Biology, Discoveries, Genetics, News

Genetic response to starvation is passed down to at least three generations


In 1944, the Nazis caused widespread famine in Western Netherlands after they blocked food supplies. A group of pregnant women living in the Netherlands, labouring under starvation conditions imposed by a harsh winter and food embargo, gave birth to relatively small babies. When their children grew up, in relative prosperity, to have children of their own their babies were unexpectedly small. …

Anthropology, Discoveries, Genetics, News

Unique gene passed by extinct human species makes Tibetans superhuman

Tibetans acquired a unique gene by interbreeding with a now-extinct human species. Photo:

Advancements in genetic sequencing has allowed genomic research to flourish. DNA sequencing is now much faster, cheaper and accurate than ever before, and we’re only now beginning to reap the rewards. It’s the first step to a complete understanding of our bodies. The Human Genome Project, once finally completed, mapped and identified all the genes of the human genome. This helps us get an idea of where are, but to understand how we got here, we also need to peek into ancient DNA. For instance, a recent study found that Tibetans share at least one gene with the ancient Denisovans, an ancient human species that interbred with the Tibetan homo sapiens…

Chemistry, Discoveries

X-rays image atoms during chemical reactions for the first time

The X-ray snapshots in the figure show the atomic arrangement of the molecule being brominated before, during, and after the reaction. Photo: Fujita et al/JACS

Since its advent some 100 years ago, crystallography has become one of the most important processes in chemical research and development. It involves bombarding a material with X-rays to produce a diffraction pattern as they reflect off the sample. The pattern can be used then to directly determine the atomic structure of the crystal. Using this technique, the structure of DNA was first obserbed, along with that of diamond, table salt, penicillin, numerous proteins, and entire viruses. Crystallography works for only still structures, yet if Makoto Fujita at the University of Tokyo is correct, then a refined process can be used to image atomic arrangements as chemical reactions happen in real…

Discoveries, News, Research

Pluto’s Moon may have harbored underground ocean


The new NASA-funded study showed that if the icy surface of Pluto’s giant moon Charon is cracked, analyzing the fractures could show if the interior was warm and perhaps warm enough to have maintained a subterranean ocean of liquid water. Pluto is the most distant planetoid (no longer a planet, sorry) in the solar system. It’s extremely far from us, as it orbits the sun over 29 times faster than the Earth. The surface temperature estimated is approximately 380 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (around minus 229 degrees Celsius), which means it is way too cold to allow liquid water on its surface. Pluto’s moons are no less frigid than the…

Chemistry, Discoveries, Materials, News

Glass molecules jam to form fractal wells

Glasses form when their molecules get jammed into fractal "wells," as shown on the right, rather than smooth or slightly rough wells (left). Photo credit: Patrick Charbonneau:

Water is liquid, air is gaseous, but glass? For years at end, glass has perplexed scholars intending on fixing it under a state of matter. Neither liquid, nor solid, explaining glass is a lot harder than some might think. Researchers at Duke University have contributed to solving the puzzle after they performed numerical solutions and found the energy landscapes of glasses are far rougher than previously believed, as their constituting molecules jam to form wells. Glass: forever in between In glass, molecules still flow, but their rate flow is so low that it’s barely perceptible. As such, it’s not enough to class glasses as liquid, but neither as solids. Chemists seem…

Discoveries, Mathematics, Neurology, News

Monkeys can do math, study proves

A rhesus monkey preparing to choose the four and five combination on the panel. (c) PNAS

It’s long been supposed that monkeys are capable of mental arithmetics, but it was only recently that this was proven for a fact by neuroscientists at the Margaret Livingstone of Harvard Medical School in Boston. The researchers taught three rhesus macaques to identify symbols representing the numbers zero to 25, then when given the choice between two panels, one depicting a number symbol and the other depicting an addition of two other symbols, the monkeys proved they could do math and choose which of the two was bigger. This doesn’t just mean that monkeys are smarter than everyone might have thought; it also raises important questions as to how mammalians…

Biology, Discoveries, Offbeat, Other

How does a message in a bottle survive for 101 years at sea?

A postcard dated 17 May 1913 and the old beer bottle sit on top of a map in Kiel, Germany. Photograph: Uwe Paesler/EPA

Last week, the story of a German fisherman made front news after he found a message in bottle floating in the Baltic Sea for nearly 101 years. What’s more, despite most of the text written was undecipherable, researchers at the Hamburg Museum were able to find the sender’s name and deliver the message to his grand-daughter. An incredible story, the kind you don’t hear every day no doubt, but how was this possible and what can we learn from this? Better way said: what can you do for your message in a bottle to last longer and eventually reach a ship in case your stuck on a deserted island? You…

Anatomy, Biology, Discoveries, Health & Medicine, News, Research

Newly discovered microRNA may help diagnose lung cancer


Researchers at the National Research Foundation of Korea report on Sunday that they have identified a new microRNA molecule that suppresses a gene, which previous research had identified as playing a crucial role in lung cancer development. If the present findings are refined, it may be possible to diagnose lung cancer in the future based on this genetic marker. MicroRNAs constitute a recently discovered class of non-coding RNAs that play key roles in the regulation of gene expression. Acting at the post-transcriptional level, these fascinating molecules may fine-tune the expression of as much as 30% of all mammalian protein-encoding genes. Their aberrant expression may be involved in human diseases, including cancer,…

Discoveries, News, Physics

New exotic subparticle confirmed by LHC scientists

A view of the LHCb experiment at underground Point 8 on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The prominent tube is the LHC beam pipe, in which protons circulate at close to the speed of light (Image: Anna Pantelia/CERN)

Once with the discovery and confirmation of the Higgs boson, the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva proved its money worth and garnered international appraise. Despite the LHC is currently shutdown for its periodical maintenance (the restart procedure is well underway, with the particle accelerator expected to become fully operational again in 2015), physicists aren’t slaking. The data gathered from experiments performed at the LHC is enough to keep scientists busy for years to come. For instance,  the LHCb collaboration, who run one of four large experiments at the LHC, confirms the existence of a new exotic particle, first discovered in Japan a few years ago. At the turn of the last century,…

Discoveries, Inventions, News, Renewable Energy

This material can be turned into a solar cell by day and light source by night

NTU's new Perovskite solar cell can also emit light when electrical current is passed through the material. Photo: Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

Scientists have made great efforts to discover a material that can be used to both absorb and emit light. A fluke may have suffice, since researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore discovered by accident a material that can be used to work as a solar panel, harnessing energy from the sun during the day, as well as a light panel during the night, emitting light with electricity is passed through it. The implications could be major if the material can be integrated with existing technology. For instance, the smartphones of the future could charge just like a solar panel during the day by placing the display facing the…