Epigenetics Helps Explain Early Humans’ Appearances

By Gemma Tarlach | April 17, 2014 1:18 pm

Neanderthal skulls. Image by leted via Flickr

Scientists have increasingly realized that DNA is only part of what makes us us — perhaps equally important is how our genes’ activity is modified by a process called epigenetics. Recently this cutting-edge field has turned its attention to some very old DNA: Researchers today announced they have reconstructed methylation maps for our extinct relatives. The findings might explain certain differences in appearances between Neanderthals, Denisovans, and us, as well as the prevalence of disease.

Epigenetics is a branch of science that explores how the expression of our DNA can be influenced by external factors without the DNA itself changing. Research in the field has focused on DNA methylation. This is when a chemical compound called a methyl group attaches to DNA. This can regulate an individual’s genetic expression and even be passed down through generations. DNA methylation has been linked to disease and also to an individual’s appearance and behavior. This is the first time, however, that an archaic pattern of methylation has been reconstructed for early humans.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Possibly Habitable Earth-Sized Planet Discovered

By Bill Andrews | April 17, 2014 1:00 pm
Kepler-186f, shown in this artist's concept, is the first Earth-sized planet discovered in its star's habitable zone. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Kepler-186f, shown in this artist’s concept, is the first Earth-sized planet discovered in its star’s habitable zone. Credit: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Exoplanets are fun and all, but those hot Jupiters and super Neptunes and such are kind of beside the point. Everyone knows the real search is for a planet like ours: rocky, smallish, and capable of hosting liquid water. And now scientists have found one, named Kepler-186f — an Earth-sized planet in its star’s habitable zone, the area where conditions aren’t too hot or too cold, but just right, for liquid water to be possible.

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

In Brazilian Cave Insects, Females Have the Penis

By Carl Engelking | April 17, 2014 11:59 am
he gynosome of a female cave insect. It features spikes to hold it in place once it's inserted into males. Credit: Current Biology, Yoshizawa et al.

The gynosome of a female cave insect. It features spikes to hold it in place once it’s inserted into males. Credit: Current Biology, Yoshizawa et al.

In the dark caves of Brazil, certain insects take sexual role-play to a whole new level. Female insects of the newly discovered genus Neotrogla have highly elaborate, spiky penises, which they insert into males’ vagina-like organ to reproduce.

Reversed sex roles have been identified in several other species, including male seahorses that undergo pregnancy. However, after studying the mating habits of Neotrogla, which represents four distinct species, researchers have determined that this is the first example of an animal with sex-reversed genitalia.  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

How Do Sperm Recognize Eggs? Mechanism Finally Found

By Breanna Draxler | April 16, 2014 12:01 pm

sperm eggs

It’s the stuff of 3rd-grade sex ed: sperm meets egg to make baby. But, surprisingly, scientists have actually been in the dark about one crucial step: how the two sex cells recognize each other amidst the fluid frenzy in the Fallopian tubes. Now researchers have announced that they’ve found the missing piece of this fertilization puzzle, and that the discovery could lead to individualized fertility treatments and hormone-free birth control.

Back in 2005, researchers found the first half of the the puzzle: a binding protein on the surface of sperm they called Izumol (after a Japanese marriage shrine). In the decade since then, scientists have been searching for Izumol’s counterpart on egg cells. Essentially, they’d found the plug but couldn’t locate the outlet.

Today researchers at Cambridge announced they’ve found that outlet: a receptor protein on the surface of the egg cell. They’ve found it on the eggs of pigs, opossums, mice and even humans.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: sex & reproduction

A Beard Is Only as Sexy as It Is Rare

By Carl Engelking | April 16, 2014 8:44 am


It’s not just Williamsburg anymore — young people across the U.S. revere the beard. The facial hair craze is so popular that some men are paying as much as $7,000 for a beard transplant. However, if the trend continues, new research indicates why it will eventually reverse course: We find beards attractive only when they’re rare.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Over the Hill? Cognitive Speeds Peak at Age 24

By Carl Engelking | April 15, 2014 1:20 pm

old man

Those grim “over the hill” party favors are often deployed ironically by those who want to razz their friends or partners when they turn 30 or 40. But it may be more honest than we care to admit: A new study suggests humans’ cognitive speed peaks at age 24, and that it’s a steady downhill descent from there.

The study is limited by the fact that it only focused on video game players. But in analyzing a dataset of over 3,000 StarCraft 2 players between the ages of 16 and 44, researchers determined that in-game response times, or cognitive speed, peaked in players at 24 years of age. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts

Glow-in-the-Dark Highway Opened in the Netherlands

By Carl Engelking | April 14, 2014 3:16 pm
glowing lines

Conceptual image of a “glowing highway.” Credit: Roosegaarde Studio

If you ask for directions in the small city of Oss in the Netherlands, a local may tell you to merge onto Highway N329 and take the first exit after the highway ceases glowing in the dark. No, you haven’t mistranslated the conversation. Dutch engineers are testing glow-in-the-dark road markings along a 500-meter stretch of N329 to see if glowing roads could someday replace streetlights.

The road markings are painted with a photo-luminescent powder that charges during the day and releases a greenish glow at night. Once the paint absorbs sunlight, it can glow for up to eight hours in the dark. The N329 now features a triple-striped pattern of glowing lines on each side of the highway. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: transportation

Video: Live Feed of Rovers Exploring the Ocean Floor

By Carl Engelking | April 14, 2014 1:18 pm
This site had a fantastic “amphitheater of chemosynthetic life.” Here we saw bathymodiolus mussels, methane hydrate or ice, and ice worms. There were also a number of sea urchins, sea stars, and fish in this area. Most impressive about this ledge was large accumulation of hydrates under the ledge as well as the large collection of mussels hanging upside down and a group of mussels that hung down off the ledge.  Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition.

This site had a fantastic “amphitheater of chemosynthetic life,” researchers said. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition.

The bottom of the ocean is a largely unknown habitat — but now you can explore it from the comfort of your desk chair. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is live-streaming its three-week investigation of the Gulf of Mexico basin.

The ship Okeanos Explorer set out last Thursday to examine the location and contents of deep-sea habitats in the gulf. The team of scientists will conduct multiple dives using sea rovers, each capable of diving up to 6,000 meters, between now and the end of the month. This is the third leg of a three-part mission that started in February, and the data collected will provide a deeper level of knowledge about deep-ocean habitats than ever before. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts

Coffee Flour Coming Soon to the Baking Aisle

By Carl Engelking | April 11, 2014 2:56 pm


Growing, harvesting and roasting the coffee beans for your morning cup of java generates a lot of waste. But a Vancouver-based startup company now turns coffee castoffs into bread, cakes and pasta dough.

Coffee beans are actually seeds, extracted from fruits called coffee cherries. Once coffee producers remove the beans, the leftover fruit is usually cast aside and left to decompose. That is, until a company called CF Global Holdings came up with a method to convert the discarded fruit into nutritious flour. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts

Papyrus Alluding to Jesus’ Wife Proven Authentic

By Carl Engelking | April 11, 2014 1:01 pm

jesus wife

A controversial piece of papyrus that references the wife of Jesus is indeed ancient, according to recent dating results.

Since Harvard professor of divinity Karen L. King publicized the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” in 2012, scientists and theologians have fiercely debated the authenticity of the fragment — the only known papyrus containing the words “Jesus said to them, my wife.” Biblical scholars have argued that the 1- by 3-inch chunk of papyrus is modern, “oddly written” and a “clumsy forgery.” But results from recent chemical and handwriting analyses say otherwise.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

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