Researchers hope to collect spit from someone who died more than 70 years ago: the aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. By extracting the famous flyer’s DNA from old envelopes, researchers hope to finally put to rest one of the 20th century’s greatest mysteries.
Earhart disappeared–along with her navigator, Fred Noonan–in 1937, when she was trying to become the first female to fly around the globe. Communication with her plane was lost as she flew near Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. government searched in vain for the two adventurers’ remains, and on January 5, 1939, Earhart was officially pronounced dead. But speculation never stopped on whether the duo died in a crash at sea, or whether they survived for some time on a deserted island.
Just two years ago researchers from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery found bone fragments on Nikumaroro Island that could be part of Amelia Earhart’s finger. The finding is controversial because a dead sea turtle was also found nearby, raising suggestions that the purported piece of Earhart actually belongs to a turtle. According to National Geographic:
French teenagers are learning how to work with bacteria in science labs. Sound like a harmless–and even beneficial–thing, right? But because their experiments involve the genetic modification of Escherichia coli (E. coli) to build resistance to the antibiotic ampicillin, some French organizations are raising the alarm.
One such group includes the Committee for Research & Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), which lobbies for tighter genetic engineering laws. CRIIGEN President Gilles-Eric Séralini said that he will implore France’s education ministry to ban the creation of trangenic E. coli by 15- and 16-year-old students.
He warns against trivialization of a sensitive subject, contamination risks and possible violation of European directives on the manipulation of genetically modified organisms in confined spaces. “I am also concerned that practical classes erode the time spent imparting knowledge of biology,” he adds.
Have you ever seen an amino acid really get down? If not, now is your chance. The winning video produced for Science‘s Dance Your PhD contest features an amino acid that knows how to shake its molecules. The contest asks brave researchers to explain their PhDs in the language of dance.
This year’s winner is Maureen McKeague, a chemistry Ph.D. student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She’ll collect a $1,000 prize ($500 for being a finalist, $500 for winning) from Science. With no further ado, here’s the video:
Did you get all that? If a little more explanation would help, here’s how ScienceNOW sums it up:
The lab is exploring a chemical technique called SELEX–systematic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment–which generates short segments of DNA and RNA called aptamers. These nucleic acids can be designed to stick to almost any target molecule. For McKeague’s Ph.D. research, the target molecule–played by undergraduate student and Scottish folk dancer Charlotte Bradley–is the amino acid homocysteine. High levels of this amino acid are an indicator of cardiovascular disease. McKeague’s aim is to use SELEX to create aptamers to cheaply and accurately measure homocysteine in blood samples.
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A McDonald’s in the Dutch city of Rotterdam has decided to crack down on burglaries with a high-tech security system previously used in the city’s jewelry stores. To catch anyone who makes off with the cash from the till (or a bag of Big Macs), the store’s managers installed a device that stealthily sprays synthetic DNA on the thief.
The system involves a small, strategically placed orange box that shoots out synthetic DNA when an employee pulls an unusual trigger: Removing a €10 bill from a special bill clip behind the counter not only activates the device, it also alerts the police that a robbery is in progress. The synthetic DNA spray is visible under ultraviolet light and contains markers that are unique to that location’s device, allowing police to match a suspect with the locale.
The security-conscious McDonald’s advertises the presence of its system with a sign on the door reading, “You Steal, You’re Marked.” The New York Times explains that the effect of the device is, well, subtle:
Worried your man is cheating? Don’t rely on hunches, send his undies to the lab. Some suspicious people are paying upwards of $500 to air their dirty laundry, and a DNA-testing company is happily testing suspected spouses’ condoms, sheets, and tighty whities for genetic signs of infidelity.
Chromosomal Laboratories Inc., the same company that has offered paternal-testing giveaways on Father’s Day, is now in the unmentionables business. The company offers a smorgasbord of tests starting with a UV-light sweep and going as far as a microscopic search for sperm heads.
On the version of the company’s website designed for suspicious men, the biological sleuths describe a test for Prostate Specific Antigen and boast: “The technique is extremely powerful because it can confirm the presence of semen even in samples from sterile or vasectomized men.”
Over four hundred years after his death, the man known for moving the sun to the center of the solar system made a move himself.
On Saturday, at a medieval cathedral at Frombork on Poland’s Baltic coast, the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus—whose ideas were once declared heresy by the Vatican—was reburied with full religious honors.
After a stint in city of Olsztyn, Copernicus’s remains returned to his original resting location (under the cathedral’s floor), but his grave got an upgrade. After his death in 1543 he lay for centuries in an unmarked grave, but his new plot has a black tombstone with six planets orbiting a golden sun. The ceremony concluded a several week tour of a wooden casket with the astronomer’s remains. Read More
You may think of your furry feline friend simply as a companion, but look closely and you will find that your whiskered pal also the ability to be a crime-fighting supercat.
An team of scientists has found that fur shed by cats can serve as forensic evidence, thanks to the DNA it contains. In fact, a man was recently convicted of second-degree murder in Canada after fur found on his discarded jacket matched that of Snowball–the victim’s cat. The telltale fur led to a 15-year prison sentence. Scientists say that it may soon become commonplace to use the genetic material in fur shed by cats to link perpetrators, accomplices, witnesses, and victims.
As the researchers wrote in the journal Forensic Science International: Genetics:
“Cats are fastidious groomers, and shed fur can have sufficient genetic material for trace forensic studies, allowing potential analysis of both standard short tandem repeat (STR) and mitochondrial DNA regions.”
The next time, you’re taking shots straight out of a bottle of mezcal, the potent Mexican alcohol made from the agave or a maguey plant, remember what you’re drinking. Swirling in your mouth is not just the strong smoky alcohol guaranteed to knock you out, but also caterpillar DNA from the “worm” that is often found at the bottom of the bottle.
The worm is actually the larval form of the moth Hypopta agavis that lives on the agave plant and really has no business being in the bottle except to serve as a marketing gimmick. Still, many a drinker has set out to prove his iron will and iron stomach by swallowing the booze-soaked insect at the bottom. Turns out there’s no need for such dramatic gestures. Researchers have found that DNA from the caterpillar can be extracted from the alcohol it’s preserved in.
Dear reader: You’re a mutant. But take comfort—it’s not just you. According to recent research, every person on Earth introduces between 100 and 200 new genetic mutations into the human genome.
[Researchers] looked at thousands of genes in the Y chromosomes of two Chinese men. They knew the men were distantly related, having shared a common ancestor who was born in 1805.
By looking at the number of differences between the two men, and the size of the human genome, they were able to come up with an estimate of between 100 and 200 new mutations per person.
This number of mutations is small compared to the size of the full human genome, so finding them was apparently quite a feat. Such a feat, in fact, that one of the scientists reportedly said that “finding this tiny number of mutations was more difficult than finding an ant’s egg in an emperor’s rice store.”
Some mutations can give rise to health conditions like cancer, so being able to identify new genetic variations not only could teach us about our own evolution, but could even help prevent disease-causing alterations in our DNA.
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Image: flickr / ghutchis
Is your child going to be a championship basketball player, or world-class pianist, or Nobel-winning physicist? Well, waiting for them to grow up before scoping out their talents can be a drag. Plus, it cuts down on precious training time.
That’s why, for $880, parents in China can send their three-to-12-year-old children to a special five-day camp where they will undergo DNA testing in an effort to predict their area of success. From a sample of saliva, scientists say, they can examine 11 genes that gauge a child’s future IQ, height, memory, and other traits. They will then recommend to the parents the best course of action to hone the kid’s innate capabilities.
“Nowadays, competition in the world is about who has the most talent,” said [program director Zhao Mingyou]. “We can give Chinese children an effective, scientific plan at an early age”….
[P]arents are convinced it will help their child. It is no secret that China’s one-child policy often produces anxious and ambitious parents with high expectations for their only child.
“China is different from Western countries,” said Yang Yangqing, the lab’s technical director. “There is only one child in our families so more and more parents focus on their children’s education and they want to give them the best education.”
You can also watch CNN’s video about China’s DNA testing here.
There’s just one problem: Can DNA tests really reliably predict whether a child will be the next Stephen Hawking or Michael Jordan? After all, success is often the product not of a gene or two, but rather a complex combination, along with a properly nurturing (or incentivizing) environment—not to mention a hefty dose of hard work and luck.
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Image: flickr / Alex E. Proimos