The idea for the mother’s curse goes like this. Most human genes are on chromosomes, but a tiny number are in mitochondria, little power factories in human cells that for reasons of evolutionary history have their own loops of DNA. Sperm do not pass on any mitochondria, but eggs do. Therefore, all sons and daughters inherit their mitochondrial DNA from their mother (great mother’s day present idea: sequence yourmitochondria, make into cool figure, give it to your mom thanking her for the DNA). If a harmful mutation in mitochondrial DNA ends up in a woman, she will be less evolutionarily “fit” and thus less able to pass it along. But if the mutation ends up in a man, nothing happens. He never passes along mitochondrial DNA anyway.
However, this hasn’t been tested all that often in humans. Until a perfect system arose. You see, the first King’s Daughters—or filles du roi—arrived in New France in 1663, and 800 more would follow over the next decade. They were poor and usually of common birth, but their passage and dowry were indeed paid by King Louis XIV for the purpose of empire building: These women were to marry male colonists and have many children, thus strengthening France’s hold on North America. And so they did.
One of these is Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy, which causes vision loss, usually in young men. Recently, geneticists using French Canadian genealogy have reexamined the effects of Leber’s and found a striking pattern of inheritance: It seems to show a long-theorized but never-seen-in-humans pattern called the “mother’s curse.”
Want to know more? Read about it here.
It is the height of arrogance for industrialized countries to demand that developing countries conserve nature, while they plowed down natural resources (and often still do) to gain economic supremacy.
And that sentiment is reflected in a recent piece about the 18th anniversary of the death of Michael Werikhe, the enigmatic African conservationist.
Moreover, some of these points were emphasized in an interesting stream over on twitter.
The first step is recognizing the problem. But how do we solve said problem?
The great things about CRISPR is its potential do all kinds of interesting things! The scary part about CRISPR is its ability to mutate human embryos and the slippery slope to designer babies. That last part might be an exaggeration… but given that scientists just removed a dangerous mutation from human embryos…. its not too far off.
You can read about it all over the place, but I particularly like this NY Times article.
Embryos before and after editing.
With the new aliens movie coming out this summer, Jeremy Yoder took the time to measure the strengths and weaknesses of various disciplines of biologists.
Herpetologists. Strengths: Herpers know how to handle venomous snakes and poisonous frogs safely, and those skills probably apply to hazardous alien organisms. Weakness: Their skill set and confidence maybe actually mean they’ll be more likely to try to pick up the hissing slime-thing they find alongside the trail.
Mammalogists. Strengths: Mammalogists study the clade that contains some of the most dangerous megafauna alive today, so they should be familiar with evading a stalking predator and come prepared bear spray or maybe even a gun. Weakness: They may tend to assume that anything they don’t identify as a homeothermic vertebrate is too slow and stupid to be a real threat.
Intrigued? Want to know who to bring with you on your interplanetary exploration? Read more here.
The domesticated honey bee dominates headlines as beekeepers struggle to stop mass die-offs. But they are not the only pollinators out there, and not the only bees that are declining.
“The needs of wild bees are so different that, as some experts say, raising honeybees to save pollinators is like raising chickens to help birds.”
Want to know more? Read about it here.
I hope that the current political climate has galvanized scientists in the US to become more engaged. To climb down from the Ivory Tower and get in the trenches of science communication. To fight for our funding, and for the future of scientific research in the United States.
Along those lines, you’ll be seeing a few “what can we do to help now” posts in the coming days. First up, from the American Naturalist blog, what can graduate students do in a science world that doesn’t always appreciate science.
- Stay focused
- Think of others
- Be cautious around undergraduates
- Explore your community & be an advocate
- Get better at communicating science
- Plan for the worst
Scientists on at MIT are proposing to introduce a mouse that has its genes edited to resist Lyme disease. Given the high prevalence of Lyme disease on the small New England Island, the removal of Lyme disease from the mouse population (who harbor before it infects humans) would then directly effect how prevalent it is in the human population.
But really, this story is about one of the first real world examples of CRISPR, the revolutionary gene editing tool.
Read about it over at the New Yorker.