Tag Archives | Biology

It Is Now Possible To Decode An Unborn Baby’s DNA

Writes Bonnie Rochman on TIME:

Researchers at the University of Washington have sequenced the entire genome of a fetus. The scientific advance could help detect certain diseases in the womb, but some experts worry that the trove of genetic information may prove more scary and overwhelming than useful.

Suspended in the blood of a pregnant woman — along with some added information from a dad-to-be’s saliva — lurks enough fetal DNA to map out an unborn baby’s entire genetic blueprint.

It may sound like something conjured by Jules Verne, but it happened at the University of Washington: a professor and his graduate student used DNA samples from the parents of a baby boy who was still in utero and reconstructed his entire genetic makeup from A to Z.

The account, published in Science Translational Medicine, takes prenatal testing to new heights, promising a motherlode of genetic information about a child who had not even been born — along with a corresponding trove of data that even experts don’t yet know how to interpret…

Read more: TIME

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Americans’ Heads Getting Bigger In Size And Changing Shape

Writes Jacqueline Howard on the Huffington Post:
Did the 20th century make us big-headed? Maybe so, since forensic anthropologists at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville found that white Americans' heads are getting bigger and bigger ... in size, that is. The researchers studied about 1,500 skulls that dated from the mid-1800s through the 1980s. They noticed that the skulls gradually became larger, taller, and narrower. As a result, faces have become longer. "The surprising thing is the skull size increase has not been documented in modern Americans," researcher Dr. Richard Jantz told the Huffington Post. "We might have suspected that that was happening but this documents it ... The shape of the skull has also changed rather dramatically. In fact, shape change has been more dramatic than size change.”...
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Man Goes To Hospital For Kidney Stone, Finds Out He’s A Woman

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Photo: thirdrail (CC)

What surprises life will spring upon you? ABC News reports:

A Colorado man who was admitted to the hospital for a kidney stone received surprising news when the nurse came back with test results revealing he was actually a woman. Denver photographer Steve Crecelius said he’s felt a little different all his life.

He was intersex, meaning he had both male genitalia and internal female sex organs. “The nurse is reading the ultrasound and says, ‘Huh, this says you’re a female,’ Crecelius said. “It was very liberating.” Steve, who now goes by “Stevie,” said his wife and their children accepted his new identity right away.

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The Special Scent of Age: Body Odor Gives Away Age

We are all going to Hell for this. Via Science Daily:
New findings from the Monell Center reveal that humans can identify the age of other humans based on differences in body odor. Much of this ability is based on the capacity to identify odors of elderly individuals, and contrary to popular supposition, the so-called 'old-person smell' is rated as less intense and less unpleasant than body odors of middle-aged and young individuals.
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Can Plants Sense Human Intentions?

Can plants, bacteria, and even yogurt identify with your pain? How wide is the gulf between man and plant, if there is a gulf at all? If you're going to have an argument with your significant other, consider avoiding doing so in front of your potted fern:
“As the races of man speak in different languages so do the varieties of plants manifest their voices in different ways. They seem to be able to hear and understand us. For the time being, however, we must listen to them through our machines. One day, those machines may be unnecessary.”
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Your Internal Clock Is At War With Society

SleepingAn interesting read for night owls and early birds alike. As Robert T. Gonzalez writes on io9.com:

Just because you sleep later than your early rising friends doesn’t mean you sleep longer than they do; nor does it make you lazier. And yet, the association between the time of day that a person wakes up and how proactive or driven they are is just one example of the many preconceptions that society upholds regarding sleep and productivity.

But here’s the problem: these expectations might actually be working against us.

In his recently published book, Internal time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag and Why You’re So Tired, German chronobiologist Till Roenneberg provides numerous examples of how social expectations surrounding time may be having a detrimental effect on large sections of the human population. Over on Brain Pickings, Maria Popova walks us through one of Roenneberg’s examples, wherein he examines the clash between adolescents’ sleep cycles and the starting times of typical school days…

Read More on io9.com

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The Evolution Paradigm Shift

Evolution 21 CenturySuzan Mazur interviews James Shapiro, author of Evolution: A View from the 21st Century, for Counterpunch:

Suzan Mazur: I went through the book over the weekend. It’s very thoughtful the way you’ve put it together. Would you describe your theory, which involves cells speaking to one another — cognitively, informationally. You say in reality the “gene” is “not a definite entity” — it’s “hypothetical in nature.”

James Shapiro: There are three components there.

(1) As I say in the book, cells do not act blindly. We know from physiology and biochemistry and molecular biology that cells are full of receptors. They monitor what goes on outside. They monitor what goes on inside. And they’re continually taking in that information and using it to adjust their actions, their biochemistry, their metabolism, the cell cycle, etc. so that things come out right. That’s why I use the word cognitive to apply to cells, meaning they do things based on knowledge of what’s happening around them and inside of them.

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Did All Dinosaurs Have Feathers?

Photo: Dinoguy2 (CC)

Cast of the fossil dromaeosaur specimen NGMC 91 (nicknamed "Dave", cf. Sinornithosaurus). Photo: Dinoguy2 (CC)

I remember reading long ago an article about how man’s own psychological and sociological biases can shape how they view scientific phenomenon. (Sadly, as this was in the pre-Internet days, I can’t locate it anywhere on the Web, so forgive me if the details are vague or off a bit.) Perhaps the best example: when the biological process of impregnation is usually presented, the model is a valiant army of noble sperm battling waves of defenders to the egg as it lays helpless from the attack without the surrounding protections.

This image evokes the idealized fantasies of the Age of Chivalry, turning the act of conception into a battle between knights and warriors over a chaste and passive queen.  (Talk about a Holy Grail.)  It also squares with the gender roles that dominate society, that of the male aggressor and the female as his prey.… Read the rest

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Natural Selection Driving Human Evolution As Late as the 19th Century

Writes ScienceNow via WIRED Science:

In a world where we’ve tamed our environment and largely protected ourselves from the vagaries of nature, we may think we’re immune to the forces of natural selection. But a new study finds that the process that drives evolution was still shaping us as recently as the 19th century.

The finding comes from an analysis of the birth, death, and marital records of 5,923 people born between 1760 and 1849 in four farming or fishing villages in Finland. Researchers led by evolutionary biologist Alexandre Courtiol of the Institute for Advanced Study Berlin picked this time period because agriculture was well established by then and there were strict rules against divorce and extramarital affairs. The team looked at four aspects of life that affect survival and reproduction, key signposts of natural selection: Who lived beyond age 15, who got married and who didn’t, how many marriages each person had (second marriages were possible only if a spouse died), and how many children were born in each marriage.

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Mysterious 450-Million-Year-Old Sea Monster Fossil Baffles Scientists

monsterKing of the jellyfish? Or a giant, living, underwater doormat? Whatever your worst nightmare is, this ancient sea-bound entity could be it. LiveScience reports:
A mysterious fossil that has evoked images of a sea monster roaming the shallow waters of prehistoric Ohio [has] scientists stumped as to what kind of creature it was. One thing is sure: The enigmatic "blob" — discovered in elliptical pieces that, when fitted together, extended about 7 feet long, was once alive. The team, along with the fossil hunter who discovered the 450-million-year-old specimen, suggest a range of possibilities: a type of huge algae or microbial mat, or even a member of the cnidarian family, which includes jellyfish (though scientists concede the jellyfish idea is highly unlikely).
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