Science & Technology


Epigenetic 'tags' linked to homosexuality in men

© Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times/Getty
The biological influences on sexual orientation may extend to DNA 'tags' that affect gene expression.
The biology of sexual orientation has been one of the most vexing — and politically charged — questions in human genetics. For the first time, researchers have found associations between homosexuality and markers attached to DNA that can be influenced by environmental factors.

Twin studies and family trees provide strong evidence that sexual orientation is at least partly genetic. When one identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the other will be as well1. But because this rate is not 100%, it is thought that environmental factors play a role as well.

One of the best characterized is the 'older brother effect': the chance of a man being gay increases by 33% for each older brother he has2. The reason is not clear, although one hypothesis holds that the mother's immune system begins to react against male antigens and alter the fetus's development.

To search for factors that could mediate a link between environment and genes, geneticist Eric Vilain at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and his colleagues looked at epigenetic markers — chemical changes to DNA that affect how genes are expressed, but not the information they contain. These 'epi-marks' can be inherited, but can also be altered by environmental factors such as smoking, and are not always shared by identical twins.

The researchers collected DNA samples in saliva from 37 pairs of identical twins in which only one twin was gay, and 10 pairs in which both were gay. By scanning the twins' epigenomes, the researchers found five epi-marks that were more common among the gay men than in their genetically identical straight brothers. An algorithm they developed based on the five epi-marks could correctly predict the sexual orientation of men in the study 67% of the time. UCLA computational geneticist Tuck Ngun will present the work on 8 October at the American Society of Human Genetics meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Vilain is not surprised to find that epigenetics is associated with sexual orientation, although he says it is too early to try to directly link the epi-marks to any particular environmental exposure or the expression of a specific gene. Ngun says that the researchers want to replicate the study in a different group of twins and also determine whether the same marks are more common in gay men than in straight men in a large and diverse population. Associations found in small studies are prone to evaporate when tested in larger groups.


Pluto: Water ice and blue skies - NASA releases latest photos

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has revealed the first colorized photos of the hazy sky enveloping the planet Pluto, along with bright red water ice patches.
Water ice on Pluto
"Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It's gorgeous," remarked Alan Stern, NASA New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

"The striking blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles," said New Horizons team researcher Carly Howett. "A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger — but still relatively small — soot-like particles we call tholins."
Pluto's hazy blue sky
The NASA team thinks the tholin particles form high in the Plutonian atmosphere, where what ultraviolet sunlight from over three billion miles away that washes the planet, breaks down and ionizes nitrogen and methane molecules. Recombination of the broken down molecules creates complex macromolecules. The more complex molecules grow until volatile gases condense, then coat surfaces with frost. This process is believed to be what contributes to the frosty red hues on the Plutonian surface.


New discovery shows why elephants rarely get cancer

© Agence France-Press/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi
As elephants evolved, their bodies made many extra copies of a gene that prevents tumors from forming
Despite their big size, elephants rarely get cancer, and scientists said Thursday they have discovered the secret to the creatures' special protection. It's in the genes.

Elephants have 38 additional modified copies of a gene that encodes p53, a compound that suppresses tumor formation.

Humans, on the other hand, have only two, according to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

This means that as elephants evolved, their bodies made many extra copies of a gene that prevents tumors from forming.

Elephants have been considered an enigma for years because they have far more cells than people, which would presumably place them at higher risk of cancer over their lifespans which can last 50-70 years.

And yet, the analysis of a large database of elephant deaths showed that less than five percent of elephants die of cancer, compared to 11 to 25 percent in people.

Comment: Besides the genetic endowment, could it also be that elephants still eat the diet they evolved to, plus they don't dose their bodies with toxic chemicals or surround themselves with EMF radiation? They also (as much as they are allowed to) maintain close social bonds, which has a strengthening effect on the immune system of all mammals.


Fetal cells permeate blood brain barrier of mother lasting a lifetime

© Prevent
A mother may literally have her children on her mind at all times. Findings reveal that cells from fetuses migrate into the brains of their mothers, and can last a lifetime.

Few would argue that the mother-baby bond during pregnancy is the strongest human connection possible. During pregnancy, a mother is so connected physically and psychologically to her child, that her baby depends on her for everything from nutrition, to blood flow to warmth and more. But baby also provides mother with some special.

Recent findings showed that during pregnancy, mothers and fetuses often exchange cells that can apparently survive in bodies for years, a phenomenon known as microchimerism. Scientists had found that in mice, fetal cells could even migrate into the brains of mothers. Now researchers have the first evidence fetal cells do so in humans as well.

Fetomaternal transfer probably occurs in all pregnancies and in humans the fetal cells can persist for decades or lifetime. Microchimeric fetal cells are found in various maternal tissues and organs including blood, bone marrow, skin and liver.

In mice, fetal cells have also been found in the brain. The fetal cells also appear to target sites of injury. Fetomaternal microchimerism may have important implications for the immune status of women, influencing autoimmunity and tolerance to transplants.

A fetal microchimeric cell from a pregnancy is recognized by the mother's immune system partly as belonging to the mother, since the fetus is genetically half identical to the mother, but partly foreign, due to the father's genetic contribution. This may "prime" the immune system to be alert for cells that are similar to the self, but with some genetic differences.

Cancer cells which arise due to genetic mutations are just such cells, and there are studies which suggest that microchimeric cells may stimulate the immune system to stem the growth of tumors. Many more microchimeric cells are found in the blood of healthy women compared to those with breast cancer, for example, suggesting that microchimeric cells can somehow prevent tumor formation.


The Nobel Prize goes to...the neutrino flip

© Kamioka Observatory, ICCR, University of Tokyo
Crucial measurements were made at the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector in Japan.
The discovery that neutrinos switch between different "flavours" has won the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics.

Neutrinos are ubiquitous subatomic particles with almost no mass and which rarely interact with anything else, making them very difficult to study.

Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald led two teams which made key observations of the particles inside big underground instruments in Japan and Canada.

They were named on Tuesday morning at a news conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

Goran Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which decides on the award, declared: "This year's prize is about changes of identity among some of the most abundant inhabitants of the Universe."


Mysterious ripples found racing through planet-forming disk

© NASA/ESA/ESO/A. Boccaletti (Paris Observatory)
This set of images of a 40-billion-mile diameter edge-on disk encircling the young star AU Microscopii reveals a string of mysterious wave-like features. Astronomers discovered the ripples are moving across the disk at speed of 22,000 miles per hour (10 kilometers per second). The cause of the phenomenon is unknown and never before seen in stellar gas and dust disks.
Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope in Chile have discovered never-before-seen moving features within the dusty disk surrounding the young nearby star AU Microscopii (AU Mic). The fast moving, wave-like structures are unlike anything ever observed in a circumstellar disk, said researchers of a new analysis. This new unexplained phenomenon may provide valuable clues about how planets form inside these star-surrounding disks.

AU Mic is located 32 light-years away in the southern constellation Microscopium. It is an optimal star to observe because its circumstellar disk is tilted edge on to our view from Earth. This allows for certain details in the disk to be better seen.

Astronomers have been searching AU Mic's disk for any signs of clumpy or warped features that might offer evidence for planet formation. They discovered some unusual, apparently outward-moving features near the star by using ESO's Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet Research (SPHERE) instrument mounted on the Very Large Telescope.


A NASA experiment is going to light up US East coast sky with beautifully colored clouds tonight

© Gizmodo
If you're on the east coast tonight, keep an eye on the sky between 7pm and 9pm: NASA is launching a test of some new tech that will include releasing colorful vapor tracers 130 miles above the Earth. It sounds like it's going to be beautiful.

The vapors will be ejected from a sounding rocket launched from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. NASA explains that it has actually been injecting various vapor tracers into the atmosphere since the 1950s—these trails help scientists understand "the naturally occurring flows of ionized and neutral particles" in the upper atmosphere by injecting color tracers and tracking the flow across the sky.

Tonight, NASA says it's ejecting four different payloads of a mix of barium and strontium, creating "a cloud with a mixture of blue-green and red color."


Researchers capture rare beautiful kingfisher in the Solomon Islands - then KILL it for 'study purposes'

US researchers discovered the moustached kingfisher last month
The male moustached kingfisher was caught on camera for the first time ever by US scientists two weeks ago.

But they decided to slaughter the elusive blue bird - which was apparently in good health - to research it further.

Paul Sweet from the American Museum of Natural History said its population was substantial enough to withstand the loss.

But it is thought there are as few as 250 of the birds left, according to experts.

Alarm Clock

Does time exist? Quantum physics says no

"We choose to examine a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery." Richard Feynman, a Nobel laureate of the twentieth century (Radin, Dean. Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences In A Quantum Reality. New York, Paraview Pocket Books, 2006)

The concept of "time" is a weird one, and the world of quantum physics is even weirder. There is no shortage of observed phenomena which defy our understanding of logic, bringing into play thoughts, feelings, emotions - consciousness itself, and a post-materialist view of the universe. This fact is no better illustrated than by the classic double slit experiment, which has been used by physicists (repeatedly) to explore the role of consciousness and its role in shaping/affecting physical reality. (source) The dominant role of a physical material (Newtonian) universe was dropped the second quantum mechanics entered into the equation and shook up the very foundation of science, as it continues to do today.


Study finds volcanic eruptions affect flow of world's major rivers


Up in smoke: This is the incredible moment that Volcano Calbuco blew its top sending a huge cloud of ash into the sky
Major volcanic eruptions can have a significant effect on the flow of the biggest rivers around the world, research shows.

In the first study of its kind, scientists sought to better understand how big volcanic eruptions, which can trigger a shortage of rainfall in many regions of the world, can impact on rivers. Their findings could help scientists predict how water availability in regions throughout the world might be affected by future eruptions.

Researchers sought to learn more about the impact of a process in which volcanoes give off aerosol particles that reflect sunlight, cooling the atmosphere and leading to reduced rainfall.

A team from the University of Edinburgh analysed records of flow in 50 major rivers. Their study spanned the dates of major eruptions, from Krakatoa in 1883 to Pinatubo in 1991. The team grouped rivers by region to help identify the influence of volcanoes, and used computer models linking rainfall with eruptions to predict where rivers were likely to be affected.

Comment: Increasing cometary and volcanic dust loading of the atmosphere (one indicator is the intensification of noctilucent clouds we are witnessing) is accentuating electric charge build-up, whereby we can expect to observe more extreme weather and planetary upheaval as well as awesome light shows and other related mysterious phenomena.

The importance of atmospheric dust loading, the winning Electric Universe model, Global cooling, and much more related information, are explained in the book Earth Changes and the Human Cosmic Connection by Pierre Lescaudron and Laura Knight-Jadczyk.
The accumulation of cometary dust in the Earth's atmosphere plays an important role in the increase of tornadoes, cyclones, hurricanes and their associated rainfalls, snowfalls and lightning.