Spider webs are incredibly strong and flexible. It’s no surprise, then, that spider silk proteins may someday form durable artificial ligaments for people who have injured their knees or shoulders. Six different kinds of silk are produced by orb-web weaving spiders. These silk fibers have very different mechanical properties that are so effective they have changed very little over millions of years. How to synthetically develop these silks is one focus of Lewis’ research. The secret to producing large quantities of spider silk is to use “factories” designed to manufacture spider silk proteins that are easily scale-able and efficient. Lewis uses transgenic goats, E.coli bacteria, transgenic alfalfa and transgenic silk worms to produce the spider silk proteins used to create spider silk. Spider silk is 100 times stronger than natural ligaments and 10 times stronger than natural tendons; it is stronger than Kevlar and more elastic than nylon.
A 6min brief on the work being done in Laramie, WY whereby spider silk is being spun from goat milk. SPIDERGOATS [more inside]
posted by Blasdelb
on Nov 24, 2013 -
"During the most recent ice age, milk was essentially a toxin to adults because — unlike children — they could not produce the lactase enzyme required to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk. But as farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. Several thousand years later, a genetic mutation spread through Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase — and drink milk — throughout their lives. That adaptation opened up a rich new source of nutrition that could have sustained communities when harvests failed." - The Milk Revolution - how a single mutation expanded (some) of humanity's diet. (Nature.com)
posted by The Whelk
on Aug 2, 2013 -
Selfish traits not favoured by evolution, study shows
"Evolution does not favour selfish people, according to new research.
This challenges a previous theory which suggested it was preferable to put yourself first.
Instead, it pays to be co-operative, shown in a model of "the prisoner's dilemma", a scenario of game theory - the study of strategic decision-making.
Published in Nature Communications, the team says their work shows that exhibiting only selfish traits would have made us become extinct. "
posted by marienbad
on Aug 2, 2013 -
The disease that sours oranges and leaves them half green, already ravaging citrus crops across the world, had reached the state’s storied groves. To slow the spread of the bacterium that causes the scourge, they chopped down hundreds of thousands of infected trees and sprayed an expanding array of pesticides on the winged insect that carries it. But the contagion could not be contained.
With a precipitous decline in Florida’s harvest predicted within the decade, the only chance left to save it, Mr. Kress believed, was one that his industry and others had long avoided for fear of consumer rejection.
They would have to alter the orange’s DNA — with a gene from a different species
posted by yeoz
on Jul 28, 2013 -
They came from test tubes. They came pale as ghosts with eyes as blue-white as glacier ice. They came first out of Korea. N-Words
- a science fiction short story by Ted Kosmatka
. Audio version
posted by Artw
on Jul 9, 2013 -
Some of My Best Friends Are Germs
It is a striking idea that one of the keys to good health may turn out to involve managing our internal fermentation. Having recently learned to manage several external fermentations — of bread and kimchi and beer — I know a little about the vagaries of that process. You depend on the microbes, and you do your best to align their interests with yours, mainly by feeding them the kinds of things they like to eat — good “substrate.” But absolute control of the process is too much to hope for. It’s a lot more like gardening than governing.
The successful gardener has always known you don’t need to master the science of the soil, which is yet another hotbed of microbial fermentation, in order to nourish and nurture it. You just need to know what it likes to eat — basically, organic matter — and how, in a general way, to align your interests with the interests of the microbes and the plants. The gardener also discovers that, when pathogens or pests appear, chemical interventions “work,” that is, solve the immediate problem, but at a cost to the long-term health of the soil and the whole garden. The drive for absolute control leads to unanticipated forms of disorder. [more inside]
posted by ninjew
on Jun 1, 2013 -
Private Ceremonies. "Most women don’t talk about their abortions and miscarriages. Virtually none go through the experience with a loved one at their side. The greatest gift an abortion counselor can give is to bear witness, to be with a woman as she goes through this private journey, to witness her strength and weakness, her grief, her relief, her pain."
A first person essay from a former abortion counselor.
posted by zarq
on May 21, 2013 -
Is Psychometric g a Myth?
- "As an online discussion about IQ or general intelligence grows longer, the probability of someone linking to statistician Cosma Shalizi's essay g, a Statistical Myth
approaches 1. Usually the link is accompanied by an assertion to the effect that Shalizi offers a definitive refutation of the concept of general mental ability, or psychometric g
." [more inside]
posted by kliuless
on Apr 11, 2013 -
Extinction got you down? Try de-extinction! Our species has played a role in the extinction of ... many other species. But now some scientists are proposing a radical turn of the tables: Bringing lost species back from the dead. How to Resurrect Lost Species
. [more inside]
posted by heyho
on Mar 16, 2013 -
November 24, 2012: analysis of extensive DNA sequencing of 'a novel hominin hybrid species, commonly called “Bigfoot” or “Sasquatch” ... suggests that the legendary Sasquatch is a human relative that arose approximately 15,000 years ago as a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens with an unknown primate species.
' The press release claimed that the research was "currently under peer-review," except that no scientific journal would publish the research, until now: DeNovo
, an open access scientific journal. But DeNovo isn't really open access, as it costs $30 to view the article, the paper itself is brand new, the domain was recently purchased
, and the website features generic stock photos. Ars Technica digs deeper
, summarizing some of the "open access" article, and providing a link to a particularly insightful clip on YouTube
, with an odd water mark. [more inside]
posted by filthy light thief
on Feb 18, 2013 -
Hacking the President’s DNA.
"The U.S. government is surreptitiously collecting the DNA of world leaders, and is reportedly protecting that of Barack Obama. Decoded, these genetic blueprints could provide compromising information. In the not-too-distant future, they may provide something more as well—the basis for the creation of personalized bioweapons that could take down a president and leave no trace."
posted by homunculus
on Oct 26, 2012 -
When looking for inspiration, most songwriters to go well-used emotional wells – triumph or loss, love or heartbreak. But Peter Larsen, a biologist at Argonne National Laboratory, looked to the microbes of the English Channel. He used seven years’ worth of genetic and environmental data, converting geochemical and microbial abundance measurements into notes, beats, and chords.
posted by Egg Shen
on Oct 8, 2012 -
In 2001, we learned the sequence of our genome; now, we have amassed a vast amount of knowledge about what those sequences actually do
. Yesterday, the data from the ENCODE
project went live. [more inside]
posted by Westringia F.
on Sep 6, 2012 -
Ötzi the Iceman
died around 3,300 B.C., yet his body was preserved frozen in the Alps until 1991. DNA sequencing
of Neandertals (who died out about 35,000 years ago) suggests modern humans with ancestry outside of Africa carry a few percent of Neandertal genes due to interbreeding. Now (in a blog post knocking down a re-interpretation of the Neandertal DNA evidence) paleontologist John Hawks previews an upcoming publication of his examining Ötzi's DNA:
If we took as a baseline that Europeans have an average of 3.5 percent Neandertal, Ötzi would have around 5.5 percent (again, the actual percentage would be highly model-dependent). He has substantially greater sharing with Neandertals than any other recent person we have ever examined.
, Previously (Neandertals)
posted by Schmucko
on Aug 18, 2012 -
A relatively small group of people from Appalachian, the dark-skinned Melungeons (previously)
have been a source for speculation and conjecture for many years. Exactly who where their ancestors? Portuguese? Turks? Roma? Cherokee? A recent DNA study
(108 page pdf) posted in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy (site link
) says otherwise
posted by edgeways
on May 24, 2012 -
The Fat Trap (NYT pop review):
Overweight individuals in Western nations (and, increasingly, beyond
) face interpersonal and institutional stigma for their bodies*
. Oftentimes, these stigmas are predicated on the belief that being overweight is a moral failure
, that being overweight is usually a result of laziness, decadence, and/or characterlogical poor impulse control. However, an emerging consensus among obesity researchers points toward strong, common physiological and individual genetic factors
as causative for heightened BMIs in the modern world and the general failure of dieting to produce BMI outcomes. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine (paywalled)
adds to this body of evidence, suggesting that chemical messengers held to contribute to altered "efficient" metabolism and increased hunger in the wake of low-calorie dieting are (on average) significantly elevated up to a full year (if not longer) following a substantial drop in weight from dieting.> [more inside]
posted by Keter
on Dec 28, 2011 -
How can we better understand the interplay of nature and nurture in determining our personalities, behavior, and vulnerability to disease? Perhaps we should be looking at identical twins
. (National Geographic January 2012 cover story) [more inside]
posted by zarq
on Dec 19, 2011 -
After decades of breeding, the complexity of cat color genetics
is quite well understood. Genes which control pigmentation
, hair length
, color dilution
, banding (agouti)
, white fur
(dominant, spotting, or albino, sometimes linked with deafness
), tabby patterns
, and more combine to create a wide spectrum of possibilities
. Specific traits such as white gloving among Birman cats
and the amber color found only in Norwegian Forest Cats (which comes from a single female born in 1981!) have also been isolated and studied, and can be affordably tested for
On top of all that, fur color is epigenetic
as well as genetic, and sometimes responds to the cat's environment. If you clone a calico cat, you get a kitten which doesn't have a similar coat
due to X-inactivation
, and pointed cats (such as Burmese, Siamese, and Tonkinese) have temperature-sensitive coloration
. [more inside]
posted by vorfeed
on Aug 28, 2011 -
Split Family Faces.
"How much do you and members of your family really look alike? Quebec, Canada-based graphic designer and photographer Ulric Collette has created a shockingly cool project where he's exploring the genetic similarities between different members of the same family. By splitting their faces in half and then melding them together, he creates interesting new people that are sometimes quite normal looking and other times far from it. He calls this series Genetic Portraits."
posted by Bunny Ultramod
on Aug 17, 2011 -
is a veteran American cartoonist best known for his delightful comic-book guides to science and history, many of which have previews online. Chief among them is his long-running Cartoon History of the Universe
(later The Cartoon History of the Modern World
), a sprawling multi-volume opus documenting everything from the Big Bang to the Bush administration. Published over the course of three decades, it takes a truly global view -- its time-traveling Professor thoroughly explores not only familiar topics like Rome and World War II but the oft-neglected stories of Asia and Africa, blending caricature and myth with careful scholarship (cited by fun illustrated bibliographies
) and tackling even the most obscure events with intelligence and wit
. This savvy satire carried over to Gonick's Zinn
chronicle The Cartoon History of the United States
, along with a bevy of Cartoon Guides
to other topics, including Genetics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Physics, Statistics, The Environment
, and (yes!) Sex
. Gonick has also maintained a few sideprojects, such as a webcomic look at Chinese invention
, assorted math comics
), the Muse magazine
mainstay Kokopelli & Co.
(featuring the shenanigans of his "New Muses"
), and more
. See also these lengthy interview snippets
, linked previously
. Want more? Amazon links to the complete oeuvre inside! [more inside]
posted by Rhaomi
on Jun 6, 2011 -