, which results in "double muscle" Incredible Hulk dogs
A link between race and breast cancer.
The findings of this study
by a Philadelphia research team dovetail other recent findings
, including those of Chicago researcher Funmi Olopade
, a MacArthur winning doctor from Nigeria who is studying the genetic implications of the discovery. A Q & A
with Dr. Olopade on her research. Dr. Olopade discussing her work on the Tavis Smiley show
The Etruscan civilization flourished in central Italy around the 6th century BC before the rise of the Roman Empire. Known for high art and high living, some say the Etruscans were influential in molding Roman and western civilization, however it has always been an enigma on where the Etruscans originally came from. DNA evidence
has probably solved the mystery
, confirming what Greek historian Herodotus first said over 2,500 years ago.
Fat is Genetic
, from NY Times science writer (and sister of Judi Bari) Gina Kolata
"Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution."
Despite Theodosius Dobzhansky
's succint description of natural selection at the core of biological research since Darwin's fateful trip to the Galapagos, evolutionary biologist Michael Lynch
respectfully dissents, asking "whether natural selection is a necessary or sufficient force to explain"
the complexity of multicellular organisms we see today, where mutation, recombination and genetic drift are often overlooked, but critical factors in evolutionary theory and understanding.
Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?
This trait ... is inherited by 15 to 20% of the population, and ... seems to be present in all higher animals. Being an HSP means your nervous system is more sensitive to subtleties. Your sight, hearing, and sense of smell are not necessarily keener .... But your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. Being an HSP also means, necessarily, that you are more easily overstimulated, stressed out, overwhelmed. This trait ... has been mislabeled as shyness (not an inherited trait), introversion (30% of HSPs are actually extraverts), inhibitedness, fearfulness, and the like. HSPs can be these, but none of these are the fundamental trait they have inherited ...
| latest research
(fascinating!) | newsletter
this extremely common
chemical leaches out of food packaging and plastics, and was long considered safe. But a number of recent studies
link it to developmental problems
in lab animals in doses far lower than the current regulatory limit. Canada and the United States
both review the scientific data available in the coming months, but critics already worry
the process will be corrupted by industry. Industry, of course, insists that BPA is safe.
As legends go, the first recorded instance of violence in the feud occurred after an 1873 dispute about the ownership of a hog:
Floyd Hatfield had it and Randolph McCoy said it was his. The rest is Appalachian history. But it turns out that history may have had a helping hand in something called Von Hippel-Lindau disease.
It weren't the moonshine, Pa. It was the DNA that did it.
...Historians teach that they are mostly descended from different peoples: the Irish from the Celts and the English from the Anglo-Saxons who invaded from northern Europe and drove the Celts to the country’s western and northern fringes. But geneticists who have tested DNA throughout the British Isles are edging toward a different conclusion. Many are struck by the overall genetic similarities, leading some to claim that both Britain and Ireland have been inhabited for thousands of years by a single people that have remained in the majority, with only minor additions from later invaders like Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. The implication that the Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh have a great deal in common with each other, at least from the geneticist’s point of view, seems likely to please no one.A United Kingdom? Maybe
See also Myths of British ancestry
In the words of one well known Basque cultural icon
: HA Ha!
It's genital evolution day! Penis evolution
. For my money, evolution reached it's zenith with the Argentine Lake Duck
. Plenty more MeFi penis related shenanigans here , including the penis museum.
The "Darwinian paradox
" of homosexuality presents the conundrum of how a potential genetic basis for homosexual behavior could provide a survival benefit to offpsring and extend through generations, when sexual reproduction would seem to place strong selection pressure
against such a "gene". Recently developed mathematical models
(PDF) from researchers Sergey Gavrilets
and William Rice
not only show how a "gay gene" might proliferate within a population
, but also provides testable hypotheses, including predictions of "widespread bisexuality
" (subscription req'd).
PermaPuppies - they never get big.
Spoof commercial biotech site is just viral advertizing
for Michael Crichton's new book, but some of the ads are fun.
Study turns human genetics on its head.
"The genome is like an accordion that can stretch or shrink . . . so you have no idea what's normal. We have to think of genetics in an entirely different way. We're actually more like a patchwork of genetic code than bar codes that line up evenly. Everything we've been taught is different now."
New research from evolutionary scientist Bruce Lahn suggests that humans and the now extinct
Neanderthal species mixed, and humans snatched up a valuable brain gene in the process. (The gene, MCPH1, and Lahn, discussed last year
on MeFi) This comes on the tails of yet another new study providing morphological evidence
that there was nontrivial interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals in Eurasia, despite the fact that Neanderthals may have been genetically closer to chimps
than humans. Contrary to popular imagination, though, the Neanderthal species had bigger brains and sophisticated intellects
, at least roughly on par with that of human beings. The gene regulates brain size during development, but its exact utility to humans is still unknown (and controversial
). The origin of this gene and the question of Neanderthal mixing will soon be answered more definitively by the, just launched, 2 year project to map the Neanderthal genome
, headed by Svante Pääbo (profiled in recent Smithsonian
articles). Pääbo calls
Lahn’s study "the most compelling case to date for a genetic contribution of Neandertals to modern humans."
The Allen Institute for Brain Science
has made the Allen Brain Atlas available online
for public searches. It contains maps of gene expressions in a mouse brain, searchable by gene, anatomy, or with boolean syntax. They also offer Brain Explorer, a 3-D program that lets you highlight particular genes, and rotate the model in any direction. Via
Evolutionary theorist Dr Curry predicts humanity will "split in two".
At the very least this should provide material for playground insults. At the top end, as Dr Curry says, we could be living in Wells' The Time Machine
. Only without the time machine, sadly.
- "a comprehensive source for the latest research, news and events in neuroscience and genomics research"
The United Celtic Kingdom.
A new study shows that most British are decended from the Celtic tribes that crossed over from Spain 7,000 years ago. Only 20% of the English are decended from Viking stock, even fewer are Anglo-Saxons.
The evolutionary reason behind senescence^
is one of the great mysteries of biology
. Now cancer researchers may have discovered the key to why we age
The end of the lawnmower era is nigh.
Microbiologist Joanne Chory
may change the face of suburban one-upmanship as we know it. Imagine a weekend morning without the sound of lawnmowers. Can it really be just around the corner? Will men be willing to terminate their love
relationships with their lawns? After all, a man and his mower are not easily parted