Lots of News

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So much to write about!

  • Carl Sagan Day?

Saturday was dubbed Carl Sagan Day in honor of what would have been the 75th birthday (on Monday) of Carl Sagan. Broward College in Florida hosted a celebration and New Scientist had a blog post, from which I learned about the celebration.

Carl Sagan, with Richard Feynman and several others, was one of the great communicators of science of the 20th century. His miniseries Cosmos introduced the wonders of modern astrophysics to people around the world. If you have not seen an episode of Cosmos, watch one: they’re on Hulu; although they’re old and some of the science is outdated, they remain a classic. The movie Contact was conceived by Carl Sagan (though released after his death) and inspired the book, which by the quirks of history, was published well before the movie. The novel Contact, in my opinion, is deeper than the movie. It’s a great  “What if?’ on first contact with extraterrestrials and a wonderful meditation on the relationship between science and religion by an agnostic/skeptic who knew how approach the issue with class and respect. Sagan was not my inspiration to go into physics or into astronomy, but exposure to his works certainly egged me on and he helped nourish public interest in astronomy at a time when the end of the Apollo program meant that national interest was fading.

  • Behavioral Genetics Shapes Sentencing of Murderer

This deserves its own blog post but the summary is that an Italian court has shortened the sentence of a murderer because genetic testing suggested he was predisposed to violent behavior. Here is the Nature news story. Apparently this is first time such a decision has been made in Europe, but a few similar decisions have been made in the US. This story raises some really interesting ethical questions, about which I’m not at all qualified to write, but nonetheless, which I think could make for an interesting post.

  • Babies Cry in Native Language

This is interesting. A German study suggests that babies’ cries differ by language even in the days immediately after birth. This follows up with studies that suggest that language recognition begins in the third trimester, with response to native language. Really cool stuff if you ask me….I wonder if there is also response to other sounds too? Music? I’m not so much thinking of the Mozart Effect, which hasn’t really been proven, but of the effect of prenatal exposure to music in regard to later musical preference.

  • Art and Science

I attended an excellent talk by an artist who works with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Blog post to come.

  • Went for a walk in Rock Creek Park…Miss the Cuyahoga Valley.

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.