Interpreting ancient DNA: Not so easy a caveman could do it

Author: Brooke Wolford

Editors: Alex Taylor, Jimmy Brancho, Bryan Moyers

Imagine the year is 1856 and you are toiling in a quarry in the Neander Valley, a few kilometers from Düsseldorf, Germany. Strangely, something is abruptly sticking out of the landscape. You dig around and find ribs, a skull, and other bones—your best guess is that you have stumbled upon the final resting place of a bear. However, what you have actually found are the first identifiable remains of ancient hominins, later named Homo neanderthalensis.

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It’s all in the family! The biology of inheritance, part 1

Author: Shweta Ramdas

Editors: Molly Kozminsky, Jimmy Brancho, Kevin Boehnke

 

Harry Potter has his mother’s eyes. From his father, James, he inherits his black hair, his ability to play Quidditch, and a certain predisposition to mischief. We are all unique combinations of our parents, receiving half our DNA from each. In the genetic lottery, our parents’ genes are scrambled and spliced to create a new individual who carries on the family’s long tradition of snoring into one’s sheets. But besides a rickety knee, shortness of stature, and preferred pizza toppings, what else can we blame on our parents?

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De-coupling the GMO-glyphosate link

Author: Amira Aker

Editors: Brittany Dixon, Kevin Boehnke

Tinkering with an organism’s genes is the subject of one of the most controversial debates today – and rightfully so. The resulting organisms are commonly referred to as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and figuring out how to use GMOs in a safe and sustainable manner is hotly debated. This issue isn’t simply a matter of technology, but one of safety, ecology, economics and even morality. Yet, there has been a notable absence of discussion around the broad-based herbicide glyphosate in mainstream media; namely, that over 80% of GMOs on the market today are modified to tolerate glyphosate. This effective herbicide kills pesky weeds without affecting farmers’ GMO crops, saving time and, potentially, money. However, given the vast opportunities that GMO science opens to us, is dedicating so many resources to this single GMO product the right way to go? Continue reading “De-coupling the GMO-glyphosate link”

P-values, or: infinite shades of grey

Author: Peter Orchard

Editors: Theresa Mau, Bryan Moyers, Alisha John

 

Peter Tea_and_MilkAlmost 100 years ago, the English biologist and statistician Dr. Ronald Fisher was enjoying a cup of tea with his Cambridge University colleagues when another biologist, Dr. Muriel Bristol, made an interesting claim. Bristol asserted that just by tasting her tea, she could infer whether the tea was poured into the cup before the milk, or the milk before the tea.

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New elements on the block

Author: David Mertz

Editors: Tricia Garay, Irene Park

Ever since an interactive display was built in my high school chemistry lab (one of only six such installations in the world), I’ve found the periodic table of elements to be a fascinating fixture of science. I remember watching the scientists prepare little displays for each individual element, including the metal gallium which they let me hold in my hand. It was different than most of the metals familiar to us. With a melting temperature just below 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), the metallic cube began to melt right on my palm. Continue reading “New elements on the block”