Biology, Genetics, Health & Medicine, News

Genetically modifying human embryos: ‘a line that should not be crossed,’ NIH says

embyro genetic modification

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has reiterated its stance against modifying human embryos, after a paper published last week by Chinese researchers reported how they modified the DNA of human embryos to eradicate certain inheritable diseases from the lineage. Modifying human embryos was banned in 1996 for US government bodies, but in some states private entities are allowed to carry out such research.

Biology, Genetics, News

Why the Dutch are the tallest on the planet: sexual selection

tall men

European males are on average 11 centimeters taller now than they were in the 1870s, which is quite a lot by all means. Everybody makes fun of Napoleon for being short, but as a matter of fact he was actually standing above average height! Thank better nutrition and medicine for that. Even so, what in the world are the Dutch eating that makes them this tall? The average Dutchman now stands over six feet tall, and while the rest of the world seems to have stopped, they’re still riding a growing trendline. The answer by actually be evolutionary – the tall Dutchmen have more babies.

Genetics, News, Psychology

Kid doesn’t like going to school? Your ‘bad’ genes might have a say in all this

school kids

Some kids seem to enjoy school activities more than others, but while efforts seem to be concentrated on improving teaching, a new research suggests that genes play a major role as well – sometimes they’re more important than the environment, as far as motivation and doing well in school are concerned. The findings were reported by a team led Yulia Kovas of Goldsmiths, University of London that aggregated a swath of studies which included 13,000 twins aged nine to 16 from six countries, including the UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, Russia and the US.

Genetics, Health & Medicine, News

Icelandic DNA mapping might lead to the future of medicine

Maps show how common certain risk-causing DNA mutations are around Iceland. Image via Technology Review.

Scientists are working to gather more and more details about Icelandic DNA, in an attempt to design better drugs and understand how drugs react to genetic variation. So far, the DNA of over 1% of all Icelanders has been sequenced and more will likely follow. This operation is conducted by Amgen’s DeCode Genetics. The team now claims that they can identify every woman at high-risk of breast cancer “at the touch of a button” and it would be “criminal” not to use the information.

Biology, Genetics, News

The “Yeti” is a bear… but which kind?

A picture taken at 19,000 feet in the Menlung Basin, Nepal, showing, according to the photographer, the footprints of the "Abominable Snowman" or "Yeti." Photo by Popperfoto/Getty

A year ago, Oxford University professor of human genetics Bryan Sykes and his colleagues took some unusual hair samples found in the Himalayas and concluded that they actually belong to a now extinct polar bear which once inhabited Norway. Now, another team analyzed the results and concluded that while it’s clearly no yeti, the remains might actually belong to a brown bear instead.

Genetics, Health & Medicine, News

Villagers high in the Andes have developed a genetic tolerance to arsenic

Image: Wikimedia/Guigue

For centuries, arsenic was the go-to poison in the high circles of Europe, either to knock out political foes or to simply eliminate people on the dastardly way to a high position; it was odourless, tasteless, and until 1830 – when chemist James Marsh developed a test – impossible to detect. Thankfully, we’re dealing with much less intentional arsenic poisoning today, but unfortunately, we’re dealing with much more accidental poisoning. Recently, scientists discovered a population that developed natural immunity to arsenic, high in the Andes.

Genetics, Health & Medicine, News

Worker ants doubled in size by scientists to demonstrate epigenetics

Florida carpenter ant workers: minors (left) and majors (right). Image: MELANIE COUTURE AND DOMINIC OUELLETTE

Florida worker ants doubled in size after scientists performed chemical changes to their DNA. The ants were not genetically modified per se, not in the conventional sense that implies altering their code. Essentially, the ants were exposed to a chemical, environmental changes that mimicked those found in their colony and which lead to ants of various sizes and behaviors despite sharing the same genes – a perfect example of epigenetics.

Genetics, News, Psychology

Autism genes predict higher intelligence – if you’re not autistic in the first place

autism intelligence

A link between heightened intelligence and autism has been suspected by scientists based on empirical evidence, and now genetic screening seems to confirm this assumption. It seems people carrying genes that put people at risk of developing autism scored higher on intelligence scores than those who lacked the genes. This held true, however, for people carrying the genes but who didn’t develop autism.

Genetics, News

Scientists analyze 300 year old DNA from Caribbean slaves

Image via MLK Task Force.

Three hundred years ago, three African-born slaves from the Caribbean suffered a sad fate. No one knew who they are, no one knew what they went through, and until recently, no one knew where they came from. Now, researchers extracted and sequenced tiny bits of DNA to figure out where in Africa these people came from when they were captured and enslaved.

Genetics, News

Meet the birracial twins no one believes are sisters

These two are actually twins. Image via NY Post.

If you’d happen to see these two British twins, you’d likely believe they’re good friends – or cousins at most. But Lucy and Maria are actually twins – despite the obvious differences.