Sometimes the smallest discovery lends itself to the biggest insight. That certainly was the case for University of Texas at Austin graduate student Christian Rabeling, who found a new ant species in the Amazon that is likely the descendent of one of the first ants to evolve on Earth more than 120 million years ago.
Epigenetics is the idea that, contrary to decades of genetic theory, your genetic code isn’t the only thing that controls how your cells behave. Scientists now realize that chemicals and other environmental influences that can modify the physical structure of your DNA are at least as important as the actual genetic code. Even more surprising, these modifications are inheritable. It’s possible, for example, that your grandmother’s poor diet could affect your own health by making your DNA harder to read for the proteins that help maintain cellular functions.
Mancini is my grandfather’s surname, and what a goose chase it’s been to find the Italian village from which his forebears hailed. Grandpa doesn't know its name because he was never told. Great-aunt Liz simply forgot. Finally, I got a tip from a friend of the famiglia who once hung around my late great-uncle “Tweet’s” luncheonette. The village was called Fontanelle. But which Fontanelle? Google Maps turned up two candidates of the same name, separated nearly 350 miles.
For decades, people referred to the non-coding bits of DNA between genes as junk DNA. Then, in the eighties scientists discovered that some of that junk DNA served an important purpose. The DNA attracted or repelled transcription factors and RNA, greatly enhancing or inhibiting the potency of adjacent genes. Now scientists have just found that one of those gene enhancers may be what separates humans and chimps.
Don't blame yourself, blame your genes! Scientists find you can indeed be a born couch potato
By Jason DaleyPosted 07.29.2008 at 5:43 pm 2 Comments
Rather watch TV than bike 50 miles? The thought of a hike sound like torture instead of fun? Well, according to two recent research papers you can stop berating yourself for being a couch potato (maybe). Researchers have identified 23 gene locations that control the activity levels of mice. “Can you be born a couch potato? In exercise physiology, we didn't used to think so, but now I would say most definitely you can," says J. Timothy Lightfoot, lead researcher on the project at the University of North Carolina.
Scientists locate a gene that both regulates and blocks ovulation
By Holly OtterbeinPosted 07.17.2008 at 6:08 pm 5 Comments
Birth control may have revolutionized women’s lives, but it’s still a nuisance to take. The pill is 98 percent effective only if you (or your lady friend) takes it every day, at exactly the same time. Complete this task correctly, and the estrogen could give you nausea, headaches and moodiness. Thankfully, researchers at the University of Montreal and Louis Pasteur University may have found a more pleasant alternative.
A study of worker bees offers proof of Richard Dawkins' famous theory
By Stuart FoxPosted 06.24.2008 at 12:57 pm 1 Comment
Before Richard Dawkins became famous as an anti-religion crusader, he reshaped the theory of evolution with his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. In the book, Dawkins proposed the idea that genes, rather than organisms, compete with each other for the chance to propagate themselves. While the theory has now been widely accepted for decades, a new study in the July issue of the journal Genetics claims to have isolated the first concrete proof of a selfish gene.
MIT scientists say they've found a new way to silence disease-causing genes in specific tissues using RNA interference
By Gregory MonePosted 04.28.2008 at 12:55 pm 10 Comments
For years scientists have been touting a disease-fighting technique called RNA interference. The idea behind it is pretty simple: By piggybacking on the body's own system for silencing genes, researchers think they could stop troublesome proteins from being produced, and, as a result, halt the damage those proteins cause. The trick, though, is that scientists have had a hard time figuring out how to make RNAi, as it's known, work on specific tissues.
Researchers confirm what has been long suspected: the fearsome predators are indeed closer to chickens than lizards
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.25.2008 at 2:34 pm 0 Comments
Confirming what had been a long-held hypothesis among paleontologists, scientists have now verified at the molecular level that the closest living relatives of Tyrannosaurus rex are indeed birds; most specifically ostriches and chickens. Skeletal evidence has strongly borne this theory out in recent years as data from fossils has accumulated, but this new study of bone proteins definitively shows that more of the T. rex genome is similar to birds' than to living reptiles'.
As the cost of genome sequencing drops, questions about its role in society are becoming more pressing
By Matt RansfordPosted 04.24.2008 at 11:38 am 6 Comments
Just as CD players, personal computers, and HDTVs were prohibitively expensive when they were first released, so too was the cost of sequencing the entire genome of an individual. In 2003 that feat was accomplished for the staggering amount of $437,000,000 after 13 years of work. Today, CD players are ubiquitous and cheap; HDTVs are steadily entering the realm of affordability; and so, too, has the cost of sequencing a genome fallen precipitously. It will still set you back $1,000,000 and two months of time, but that is a tremendous savings over just five years ago.