Tag: genetics

Is Pollution in China Causing Cats to Grow "Wings?"

By Allison Bond | May 28, 2009 11:50 am

kittyNo, he’s not Supercat, but apparently a fuzzy feline in the southwest Chinese city of Chongqing began sprouting triangular, fur-covered “wings” out of his back when he was about a year old.

Some speculate the strange growths are the result of a mutation caused by chemicals the cat’s mother was exposed to before giving birth. It’s certainly possible, since the heavily industrialized city of Chongqing is packed with chemical, metal, and automobile factories pumping out acid rain and air pollution. In fact, as of 2004 the city was the second most polluted worldwide. And it’s taking its toll: Environmental authorities suspect chemical contaminations were behind the deaths of thousands of fish in the Fujiang River in Chongqing a few months ago.

Others say the so-called wings are actually growths from an embryo that never completely separated from the cat before birth – in other words, the cat’s, er, Siamese twin.

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MORE ABOUT: cats, china, genetics, pollution

New "Happy Hour" Gene Could Mean You're a Good Drunk…Or an Alcoholic

By Allison Bond | May 27, 2009 3:32 pm

boozeIf you can drink your friends under the table, you may have your genes to thank. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have for the first time pinpointed a genetic mutation that determines your tolerance for booze. Specifically, those who have the so-called “happy hour” mutation produce a protein called epidermal growth factor, or EGF, which allows them to imbibe more alcohol than their peers before feeling its effects, such as falling asleep or getting just plain sloppy.

Of course, the “happy hour” gene comes at a cost: Experts say a high tolerance for booze predisposes a person to alcoholism. As such, scientists say that they might be able to both decrease alcohol tolerance and help treat alcoholism by deactivating the gene.

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Is Virginity Loss Really All in Your Genes?

By Boonsri Dickinson | April 3, 2009 11:53 am

sign.jpgWe blame genes for obesity, mental illness, and a host of other issues. But can they determine when we lose our virginity? Researchers are now saying yes, they can—or, at least, that’s what media reports are saying researchers are saying.

Here’s the real deal: According to a study out of California State University, our genes may play a (minor, debated) role in the age at which people first have sex.

CSU psychologist Nancy Segal looked at 48 pairs of twins who were separated at birth to see how genes influenced their sexual maturity. To compare the twins’ sexual histories, Segal had each of them take a “sexual life history interview” composed of a “sexual meaning survey, a sexual life history timeline, and a sexual behavior questionnaire.” The researchers found that most twins lost their virginity at around 19 years of age. New Scientist calls the findings “modest” at best—the genes “explain a third of the differences in the participant’s age of first intercourse.”

Of course, despite screaming headlines to the contrary, exactly how genes are linked to the loss of virginity is still thoroughly “speculative,” as Segal told DISCOVER. Other groups have pinpointed a gene—DRD4— that has been linked to age of loss of virginity.

Given all the hoopla, it’s worth asking, are these studies really linking genes and virginity at all? DRD4 is known as the “risk taking” gene? People who are risk takers also abuse alcohol and drugs or engage in delinquent behavior—virginity is only one risk-taking measure, and an arguable one at that.

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MORE ABOUT: gender, genetics, sex

Why Do Some People Never Get Fat? Scientists May Have the Answer

By Boonsri Dickinson | March 17, 2009 11:19 am

burgerweb.jpgRemember the guy from Super Size Me who ate about 23,000 Bic Macs and never got fat? Ever wonder how he did it? Turns out he may have been born without the “fat enzyme.”

The enzyme MGAT2 is found in the intestines and determines the fate of our food by regulating how it is metabolized: It either makes fat go straight to your waistline, or converts it into energy. Scientists in California have discovered that when mice are missing the gene for MGAT2, they can eat whatever they want and never have to worry about getting fat.

The University of California at San Francisco knocked out the gene in experimental mice to see how their bodies grew after feeding them different diets. When the normal and experimental mice were fed a diet low in fat, both sets of mice grew the same way. But when the mice were eating a 60 percent fat diet (i.e., a typical American diet), the experimental mice weighed 40 percent less and had 50 percent less fat than the normal mice.

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MORE ABOUT: fat, genetics, McDonalds

Will Jurassic Park Ever Really Come True?

By Boonsri Dickinson | March 10, 2009 1:23 pm

dino.jpgIs it a “chickenosaurus,” or a “dinochicken?” Famed paleontologist Jack Horner says that if you want to grow a dinosaur, you have to start with a chicken egg. As descendants of dinos, chickens carry some of the same DNA. So if chicken embryos have their genes reversed-engineered for every trait that they share with dinosaurs— like long tails, teeth, and three-fingered hands— you can grow living animals with dinosaur traits.

Previously, paleontologists thought they would be able to extract DNA from amber and then use it to clone dinosaurs, just as Michael Crichton detailed in his novel. But the real life experiments repeatedly failed and the idea appears to be possible only in fiction.

Horner (who was an inspiration for the character Dr. Alan Grant) thinks “the better route is to start with a descendant and work backwards. By taking a bird and manipulating four or five of its genes, you can grow a long tail instead of wings.” Then you can manipulate other traits to produce a complete dinosaur.

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The World’s Oldest Stash: Scientists Find 2,700-Year-Old Pot

By Boonsri Dickinson | December 8, 2008 5:52 pm

(Credit: aastock/Shutterstock)

Scientists have discovered two pounds of a dried plant that turned out to be the oldest marijuana in the world. Inside one of the Yanghai Tombs excavated in the Gobi Desert, a team of researchers found the cannabis packed into a wooden bowl resting inside a 2,700-year-old grave. It was placed near the head of a blue-eyed, 45-year-old shaman among other objects like bridles and a harp to be used in afterlife.

At first, the researchers thought the dried weed was coriander. Then they spent 10 months getting the cannabis from the tomb in China to a secret lab in England. Finally, the team put the stash through “microscopic botanical analysis” including carbon dating and genetic analysis, and discovered the stash was really pot.

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MORE ABOUT: china, genetics, marijuana

No More Evolution for You, Says British Scientist

By Nina Bai | October 8, 2008 12:14 pm

human evolutionThis is it. The evolution of Homo sapiens is complete, says British geneticist Steve Jones—not because we’ve reached some pinnacle of perfection, but because we’ve run ourselves into an evolutionary dead end. Jones argues that the structures of contemporary society have jammed the three main drivers of evolution: natural selection, mutations, and random change.

He spoke yesterday at the University College London, delivering a lecture entitled “Human Evolution is Over” (in case you had any doubts as to his hypothesis). Here are his three main points:

1) Fewer early deaths. If everyone lives to reproductive maturity (in the developed world, nearly 98 percent of people survive to the age of 21), natural selection can do little work.

2) Fewer elderly fathers. As a man ages, the likelihood of genetic mutations in his sperm increases dramatically. It used to be common for men to father many children with many different women well into old age, but this is less acceptable in today’s society.

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Superstitions Aren’t Silly; They’re Evolutionary.

By Boonsri Dickinson | September 25, 2008 12:17 pm

number-13.jpgBreak a mirror and you’re stuck with bad luck. Walk under a ladder and you’re tempting fate. Sound ridiculous? Scientists believe such beliefs may be genetic, part of adaptive behaviors passed on to create an evolutionary advantage to surviving impeding danger.

Boiled down, a superstition is the belief that one event caused another event, without any evidence of the link. “All animals will display behaviors that imply a causal relationship that isn’t there,” says Kevin Foster, evolutionary biologist at Harvard University. Foster uses a pigeon as an example: The pigeon will take flight if it hears a hand clap, the same way it would react if it heard a gun shot.

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"CSI: Dog Poop" Comes to Israel

By Andrew Moseman | September 18, 2008 1:00 pm

dogpoopIt doesn’t seem like so long ago that DNA testing was the task of forensic experts working on hugely important criminal cases. But here’s another sign that it’s entered the mainstream: An Israeli city wants to use DNA testing to catch dog owners who don’t clean up their mutts’ messes.

Petah Tikva, a town near Tel Aviv, is in the midst of compiling a DNA database of its dog population. Right now authorities are in a six-month trial of the program, and registering your dog is optional. You can see video of their efforts (if you really want to) at the BBC.

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MORE ABOUT: genetics

Could DNA Tell Us Where Smugglers Get Their Ivory?

By Andrew Moseman | August 6, 2008 10:06 am

Ivory Trackin’It’s nice when police catch intercept ivory smugglers trying to import their product into another country. But often their efforts don’t get authorities any closer to stopping hunters from killing elephants in the first place.

Thanks to a new approach crafted by Samuel Wasser at the University of Washington, however, the smugglers’ ivory may tell police all they need to know. Wasser and his team have begun analyzing DNA samples from seized ivory and connecting those samples to elephant populations in the wild. After collecting tissue samples from across the African continent, he figured out that ivory seized in Singapore in 2002 had come from the savannas of Zambia in Southern Africa. In another example, a load of ivory found in Hong Kong in 2006 originated in the West African forests near Gabon.

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