Tag: human

5 Cool Things DNA Testing Can Do

Genes are the foundation of our physiology. They contain the code that determines what we look like and how our bodies function.

Biologist James Watson and physicist Francis Crick realized our DNA molecules form a three-dimensional double helix in 1953. But DNA research dates back to the late 1860s, according to Nature Education.

Friedrich Miescher was the first to identify “nucleic acid” in our white blood cells; his 1869 finding was later named deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA.




Others later defined the components that make up DNA molecules, identified RNA (ribonucleic acid, the other type of nucleic acid found in all cells along with DNA) and determined that although DNA differs in each species, it always maintains certain properties.

Those findings led to Watson and Crick’s conclusion, which paved the way for decades of DNA discoveries.

Today we use DNA tests to tell us about all kinds of things. Here are five cool things DNA testing can do:

Map your family tree

A DNA test could give you thousands of new relatives (although if they’re anything like ours, we’re not sure why you’d want them).

There are websites that offers to compare your DNA to those they already have on record in hopes of connecting you to unknown branches of your family tree.They can also tell you your genetic ethnicity.

Solve ancient mysteries

No one knew where Richard III, one of the most famous kings of England, was buried until his remains were discovered in a parking lot in Leicester.

The remains showed evidence of battle wounds and scoliosis, but scientists weren’t sure the skeleton was Richard III’s until DNA extracted from the bones was matched to Michael Ibsen, a direct descendant of the king’s sister.

It wasn’t the first time ancient remains had been identified using DNA. If it’s stored in a cold, dry, dark place, DNA can last for thousands of years.

In 2009, a DNA analysis of some bone fragments showed two of Czar Nicholas II’s children were killed along with the rest of the family during the Russian Revolution, despite speculation they could have escaped.

Scientists have even extracted DNA from Neanderthals, who went extinct about 30,000 years ago, in hopes of gaining insight into the evolution of humans.

Distinguish your mutt

“Where does Buddy get his curly tail from? Why does he love digging holes in the backyard? Could I be doing more to make him happier and healthier? Your dog may not be able to tell you the answers — but his DNA can,” claims one dog DNA site.

You’ll probably never figure out why Buddy loves to eat your favorite Italian pumps but you can figure out where he comes from. The website will test your mutt’s DNA against that of more than 190 breeds to determine his genetic background.

“But why?” cat lovers may be asking. “When you understand your dog’s natural tendencies, you can tailor a training, exercise and nutrition program to his needs,” the site explains.

Predict the future

Using blood from the mother and saliva from the father, scientists can now determine whether a fetus has any chromosomal abnormalities that could cause a genetic disorder.

For example, DNA testing can reveal if an unborn baby will have trisomy 21, or Down syndrome.

Researchers are beginning to expand the field of prenatal genetic testing even further, using it to identify potential developmental delays and intellectual disabilities such as autism.

Genetic testing can also reveal risk factors you may have inherited from your parents, such as a high risk for breast or colon cancer.

While this genetic risk factor does not guarantee you will get the disease, it does increase your chances; knowing about the risk may help you take preventive steps.

Help you lose weight

A growing body of research suggests that our ability to lose weight — or gain 10 pounds by simply looking at a piece of chocolate — is shaped in large part by our genes.

Scientists have identified several gene variants that may predispose us, and our children, to obesity. Rodent studies have also shown that up to 80% of body fat is regulated by our genes, according to TIME.

That said, we wouldn’t search for a customized DNA Diet just yet. While there is a genetic component to obesity, our understanding of it is limited, says CNN diet and fitness expert Dr. Melina Jampolis.

Researchers are still trying to figure out how genetics, nutrition and exercise are related so we can help people lose weight and keep it off.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

The Art Of Preserving Tattooed Skin After Death

In 2009, retired school teacher Geoff Ostling was showing his tattoos at a seminar at the National Museum of Australia when he was approached by a curator with an unusual request: Would he be open to donating his skin for posthumous display at the museum?

Nearly all of Ostling’s body is covered with floral tattoos, the result of a creative collaboration between him and Australian artist eX de Medici.

There are currently no other tattooed skins on display at the National Museum of Australia, but they do have a collection of 18 other works by eX de Medici, who is now so acclaimed she no longer does tattoos.

And while Ostling is still very much alive, he’s agreed to donate his skin when he dies. A future visitor to the museum will be able to view his taxidermied body presented as a work of art.

The collection, study, and display of tattooed human skin is a practice that goes back hundreds of years.

Modern tattoos preservation is mostly for the sake of saving art: Aside from Ostling, Irish performance artist Sandra Ann Vita Minchin plans to have her back tattoo, a recreation of a 17th Century Dutch artist’s work, preserved and auctioned to the highest bidder after she dies.




There’s also Tim Steiner, who has given consent for his large back tattoo to be preserved by a German collector after his death. In the past, though, preserved tattoos were often saved for criminologists to study.

Dr. Gemma Angel, a tattoo historian and anthropologist in the United Kingdom, told me that “whilst today the focus is often on the artistic value or iconography of tattoos, during the time when these tattoos were being collected, scholars were more interested in deciphering their meaning, and trying to establish a taxonomy of symbols that could tell them something about the individual’s usually ‘criminal’ psychology.”

The largest collection of human skins is at the Wellcome Collection at London’s Science Museum, which has over 300 individual tattoo fragments.

Tattoos over the back of a left hand. Photograph © Gemma Angel, courtesy of the Science Museum, London

Angel notes that there are other substantive collections that similarly display preserved tattooed skin: “The anthropology department of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle has around 56 pieces, very similar to the Wellcome Collection, dating from the 19th Century.

“The Department of Forensic Medicine at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland has 60 tattoos, and the Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal e Ciências Forenses (INMLCF) collections in Lisbon, Portugal, contains 70 specimens.

“And there are many more examples of smaller collections in London, Berlin, and Austria.”

A tattoo typically outlives a person’s body only by as long as burial or cremation arrangements will allow, so for a tattoo to be preserved after someone’s death, special care has to be taken.

The preserved tattoo “Roses and Daggers,” part of the Wellcome Collection. Photograph © Gemma Angel, Courtesy of the Science Museum, London

In most cases, Angel explained, “the skin would simply have been cut away from the cadaver using a scalpel. Depending upon the degree of decomposition and atmospheric conditions, this is a relatively straightforward operation.

“Skin decomposes very quickly, so in most cases removal would have taken place during autopsy.”

As fascinating as it is, public exhibits of preserved tattooed skin are rare and controversial. That’s in part because it’s unclear whether many of these skins were acquired ethically.

The preserved skins in the Wellcome Collection, for example, were all purchased from a single mysterious individual.

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Chimpanzees Aren’t Super Strong But Their Muscles Are More Powerful Than A Human’s

Since the 1920’s, some researchers and studies have suggested that chimps are ‘super strong’ compared to humans. These past studies implied that chimps’ muscle fibers, the cells that make up muscles are superior to humans’.

But a new study has found that contrary to this belief, a chimp muscles’ power output is just about 1.35 times higher than human muscle of similar size.

A difference the researchers call ‘modest‘ compared with historical, popular accounts of chimp ‘super strength’ being many times stronger than humans.




chimp

If the long-standing, assumption about chimpanzee’s exceptional strength was true, it ‘would indicate a significant and previously unappreciated evolutionary shift in the force and/or power-producing capabilities of skeletal muscle’ in either chimps or humans, whose lines diverged about 7 or 8 million years ago.

The authors of the study concluded that, contrary to some long-standing hypotheses, evolution has not altered the basic force, velocity or power-producing capabilities of skeletal muscle cells to induce the marked differences between chimpanzees and humans in walking, running, climbing and throwing capabilities.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Spontaneous Human Combustion – Could You Burst Into Flames?

Spontaneous human combustion – the act of a human being bursting into flames for no reason – has been a trope of the paranormal for hundreds of years. Explanations have been chalked up to demonic possession, alcoholism, and even ball lightning.

But how likely is it, really?

 

Check out AnomalyInfo’s page for a thorough history of Spontaneous Human Combustion:

http://anomalyinfo.com/Topics/spontan…

 

Special thanks to Nick Turnbow for his help editing this video!

Elon Musk Says We’re Probably Characters In Some Advanced Civilization’s Video Game

I don’t want to freak you out here, but there’s a chance you’re not the only ‘you’ in existence.

I’m not talking about the possibility that you might actually have two different brains, which means it’s virtually impossible to tell which one is ‘you’.

I’m talking about the fact that there could well be countless parallel universes, and each one contains a slightly different version of you.

Within that parallel universe construct, our own reality might not be as ‘real’ as you think. Are some of the most massive objects in our Universe nothing but holograms?

Is our Universe itself a hologram? Is this whole thing one giant simulation and we’re just characters in the most advanced video game ever? I swear I’m not high.




Everything I just mentioned is part of actual thought experiments that have been devised and debated over by the world’s best thinkers for years now, because one way or another, we have to make sense of this very strange and incredibly unlikely reality we’ve found ourselves in.

At Recode’s annual Code Conference this week in California, billionaire tech genius Elon Musk was asked about the possibility of us humans being unwitting participants in a giant simulation built by some alien civilization that’s far more advanced than our own.

His argument is pretty simple, if we look at our own history of video games. Forty years ago, video games meant stuff like Pong and Space Invaders.

Now we have photorealistic, three-dimensional stuff that looks like this, and we could have millions, potentially even billions, of people all playing the same game online at the same time.

Sure, there’s a certain ‘uncanny valley‘ quality to our video game counterparts right now, but think of what things are going to look like in another 40, or even 20 years’ time, with virtual and augmented reality already trying to inch its way into our living rooms.

Musk explains:

“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.

So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.”

It might not be the most comforting thing in the world to think about – our reality isn’t at all what we think it is – but Musk says all of this being one big video game is about the best option we could hope for, given the alternatives.

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DNA Proves ‘Alien’ Was Actually Human Girl—Who Was She?

The mummified fetus from the Atacama region of Chile.

Before the media frenzy, before the documentary about aliens, before her bone fragments were ground up for DNA analysis, she was a girl.

She was tiny when she died. Six inches. Perhaps she was stillborn or died very young.

Her body was reportedly found wrapped in cloth with a purple ribbon and buried—with intentionality, it would seem—near a church in La Noria, an abandoned town in the Atacama desert in northern Chile.

As for everything else, well, it went like this. In 2003, a local man who regularly scavenged La Noria for historical trinkets found her body. He noted the unusual conical shape of her head.




Almost immediately, photos of her began to circulate, and ufologists eager for evidence of aliens came calling. A businessman bought her body and brought it to Spain.

She featured prominently, as the “Atacama humanoid,” in a documentary called Sirius, which alleges, among other things, contact between aliens and ancient civilizations.

On screen, the filmmakers are shown cutting her skull open, and removing a rib fragment for DNA analysis.

That DNA analysis was published last week—in Genome Research, a legitimate journal, and authored by a team of legitimate biologists led by Garry Nolan of Stanford University.

Museums were mad for skeletons around the turn of the 20th century.

That Nolan came to work with the makers of an alien-conspiracy documentary is unorthodox, to say the least.

But it was an opportunity to study rare mutations that could explain her unusual bones as well as an opportunity to restore to her a small measure of dignity.

The DNA analysis proved what scientists had been saying all along: She is human. She could have died as recently as decades ago based on the preservation of her DNA.

In interviews, Nolan told journalists he believed her body should be returned to Chile.

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Working An Occasional Night Shift Could Kill You

Working an occasional night shift for a prolonged period could ultimately kill you, according to a major new study.

Researchers in the US looked at the medical records of about 189,000 women over a 24-year period and found a significant link between ‘rotating’ shift patterns, in which people alternate between night and day work, and coronary heart disease (CHD).

They suggested further work should be done to find out if shift patterns could be altered to reduce the risks.

Scientists have reported the adverse health effects of working night shifts before but the sheer size of this study underlines the extent of the problem.




Dr Celine Vetter, lead author of a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), said: “There are a number of known risk factors for coronary heart disease, such as smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and elevated body mass index. 

These are all critical factors when thinking how to prevent CHD. However, even after controlling for these risk factors, we still saw an increased risk of CHD associated with rotating shift work.

They found that those who worked three or more night shifts a month for a decade had a 15 to 18 per cent higher chance of getting the disease than those who did not have a rotating shift pattern  – an effect they described as “modest”.

They said their findings were applicable only to women as occasional shift work might affect men differently.

It is important to note that this is a modifiable risk factor, and changing shift schedules may have an impact on the prevention of CHD,” said Dr Vetter, an epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Our results are in line with other findings, yet, it is possible that different schedules might carry a different risk — and we have very little information on exact schedules — as well as work start and end times. 

We believe that the results from our study underline the need for future research to further explore the relationship between shift schedules, individual characteristics and coronary health to potentially reduce CHD risk.

The researchers used information from the US Nurses’ Health Study in which they reported everything from heart attacks to CHD-related chest pain. Fatalities from CHD were confirmed by death certificates.

Over the 24-year period of the study, more than 10,000 women developed the disease.

It has been suggested that changing shifts can disrupt people’s body clock, which operates on a rough 24-hour cycle.

Circadian misalignment – where the [the body’s natural rhythm is out of step] with behavioural cycles of activity, sleep and food intake – may be a key mechanism linking shift work to chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease,” the researchers wrote in the JAMA paper.

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Chips That Mimic Organs Could Be More Powerful Than Animal Testing

Each year, millions of rats and mice die for the sake of human safety. Scientists studying toxicity in chemicals feed, inject, or spray them on animals to suss out potential ill effects.

But Congress is now finally updating the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976, which will among other things encourage the Environmental Protection Agency to find alternatives to animal testing.




The updated act, which is expected to pass both houses of Congress soon, asks the EPA to consider a suite of new testing technologies.

Such as high-throughput robots that apply chemicals to cells in petri dishes and algorithms that predict toxicity based on the effects of similar chemicals.

The most ambitious, the most sci-fi of all these technologies, though, is a human body on a chip.

Think mini organs the size of matchboxes—each mimicking a patch of heart muscle or alveoli in the lungs—all connected together by a tiny circulatory system of microfluidic tubes. An entire human body in miniature.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Indian Stone Tools Could Dramatically Push Back Date When Modern Humans First Left Africa

We are all children of Africa. As members of the hominin species Homo sapiens, you and I are the product of millions of years of shared evolutionary history of life on Earth.

But as a species we are relatively recent, emerging between 400,000 and 300,000 years ago in East Africa from indigenous archaic populations.

Currently, some of the biggest questions facing palaeoanthropology involve trying to work out how and when early humans left the continent. Was it a single dispersal? Or multiple?

A recent discovery of a jawbone fossil in Israel suggests that there could have been a migration as early as about 180,000 years ago.




But a new study, published in the journal Nature, suggests early humans may have left Africa much earlier than that.

The new research reports the discovery of tools from the Middle Palaeolithic (200,000 to 40,000 years ago) in Tamil Nadu, India.

Surprisingly, the tools date back to 385,000 years ago – which is around the same time as this technology is thought to have first developed by archaic or possibly modern humans in Africa.

This challenges the view, backed by most researchers, that modern humans brought these technologies to India less than 140,000 years ago.

Attirampakkam site

Attirampakkam is located on the banks of a stream of the Kortallaiyar River in northeast Tamil Nadu.

Excavations by a team of Indian researchers revealed abundant layers of stone tools trapped within sediments deposited by streams which ran through the area in prehistory.

The site appears to have been sporadically occupied by apes and early hominins predating Homo sapiens from as far back as 1.7m years ago.

Using a dating technique called infrared-stimulated luminescence – which pinpoints the last time that sediment grains were exposed to light – the authors determined that the silts and gravels which contain the tools date to between 385,000 and 172,000 years ago.

These tools chart the transition from the Acheulean handaxe culture, created by archaic humans of the Lower Palaeolithic, to smaller tools.

The latter were produced by a more sophisticated technique called Levallois – involving the production of stone points and blades.

The tools push the date back for the origins of Middle Palaeolithic technology in India.

Previous studies have suggested that this occurred between 140,000 years and 46,000 years ago, possibly as Homo sapiens migrated into the subcontinent.

But what is perhaps more important, is what these dates mean for the emergence of Homo sapiens and our species’ migrations into the rest of the Old World.

And to understand those implications we need to consider fossils from North Africa and how they are associated with hominin species and technology.

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Do You Always Check The Weather Before Going Out? You Should Check The Disease Map Too.

The field of medical geographic information systems (Medical GIS) has become extremely useful in understanding the bigger picture of public health.

The discipline holds a substantial capacity to understand not only differences, but also similarities in population health all over the world.

New diseases and epidemics spread through the world’s population every year.




The discipline of medical geographic information systems (GIS) provides a strong framework for our increasing ability to monitor these diseases and identify their causes.

The field of medical geography has a much longer history than most are aware of, dating back to the first known doctor, Hippocrates, and progressing through the 1900s until today.

The early history leads us to the examination of contemporary examples of GIS, influences on public health, space-time mapping components, and the future of this discipline supported by Big Data.

The evolution of medical GIS from early disease maps to digital maps is a journey long in the making, and continues to evolve.

These maps have enabled us to gain insight about diseases ranging from cholera to cancer, all while increasing the knowledge of worldwide health issues.

As modern technology continues to thrive, medical GIS will remain a lasting approach for understanding populations and the world we live in.

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Pass it on: New Scientist