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Our sense of smell has a undeniable role in sexual arousal, from oxytocin to that sexy smell just called 'man'. In the case of the capuchin monkey, attaining this irresistable the smell of maleness is pretty simple: a pee bath.
Several different species of New World monkey have been observed giving themselves golden showers, mostly just by washing their hands and feet in their own urine. Various explanations for this behaviour have floated around in recent years including that it forms some sort of deference ritual to prevent aggression - like a 'look at me, I'll wash in my own urine so I'm no threat' or that it's the monkey's form of spitting on their hands to get a better grip. These hypotheses persisted mostly because no one really wanted to believe that urine washing was all about sex (despite everything being about sex).
Then someone came along and suggested that females actually liked the male monkeys that soiled themselves. Kimran Miller from the University of Iowa suggested that the urine wash was a capuchin's Drakkar Noir - the irresistable smell of manliness. This hypothesis was mostly driven by the observation that alpha male monkeys often doubled their urine washing when surrounded by females, which could have constituted an evolutionary advantage or a very strange nervous tick.
And now, new research led by Kimberely Phillips at Trinity University in Texas is telling us what we really don't want to hear: that female monkeys like the smell of piss. fMRI analysis of female brain scans showed significant differences in activity levels of brains exposed to juvenile or adult male urine. In particular, the brain centers involved in processing olfactory cues showed much higher activity when exposed to the heavenly smell of stud piss, instead of their young-punk counterparts.
In defense of the capuchins, the smell of piss has long been a way for animals to broadcast fertility and territory - male dogs mark their territory with their scent and female elephants broadcast their oestrus period with pheromones in their urine. But no other animal have been observed actually using it as bath water. Perhaps the urine wash by capuchins actually signifies their intelligence and recognition of the power of piss.... or it's just kinda gross.
This research adds an entirely different meaning to "Eau de Toilette".
Phillips, K., Buzzell, C., Holder, N., & Sherwood, C. (2011). Why do capuchin monkeys urine wash? An experimental test of the sexual communication hypothesis using fMRI American Journal of Primatology DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20931
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Phillips, K., Buzzell, C., Holder, N., & Sherwood, C. (2011) Why do capuchin monkeys urine wash? An experimental test of the sexual communication hypothesis using fMRI. American Journal of Primatology. DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20931
If you find yourself rioting in Egypt in the near future, allow me to make a suggestion: please don't smash the mummies.
First, you run the risk of unleashing an evil curse that will haunt you for centuries. But more importantly, you're robbing the scientific community of an incredibly important resource. ... Read more »
Donoghue, H., Lee, O., Minnikin, D., Besra, G., Taylor, J., & Spigelman, M. (2009) Tuberculosis in Dr Granville's mummy: a molecular re-examination of the earliest known Egyptian mummy to be scientifically examined and given a medical diagnosis. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 277(1678), 51-56. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1484
Hawass, Z., Gad, Y., Ismail, S., Khairat, R., Fathalla, D., Hasan, N., Ahmed, A., Elleithy, H., Ball, M., Gaballah, F.... (2010) Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun's Family. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 303(7), 638-647. DOI: 10.1001/jama.2010.121
Tuberculosis is a bastard. Approximately 1/3 of the human population is infected with the mycobacteria that causes tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, with new infections thought to occur once every second.
However, many of the people that are infected do not show disease symptoms, resulting in a latent (asymptomatic) infection.... Read more »
Poling A, Weetjens BJ, Cox C, Mgode G, Jubitana M, Kazwala R, Mfinanga GS, & Huis In 't Veld D. (2010) Using giant African pouched rats to detect tuberculosis in human sputum samples: 2009 findings. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene, 83(6), 1308-10. PMID: 21118940
Listen up, women! Science has a very important message. DON'T CRY OR YOU'LL DIE ALONE. Or, at least, that's what I gather from the headlines.
"Women's tears tank men's libido!" (LA Times), "A woman's tears are biggest turn-off for men!" (The Mirror), "Stop the waterworks, ladies. Crying chicks aren't sexy!" (MSNBC), and my personal favourite, "Lonely teardrops" (Science News)... all are trumpeting a strange study published in the January 6th issue of Science Express. ... Read more »
Secrets and lies define the government and military, that and being led by bumbling fools. There is no doubt that some military information should be kept secret like technological advances, battle locations and strategies and George W. Bush's IQ. For secrets to be kept away from Wikileaks, cryptography is essential. The new type of cryptography that is being tested by the US military research division, DARPA, is quantum cryptography. Because if codes like DaVinci's Last Supper weren't complicated enough, might as well throw in the most complicated scientific issue in the world today - quantum theory.
Quantum cryptography is based on using electromagnetic waves like light to carry information. Photons carry information as qubits (not Q-bert...unfortunately) and light can be polarized by only allowing a particular magnitude and phase of light through a specialized filter. This polarization gives light a specific binary (0 or 1) property depending on how it is polarized. You can polarize light at different angles and wavelengths thus the photons carry information. If two parties that send and receive the polarized light have detectors to receive and interpret the phase of photons, then a code is born.
The major advantage of using quantum bits for encryption is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle which says that if you try to intercept a quantum-coded message, the act of trying to measure one property of a quantum state will disturb another. In other words, if you touch this message (01001100) it will self-destruct in T-minus 1 second.
To add to the complexity, encryption can come in the form of quantum entanglement. Entanglement is the phenomenom that says that two or more separate but similar objects can be linked and respond to changes in eachother, even over a distance. So if a photon is split into two lesser energy photons (like UV into infrared) then those two photons are linked over a theoretically infinite distance. If point A (commonly called Alice) and point B (Bob) are separated but carry entangled photons then they can communicate by changing the properties of one photon and expecting its twin to respond similarly.
Most of this encryption isn't sending long-winded messages about military targets or whether or not Bill inhaled, instead the information sent and received is usually the key to decode encrypted messages sent over regular communication channels. So far, scientists have been able to send 1Mbit/s of information along an optical fiber 20kms in length. The hope is that transmission distances can be extended to even communicate through space to the International Space Station.
The newest rage in quantum encryption is using photons to encode more than just 0's and 1's. Now, in a recent paper published in Science, researchers have been able to measure more than just the phase of the photon but also the angle, which means that the possibilities are infinite for encryption. All of a sudden, entangled photons can communicate both the 0's and 1's and also an entire alphabet of angular information.
What will this mean to Bond, Langdon and Gagdet? Faster and more secure encryption for the military which means more secrets. It isn't clear if these secrets will include the "Don't Ask. Don't Tell" policy.
Leach J, Jack B, Romero J, Jha AK, Yao AM, Franke-Arnold S, Ireland DG, Boyd RW, Barnett SM, & Padgett MJ (2010). Quantum correlations in optical angle-orbital angular momentum variables. Science (New York, N.Y.), 329 (5992), 662-5 PMID: 20689014
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Leach J, Jack B, Romero J, Jha AK, Yao AM, Franke-Arnold S, Ireland DG, Boyd RW, Barnett SM, & Padgett MJ. (2010) Quantum correlations in optical angle-orbital angular momentum variables. Science (New York, N.Y.), 329(5992), 662-5. PMID: 20689014
Picture a manly male. He's a little aggressive, the first to initiate courtship. And of course he's got a nice row of sexcombs to go with that black patch on his abdomen.
What female could resist a stud like that?
Courtship in flies involves a series of well-documented behaviors, mostly initiated by the male.... Read more »
Fernández, M., Chan, Y., Yew, J., Billeter, J., Dreisewerd, K., Levine, J., & Kravitz, E. (2010) Pheromonal and Behavioral Cues Trigger Male-to-Female Aggression in Drosophila. PLoS Biology, 8(11). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000541
Falling in love is so romantic, so blissful, so cherished in our lives. Most people will fall in love more than once, first with the 'wait until we're married' sterilizer, then with the 'jealous defender' and finally you hit an age where want to settle down and find the 'practical answer'. And then, after imminent divorce you find yourself with some gold digger who just can't wait for you to die and leave him or her everything.
That darling of a fairy tale also applies to trees.
Trees don't have life partners, lovers, spouses or mistresses, but they do have important partnerships with ants throughout their lives. This is what evolutionary biologists call mutualism - the cooperation of two species for mutual benefit. New research conducted by the Pringle group at Stanford University found that lifelong monogamy for plants, just like for humans, is not the best idea. The common African acacia tree is a bit of a slut as it partners with up to 4 different species of ants through its lifetime. In fact, the slutty trees that had different ant partners were much better off than those that stayed loyal to only one ant.
Just like humans, young plants were found to partner with the chaste Crematogaster nigriceps species of ant first. These ants were found mostly on small colonies of trees and also sterilized the trees. Alas, the virginal ant made the tree wait until they were older and mature enough to consummate their partnership. So, what's in it for the tree? While the ant is keeping the tree honest, the acacia tree has time to mature because C. nigriceps aggressively defends the trees from herbivores. But, like all horny (or thorny) young trees, being sterile sucks and so the tree changes partners to an aggressive non-sterilizer ant - C. mimosae. Despite constantly being drunk, C. mimosae defends the tree and finally allows it to reproduce.
But the 'jealous defender' stage is only cute for a while. Depending on the size of the tree colony, some trees then shift to Tetraponera penzigi - the most 'suitable' partner for the tree. T. penzigi is loyal and treats the tree with respect while tree puts a roof over the ants' head - a match made in heaven. This phase of the trees life is the "any ant is better than no ant" stage. The tree is very fecund at this stage producing many progeny, but - like all vanilla relationships - the tree gets bored.
Yes, just like humans, the most successful of the species later in life find themselves surrounded by parasitic partners. In the trees' case, these gold-digging ants are called C. sjostedti. These ants aren't satisfied with a roof over their heads, instead they allow their beetle buddies to move in and mooch off the tree. Not surprisingly, these parasites and their beetle friends cause an increase in death rates for trees. This partnership should not occur in nature because evolution should select against such a negative partnership. Except, just like Anna Nicole Smith, the ants get one last contribution to the world from their partner - a final spreading of their wealth and seed before they die. So, the opportunisitc ants actually do benefit the ecosystem and provide an evolutionary purpose, at least in trees.
After all of these attempts at love, the poor plant never found the one ant that could complete it. sigh
Palmer TM, Doak DF, Stanton ML, Bronstein JL, Kiers ET, Young TP, Goheen JR, & Pringle RM (2010). Synergy of multiple partners, including freeloaders, increases host fitness in a multispecies mutualism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107 (40), 17234-9 PMID: 20855614
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Palmer TM, Doak DF, Stanton ML, Bronstein JL, Kiers ET, Young TP, Goheen JR, & Pringle RM. (2010) Synergy of multiple partners, including freeloaders, increases host fitness in a multispecies mutualism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(40), 17234-9. PMID: 20855614
With my lightsaber and Jedi robes, this Halloween I defended the Rebel Alliance against the evil Galactic Empire with the help of Princess Leia, who faithfully acted out her hologram scene throughout the night: "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."
Well, if Leia were here now, she could actually send that holographic message. That is, if she were friends with Nasser Peyghambarian at the University of Arizona. He and his colleagues have developed a new technique for three-dimensional telepresence, or transmitting moving holograms from one location to another in near real-time.
As they explain in their paper, published in the November 4th issue of Nature, this technology is quite different from that used in the 3D movies and TVs - which use polarized light to trick your brain - and is not the cheesy digital image fusion used by CNN in their election night coverage. Holograms are much more awesome in that they reproduce the light intensity and wave front, which makes objects appear like they would if real light were bouncing off them.
Holograms can be computer generated, and have been since the 1960's, but the vast amount of visual information has limited the size and resolution of displays. A technique called stereographic holography eases the data load, and unlike other forms of stereoscopy, does not require the observer to wear silly glasses to see the 3D effect. This group decided to go this route.
The other advance made was in the display material, a photorefractive polymer that is capable of being updated to create a moving image. The previous material, inorganic crystal, was not suitable for large screens and couldn't be easily updated. Plus, it would look really tacky next to your iPad.
Though some object to the term "telepresence" with something a few inches wide with a 2-second delay, there is no doubt that this technology is frickin' cool. Of course they say the best uses will be in medicine and the military, but we saw how well that went with the internet. Just imagine, or don't, what Tiger Woods or Brett Favre could do with this kind of messaging. C'mon, you know that's where it'll end up!
P.-A. Blanche, A. Bablumian, R. Voorakaranam, C. Christenson, W. Lin, T. Gu, D. Flores, P. Wang, W.-Y. Hsieh, M. Kathaperumal, B. Rachwal, O. Siddiqui, J. Thomas, R. A. Norwood, M. Yamamoto, & & N. Peyghambarian (2010). Holographic three-dimensional telepresence using large-area photorefractive polymer Nature, 468, 80-83 : 10.1038/nature09521
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P.-A. Blanche, A. Bablumian, R. Voorakaranam, C. Christenson, W. Lin, T. Gu, D. Flores, P. Wang, W.-Y. Hsieh, M. Kathaperumal.... (2010) Holographic three-dimensional telepresence using large-area photorefractive polymer. Nature, 80-83. info:/10.1038/nature09521
Finger length has always been a point of contention for me.
In the womb, finger development is affected by exposure to androgens like testosterone, high levels of which cause an increase in the length of the fourth finger (the ring finger) relative to the second finger (index). In other words, if your ring finger is longer than your index, you're basically a dude. ... Read more »
Nelson, E., Rolian, C., Cashmore, L., & Shultz, S. (2010) Digit ratios predict polygyny in early apes, Ardipithecus, Neanderthals and early modern humans but not in Australopithecus. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2010.1740
Obesity is one of the most misunderstood issues in health care. And, apologies in advance, one of the biggest. It's defined, along with "overweight" and "underweight" purely by BMI. And while most would agree that the height to weight ratio is probably not the best determinant of health, it doesn't stop most of us from using it as a measure of the general chubbiness of the population.
In Canada, a 2004 survey of adults found that 36% of us were overweight (42% of males, and 30% of females) while 23% were obese, evenly split between males and females. The remaining 38% of the population were found to be of "normal weight."
Of course, the vastness of the problem doesn't make it any more relatable in the eyes of most who would put themselves in the "normal" category. But it's becoming clear that the problem isn't merely an issue of self control in adulthood in the same way we once thought.
The brain pathways that lead to overeating, and choosing high-calorie foods can be triggered in obese individuals even before they begin eating (and in the absence of hunger), by food commercials, the smell, or even the thought of food. And in some individuals, giving in to the urge to eat can trigger a reward pathway in the brain that mimics the effects of a dose of cocaine. In other words, telling someone to "just not eat so much" is sort of like telling a junkie to just not do so much drugs.
But why is it that only certain people fall victim to the siren call of the Big Mac? We're now seeing that it's a cycle that starts very early in childhood, with behaviors and activities built into the brain even before preschool. In other words, parents supply the foundation for a perpetual cycle of obesity in a population.
This problem is compounded by the fact that parents seem to have no clear idea of whether or not their child is overweight. But, all hope is not lost: if it starts with parents, why not end it there too? A recent study from UC San Diego found that in child weight loss programs, treating only the parents with a physical activity regime had just as big an impact on child weight loss as the parent and child treatments.
So parents, suit up. You're going to boot camp.
Boutelle, K., Cafri, G., & Crow, S. (2010). Parent-Only Treatment for Childhood Obesity: A Randomized Controlled Trial Obesity DOI: 10.1038/oby.2010.238
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Obesity is one of the most misunderstood issues in health care. And, apologies in advance, one of the biggest.
It's defined, along with "overweight" and "underweight" purely by BMI. And while most would agree that the height to weight ratio is probably not the best determinant of health, it doesn't stop most of us from using it as a measure of the general chubbiness of the population.... Read more »
Generally, sex is a risk free pastime of many people - we've got the pill to prevent pregnancy and condoms to prevent disease. And, we don't need to worry about decapitation at the end.
Not true for a male orb spider. If the woman's thirst for sex isn't satisfied, she satisfies her belly by eating him. Talk about sex wars.
Mmmmmm.... previous sex partners are yummy
The cannibalistic behaviour of the female orb spider seems like the ultimate price to pay if you aren't good in the sack. But, the research suggests otherwise: male spiders that can copulate for longer are actually the ones that get sacrificed. The 'premie' spiders can have sex, deposit sperm and take off before she gets annoyed. So it's the ones that can last that become lunch.
The reasoning is simple "Females should always cannibalize a male". That is probably the wisest thing ever said in a piece of scientific literature. What it really means is that it is advantageous for a female to eat mates because it provides a source of food and therefore improves the fecundity of the female by ensuring she is nice and well fed. He could also just cook for once, but researchers haven't explored that yet.
New research published this week in Biology Letters suggests that the degree of relatedness also influences mating time and whether he becomes the next meal. In an experiment akin to the next MMA fighting championships or cock-fighting, researchers got to put a female Argiope spider with either a sibling or non-sibling males. And then they got to watch!
Did he survive? Did he copulate? Who won?
Winning is maybe in the eye of the beholder on this one. When females mated with their brothers, the brothers were obviously disgusted at the prospect and had reduced mating time which allowed them to escape sexual cannibalism. While unrelated males were a bit more enthusiastic and mated longer....resulting in their ultimate demise. The researchers concluded that spider-sex-fighting will be the next wave of online betting matches, and that the brothers survival allowed him to go off and find a more appropriate mate.
Sexual cannibalism is not common in nature, resulting in comments from great evolutionary biologists like Stephen Jay Gould to claim that it's importance is overestimated. However, it's pretty cool and it is sure to make females of many species a little bit jealous.
"Oh...... hi honey.. love you"
Welke, K., & Schneider, J. (2010). Males of the orb-web spider Argiope bruennichi sacrifice themselves to unrelated females Biology Letters, 6 (5), 585-588 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0214
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Welke, K., & Schneider, J. (2010) Males of the orb-web spider Argiope bruennichi sacrifice themselves to unrelated females. Biology Letters, 6(5), 585-588. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0214
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Note: Adult Language.
Cows are pretty harmless animals - they chew their cud, wait to get slaughtered or tipped and generally are inoffensive creatures.
Until you smell their farts.
Cow farts are one of the most toxic things on the planet, the amount of methane they produce makes the oil industry look like angels. So why is that people are flocking to their hybrid cars on the way to the steakhouse? New research is suggesting that the global population has to reduce our meat consumption by up to 40% just to maintain the current state of the environment. With countries like China increasing their demand for beef at alarming rates and North Americans unwilling to give up their 72 ounce steak-eating contests, our ability to decrease meat consumption seems all but impossible.
That is, until Science in Seconds tells you that you have to. Put down the hot dog (oh..nevermind, that's not meat).
Host: Torah Kachur
Photo credits: All images are from Wikimedia and are copyright free.
Pelletier, N., & Tyedmers, P. (2010). Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000-2050 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1004659107
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Pelletier, N., & Tyedmers, P. (2010) Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000-2050. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1004659107
Charming the Snake. Choking the Chicken. Freeing Willy. The amount of slang for masturbation with animal references should be seriously disconcerting. Except that a wide-range of animals including dogs, cats, horses, all apes, lions, bears... and the list goes on... have been found to Jack off. Included on the list are elephants, donkeys and walruses that manage to flog the bishop with their fins. Even birds have been shown to rub their cloaca against pretty much anything.
This phenomenon isn't restricted to males either - female organgutans were observed exhibiting inspiring creativity by fashioning home-made dildos from lianas. Female horses during breeding season will rub up against fence posts, barn doors and seemingly anything made of wood.
Discovering that a species can milk the moose is fun and entertaining and often awe-inspiring. You have to respect a macaque for committing 1-6% of its daily metabolism to producing ejaculate and the ability for 'self-directed oral sex' in a variety of mammals. But the bigger question is why? If masturbation is so widespread among all animals then it must provide an evolutionary advantage.
A new study has found ground squirrels can be added to thelist of those that shake hands with the devil. Previous explanations to this blatant waste of sperm in and around a females oestrus period were that masturbation provided a way to display fertility to potential mates or as a deterrant to rivals. In contrast, it was also thought that masturbation could provide a sexual release or as a way to refresh sperm. Studies done on the ground squirrles of Namibia concluded that masturbation was likely as a method of cleansing the genitalia. This is likely species dependent when genitalia are more accessible to the environment and likely to be dirtier. In other words, they kept clean by getting down and dirty.
The more likely reason for whacking off is that sperm quality improves the more a man pleasures his loins - a recent study suggests that daily masturbation and ejaculation can reduce the amount of accumulated DNA damage in sperm by 12%. Therefore wasting sperm into a sock can actually improve the mobility of sperm and increase fertility. A continuation of this theory is the idea of sperm competition, this is when sperm from multiple males have a race to the egg and undergo various forms of chemical competition to see who gets to be the lucky shizz. Most women likely don't have sex with multiple males during their ovulatory phase... we aren't like the chimpanzee - where a single female chimp was observed to have sex with 50 male partners in a single day. (ouch).
One consequence of shining the pole so often is that the testis enlarges to accomodate the demand for sperm. It's personal preference if this is desirable but there may be an evolutionary significance to larger balls. And that is the biggest balls gets to worm. There is precendent amonst several different species, including our ape cousins, that larger testes actually attract mates. It is unlikely that larger ball size relates to the desirability of a human male as most men don't go around showing off their packages.
The idea that refreshing sperm seems to account for the evolution of masturbation from turtles to donkeys. It is unclear if these species have hairy palms.
Waterman, J. (2010). The Adaptive Function of Masturbation in a Promiscuous African Ground Squirrel PLoS ONE, 5 (9) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013060
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Waterman, J. (2010) The Adaptive Function of Masturbation in a Promiscuous African Ground Squirrel. PLoS ONE, 5(9). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013060
What once was a man, is now the Wolverine. And what once was a leaf, is now... a magnetic leaf?
Chemists at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces have taken the next step in merging nature with technology by devising a method to convert the skeleton of a rubber tree leaf into iron carbide. And just like Wolverine, the newly converted leaves are magnetic, able to withstand extremely high amounts of stress, and looking for blood.
Okay... Everything but that last one. The leaf skeletons are also able to stand up to high temperatures and conduct electricity. But the exciting thing isn't necessarily the properties of the leaves. It's the process that was taken to convert them, and the broader mind-set behind using nature's structures as catalysts for the production of synthetic materials; in this case, wafer-thin metal carbides.
Through a process that starts by soaking in iron acetate, and ends with heating to 700 degrees Celsius, the researchers have opened the door for a new wave of synthetic polymers; using fine natural structures as the starting point for chemical reactions. What works for a leaf could work just as well for a porous sponge, after all. Or creeping vines, perhaps. And with some tweaking, fibers or networks derived from these processes could potentially go on to replace much more expensive metals like platinum in fuel cell electrodes, according to Dr. Zoë Schnepp, the leading researcher of the team.
I can't imagine a more perfect combination of science with nature. I mean, everybody wins in this one, right? We get a more sustainable and cost-effective method of producing synthetic materials, the rubber tree loses a couple leaves but is left mostly unharmed, and we keep a secret government agency watching over the mutant leaves so they never learn of their origins and come back to hunt us down in the future.
What could go wrong?
Schnepp Z, Yang W, Antonietti M, & Giordano C (2010). Biotemplating of metal carbide microstructures: the magnetic leaf. Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English), 49 (37), 6564-6 PMID: 20715026
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Schnepp Z, Yang W, Antonietti M, & Giordano C. (2010) Biotemplating of metal carbide microstructures: the magnetic leaf. Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English), 49(37), 6564-6. PMID: 20715026
Molecular differences between vodka brands might confirm what vodka drinkers have long suspected.... Read more »
Hu, N., Wu, D., Cross, K., Burikov, S., Dolenko, T., Patsaeva, S., & Schaefer, D. (2010) Structurability: A Collective Measure of the Structural Differences in Vodkas. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(12), 7394-7401. DOI: 10.1021/jf100609c
Everyone wants to stand out in the crowd. And thanks to new findings independently reported by three labs in this week’s Cell, we all might be a lot more unique than we thought.
The identity-inducing culprit? Everyone’s favorite jumping genes: transposons. Yes, the genes that just can’t sit still—the same ones Barbara McClintock owes a large part of her fame to—are making a comeback in a major way. Because what self-respecting gene wants to wait for that lumbering, sloth-like beast we call evolution to be passed around from place to place? Chromosomal cross-overs are so last season. All the cool genes are getting active.
Transposons are believed to make up an astounding 50% of the genetic material of all humans, and while it was previously estimated that new transpositions occurred in about one in every 20 live births, this new research is showing that the number is much more frequent. Every baby born likely has a transposition that is completely unique.
What’s the significance of this new finding? Well, cancer, for one. While most transposons move around the genome “silently,” without causing any noticeable effect in the biology of the host, some can jump into oncogenes like those responsible for tumor suppression, unlocking key steps in the progression of the disease. Now that we are beginning to understand the extent of their activity, we can at least glean a better picture of the true role they may be playing in these types of mutations.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone and their lab tech pulls the C card. But when your project is literally half of the genome, I guess we can give you a pass.
Iskow, R., McCabe, M., Mills, R., Torene, S., Pittard, W., Neuwald, A., Van Meir, E., Vertino, P., & Devine, S. (2010). Natural Mutagenesis of Human Genomes by Endogenous Retrotransposons Cell, 141 (7), 1253-1261 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2010.05.020 Lupski, J. (2010). Retrotransposition and Structural Variation in the Human Genome Cell, 141 (7), 1110-1112 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2010.06.014 Beck, C., Collier, P., Macfarlane, C., Malig, M., Kidd, J., Eichler, E., Badge, R., & Moran, J. (2010). LINE-1 Retrotransposition Activity in Human Genomes Cell, 141 (7), 1159-1170 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2010.05.021
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Iskow, R., McCabe, M., Mills, R., Torene, S., Pittard, W., Neuwald, A., Van Meir, E., Vertino, P., & Devine, S. (2010) Natural Mutagenesis of Human Genomes by Endogenous Retrotransposons. Cell, 141(7), 1253-1261. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2010.05.020
Lupski, J. (2010) Retrotransposition and Structural Variation in the Human Genome. Cell, 141(7), 1110-1112. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2010.06.014
Beck, C., Collier, P., Macfarlane, C., Malig, M., Kidd, J., Eichler, E., Badge, R., & Moran, J. (2010) LINE-1 Retrotransposition Activity in Human Genomes. Cell, 141(7), 1159-1170. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2010.05.021
In this video, Science in Seconds looks at the world's first picture of a molecule, taken by IBM researchers in 2009 and published in Science Magazine.... Read more »
Gross, L., Mohn, F., Moll, N., Liljeroth, P., & Meyer, G. (2009) The Chemical Structure of a Molecule Resolved by Atomic Force Microscopy. Science, 325(5944), 1110-1114. DOI: 10.1126/science.1176210
New advances in nanoelectronics could change the way we view organic matter.... Read more »
Lipton-Duffin, J., Miwa, J., Kondratenko, M., Cicoira, F., Sumpter, B., Meunier, V., Perepichka, D., & Rosei, F. (2010) Step-by-step growth of epitaxially aligned polythiophene by surface-confined reaction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1000726107
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