For Homo Sapiens, This Is as Good as It Gets

By Bill Andrews | December 8, 2017 11:40 am
shutterstock_598011899

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Well, that’s it.

Pack it in, boys.

Show’s over for us as a species: We’ve peaked.

At least, we might have, according to a paper in Frontiers in Physiology. If anything, it looks like we might be going downhill, with climate change and other environmental effects taking our bodies away from their current idealized forms. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

We’re Throwing Away Too Many Viable Kidneys, Study Suggests

By Cody Cottier | December 7, 2017 4:00 pm
waste-kidneys-transplant

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Researchers found that thousands of potentially usable kidneys have gone to waste across the United States in recent years, leaving many patients waiting unnecessarily for transplants.

The study, published Thursday in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, highlights inefficiencies in the transplant system. According to data collected over the past 15 years, in roughly 7,600 unilateral kidney transplants—those in which one kidney was used and one discarded—about 5,000 of those thrown out could have been transplanted successfully. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: transplants

Why Does Coffee Make You Poop?

By Lauren Sigfusson | December 7, 2017 1:49 pm
coffee-poop-why

There are a few different reasons why coffee makes people feel the urge to poop. (Credit: Shutterstock)

You may consume coffee to get your day started, as a pick-me-up, or to get you through a lengthy meeting. You may also drink it to, perhaps, get things moving along on schedule.

About 29 percent of people claim they felt the urge to poop after drinking coffee, according to a commonly cited study from 1990. But why? Discover reached out to a gastroenterology expert to see if we could get to the bottom of it. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

Mark Your Calendars for a Superb Geminid Meteor Shower

(Credit: NASA/

(Credit: NASA)

The stars — or at least the Moon — will align this month for a terrific display of meteors.

The Geminid shower ranks as both the richest and most reliable of the annual meteor showers. It peaks the night of December 13/14 under a slim crescent Moon, whose feeble light won’t interfere even after it rises around 3:30 a.m. local time. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: stargazing

Large-scale Genetic Study Helps Untangle Male Sexuality

By Leah Froats | December 7, 2017 11:03 am
(Credit: By EpicStockMedia/Shutterstock)

(Credit: By EpicStockMedia/Shutterstock)

While the discussion of “nature versus nurture” dominates many areas of scientific research, the debate is particularly contentious when it comes to the origin of sexual preference.

However, multiple studies have found links between DNA and homosexuality. Building on this foundation, a new large-scale genetic study explores the roots of male sexual orientation, finding two regions of genetic variance in homosexual men.

The factors contributing to a person’s sexual preferences are complex. But the study, out of the NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Research Institute, notes that there is some precedent for a genetic focus — previous studies of families and twins suggest that genes play a role in sexual orientation.

Nice Genes

In order to study and compare the subjects’ genes, researchers asked them to provide DNA by blood or saliva samples that were then genotyped and analyzed. This was used to conduct a genome-wide association study (GWAS) — a common method of DNA “scanning.”

Before completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, genetic studies were based primarily on genetic linkage — the fact that DNA sequences near to each other on a chromosome tend to be inherited together.

Now, access to banks of thousands of genomes allows researchers to take a big-data approach to genomics, combing through many genomes to pick out tiny differences that seem to be correlated with traits of interest. GWAS studies are ideal for identifying sets of gene variants that show up together in a population — in this case, homosexual men.

While GWAS studies provide a list of genetic “regions” that seem to be related to a specific trait, they don’t actually prove causation, and neither do they say much about why a particular trait has emerged.

In a news release, Dr. Alan Sanders, lead researcher of the study, said, “What we have accomplished is a first step for GWAS on the trait, and we hope that subsequent larger studies will further illuminate its genetic contributions.”

DNA Dilemmas

Looking at the genomes of 1,077 self-identified homosexual men and 1,231 self-identified heterosexual men, the researchers found two regions that seemed to be significant. They published their findings Thursday in Nature Scientific Reports.

The first, on chromosome 13, was a region near a gene called SLITRK6. This gene is involved in brain development and is mostly expressed in a part of the brain called the diencephalon — an area previously found to differ in gay men.

Chromosome 14 also contains a gene that’s thought to be associated with homosexuality: the thyroid stimulating hormone receptor, or TSHR. The find bolsters previous observations linking unusual thyroid function to sexual orientation.

However, the authors note that the sample size was on the small side for a GWAS study, as the process of scanning for and establishing genetic differences requires a lot of data. The focus on just one ancestral group (European) and on one sex was an additional limitation.

They also emphasize that although the new genetic regions provide targets for further research, the potential connections remain speculative. And there are many other studies complicating these findings. One, in particular, indicated that biological sex makes a difference and that identical twins can have different sexual preferences. This goes without mentioning the moral dilemmas inherent in this kind of research.

At this point, not much is clear. But as genetic studies become more advanced, so will research into the intersection of genetics and sexuality.

Regardless, a better understanding of how our genes influence our sexual preferences may illuminate the experiences of gay and straight alike.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

Wrinkled Fingers Might Be Your Body’s Rain Treads

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 7, 2017 10:54 am
Evolutionary adaptation or simple coincidence? (Credit: tatyaby/Shutterstock)

Evolutionary adaptation or simple coincidence? (Credit: tatyaby/Shutterstock)

Pruny fingers, they’re an unavoidable byproduct of a long bath or a turn washing the dishes. Though they may seem like little more than the puzzling cost of getting our hands wet, the phenomenon could actually be helping us keep a tight grip on those wine glasses.

If you’ve never thought about it, consider that fingers and toes are the only parts of our bodies that wrinkle up (as a result of constricting blood vessels) when exposed to water for extended periods. It can’t be an intrinsic property of our skin, then. For years, surgeons have also noticed that when the nerves to the hand get cut, fingers refuse to wrinkle anymore, indicating that our sympathetic nervous system is involved somehow. The absence of wrinkles has even been proposed as a method for determining whether someone has experienced nerve damage. Read More

Plate Tectonics on Europa Boost Odds for Finding Life

By Alison Klesman | December 6, 2017 3:17 pm
europa

(Credit: NASA)

On Earth, the theory of plate tectonics describes the way large pieces of the planet’s crust move and interact. These pieces, or plates, slide over the mantle, the malleable outer layer of Earth’s core. Now, new research indicates that the frozen surface of Europa, one of Jupiter’s four largest moons, may also experience plate tectonics. If so, this process could be a way to transport materials — such as nutrients for life — to the liquid water ocean just beneath the moon’s icy crust. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

Scientists Crack the Mystery of an Exploding Egg

By Charles Choi | December 6, 2017 12:40 pm
exploding-eggs

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Scientists had an explosive mystery on their hands. A man suing a restaurant claimed an egg he bit into detonated loudly enough to damage his hearing. Was this a legit complaint, or an attempt to capitalize in a litigation-happy culture?

Well, after a scientific investigation, the man’s story is legit. Although microwave ovens have become a staple appliance in many kitchens, they come with oft-unheeded warnings that certain foods pose risks to people when reheated. Potatoes and eggs are among the most common culprits of potentially dangerous microwaving mishaps. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: physics

Love at First Sight? Nah

By Lacy Schley | December 6, 2017 11:44 am
love-at-first-site

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Cynics rejoice — the oft-reported phenomenon of love at first sight is more akin to lust at first sight.

Psychologist Florian Zsok and colleagues from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands recently published a study that found even though people generally do believe they’re experiencing love at first sight (LAFS), the event has more to do with physical attraction than actual feelings of love. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: emotions

All Things Iron from the Bronze Age Had Cosmic Origins

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 5, 2017 1:42 pm
King Tut's dagger, the blade is made of meteoric iron. (Credit: Daniella Comelli)

King Tut’s dagger, the blade is made of meteoric iron. (Credit: Daniella Comelli)

Looks like King Tut’s space dagger wasn’t so special after all. The legendary Egyptian pharaoh was found last year to have been buried with a dagger forged from a meteorite, a truly cosmic artifact fit for a king.

Well, as it turns out, pretty much everything made of iron from that period came from fallen space rocks, taking the “wow” factor down a few notches. That’s not to say that artifacts of meteoric origin are commonplace — they’re not — but in the Bronze Age, if you were working with iron, it’s a safe bet that it fell out of the sky. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Space & Physics
MORE ABOUT: archaeology
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