Alien Bacteria?

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A variety of news sources have picked up a story about an Indian Space Research Organization balloon which collected three new species of bacteria in the upper atmosphere.

A research team from ISRO conducted an earlier study which reported the discovery of life in the upper atmosphere but the scientific community expressed doubts . Oddly for a discovery like this, I haven’t seen mention of it in the science news sources I frequent, but perhaps it is still early. It will be interesting to see the reaction, if any.

Quotes and the naming of one of the new species after astronomer Fred Hoyle hint that one motivation of the mission may have been to study panspermia, the theory that life on Earth came from space. I am not a particular advocate of that theory, but the discovery of bacteria which are resistant to UV is exciting. Even if the bacteria are shown to have terrestrial origin, their existence is evidence once more of the versatility of life, which is promising in the search for extraterrestrial life.

What do you think? Would the existence of UV resistant bacteria bolster claims that life might be present elsewhere, perhaps even in this solar system?

Here is the actual press release from the ISRO.

CNN’s take

The Hindu ‘s take

The Times of India‘s take

The Hindustan Times‘ take


Genes, Jeans

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Jeans for Genes Day: Credit Flickr user: mijori

Warning: There is equivocation of homonyms in this post!

There was a time, somewhere in the haze of middle school, when I thought one key to popularity was to have the clothes which the cool kids had. Never mind that I went to a parochial school with white-poloed, navy panted uniforms, it was the ‘dress down’ days which concerned me. I thought objects like clothes and cologne, and haircuts mattered in the quest to be liked (and perhaps, in middle school, they did). As a result,I desired to have the types of jeans which the most popular kids sported when not in uniforms. I thought these where the overpriced, baggy, sloppy sort of pants which my parents would never buy for me and for which I dared not ask them. So, instead I settled for relaxed fit.

Now a study from the academia I call home (rather, my second home), Michigan State University, suggests that popularity may in fact be influenced by genes!

As described in the link above, the researcherss sampled DNA from a group of male college students and had them interact. After a period of time, each person filled out a questionarie. Results suggested that the most popular students were most often those with a gene linked to ‘trouble making.’ Previous studies have suggested that riskiness or at least rule-breaking influences popularity in the adosolent bunch.

Well I guess I never had the right genes anyway.

Image Credit: Flickr User: mijori

Sons and Daughters

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My family has a disproportionate number of males. I have two brothers and a sister. My dad had three brothers and a sister. My cousins on my dad’s side are comprised of six males and two females. On my mom’s side things are a bit more even-she had a sister and a brother, and my cousins are composed of a male and a female.

Learning about genetics in high school, I wondered if there might be a genetic reason for the tendency of children born on my dad’s side of my family to be male. However my teachers, perhaps for the sake of simplifying the lessons told me that because the geneder of the child was determined by the contribution of a X chromosome from the mother and a X or Y chromosome from the father, the odds of a child being male or female had to be fifty percent. I accepted their answer, even if it made no sense based on experience. If I had been smarter, I might have wondered, like a research group at Newcastle University which recently published a paper, if there might be some influence on whether a father was more likely contribute an X or Y chromosome, which would in turn lead to a gender disparity.

The recent research done by the group at Newcastle University suggests that there may be a connection between the gender ratio of children on the father’s side and the gender ratio of those children’s children. After studying thousands of family trees, the group suggests that a gene passed on by the father influences whether a son will have more sons or daughters. Sons who come from families with more males are more likely to have male children, while a daughter from a family with only sisters who marries a man with only sisters is more likely to have daughters than sons. The group notes that this gene could also explain why more males than females are born after wars-families with more males are more likely to have surviving sons than those with few.

You can read more about this in a press release from Science Daily.