Genetics, Health & Medicine

On Genetic Manipulation and the Government’s Role in Science

genetic engineering

In an announcement that’s been a long time coming for science fiction fans, the White House has, for the first time, come out in support of a global moratorium on altering the human germline. It’s a decision that has implications not just for this particular type of scientific inquiry, but also for the future of government involvement in science. With

Animals, Genetics, News, World Problems

Tracing Ivory DNA helps curb massive poaching that’s killing 1 in 10 elephants each year

To keep the ivory from the black market, a plainclothes ranger hacks the tusks off a bull elephant killed illegally in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. In the first half of this year six park rangers died protecting Kenya’s elephants; meanwhile, rangers killed 23 poachers. Photograph by Brent Stirton

We seem to be losing the war on elephant poachers, but a new toolset that involves tracing slaughter hotspots in Africa based on DNA taken from ivory might be exactly what law enforcement needed all these years. This way, researchers at University of Washington, in collaboration with INTERPOL, found that most of the ivory seized since 2006 originates in just two areas.

Genetics, Health & Medicine

An ancient human who lived in Romania had almost 9% Neanderthal DNA

40,000-year-old modern human jawbone reveals that this man had a Neandertal ancestor as recently as four to six generations back. Image: Credit: MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology/ Paabo

DNA analysis of the jawbone of a human who lived in modern day Romania some 40,000 years ago has the most Neanderthal ancestry ever seen. Up to 9% of the ancient man’s DNA was Neanderthal, suggesting interbreeding occurred much earlier than previously thought. In fact, this European human had a Neanderthal ancestor four to six generations back in his family tree. How would it be to have a Neanderthal for a great-great-great-grandfather?

Discoveries, Genetics, Science

Study shakes answers out of the shaking disease: human prion immunity gene isolated

Image via: currentsinbiology.tumblr.com

A recent study involving a Papua New Guinea tribe that practiced cannibalistic funeral customs sheds new light on prion-related conditions such as mad cow disease.

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.