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Analysis and Comment (49)

Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie is willing to take a DNA test to prove her Indigenous heritage – but would that do any good? Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie is willing to take a DNA test to prove her Indigenous heritage – but would that do any good? AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Explainer: Can a DNA test reveal if you’re an Indigenous Australian?

Palmer United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie recently created controversy by claiming in her first speech to Parliament that going back six generations, she is related to the renowned Tasmanian Aboriginal…
To which flag do the kiwi bird’s ancestors belong? New Zealand, Australia or somewhere else? To which flag do the kiwi bird’s ancestors belong? New Zealand, Australia or somewhere else? Lakeview Images

Rewriting the origin of New Zealand’s kiwi bird ancestors

New research has shattered the idea that New Zealand’s iconic kiwi bird is a close relative of Australia’s emu. Instead, the kiwi has a closer connection with a giant flightless bird that was the stuff…
What parents eat before conceiving a child affects their baby’s DNA expression. What parents eat before conceiving a child affects their baby’s DNA expression. hndrk/Flickr

How your parents' diet before your birth impacts your health

Chromosomes and genes contain the blueprint for your physical characteristics. But your parents' health and diet before you were conceived can also affect how your genes are expressed – and impact your…
Imagine your DNA as strands of fairy lights – and if a globe blew, you could remove it and pop in another. Imagine your DNA as strands of fairy lights – and if a globe blew, you could remove it and pop in another. kyz/Flickr

Explainer: what is genomic editing?

Mistakes in the paper version of the Encyclopædia Britannica took a long time to correct – years often passed between revised editions – but these days editing information is much easier. In electronic…
Hydrogen peroxide – widely used in hair bleach – may also hold the key to life on early Earth. Hydrogen peroxide – widely used in hair bleach – may also hold the key to life on early Earth. Brandon Milner Photography/Flickr

Can bleach help solve the origin of life in the primordial soup?

A chemical found in hair bleach may help answer questions about the origins of life and explain why new life does not emerge on modern Earth. Hydrogen peroxide may have helped transform RNA (ribonucleic…
Wild chickens are everywhere in Hawaii but how did they get there? Wild chickens are everywhere in Hawaii but how did they get there? Flickr/jaybergesen

Chickens tell tale of human migration across Pacific

Holiday in Hawaii and one of the birds you’re most likely to encounter is the chicken. You find them everywhere from beaches, to car parks and on walks through the bushland. The locals warn that your chance…
Too much information could be a recipe for disaster. Too much information could be a recipe for disaster. Abode of Chaos

The next pandemic could be downloaded from the internet

Last October, scientists in California sequenced the DNA for the “type H” botulinum toxin. One gram of this toxin would be sufficient to kill half a billion people, making it the deadliest substance yet…
The reason few errors are discovered is that it’s so hard to identify them. The reason few errors are discovered is that it’s so hard to identify them. Image from shutterstock.com

Truth or lies: overturning wrongful convictions

A person is wrongly convicted of a serious crime, then fresh evidence reveals they are, in fact, innocent. It’s a thriller movie formula and you’d hope that if this were to happen, justice would prevail…
Fashion tastes probably change too. Fashion tastes probably change too. Simon Whittaker

How your grandparents' life could have changed your genes

If your great-grandparents lived through a famine, their experience could well have altered their genetic code. And three generations later you could well be showing signs of that change. The idea that…
Skate, or “skate”? Skate, or “skate”? Andrew M Griffiths

Unchecked food fraud threatens vulnerable fish

The deliberate act of falsely representing, labelling or advertising food, known as “food fraud”, is not a recent phenomenon. The deceitful adulteration of food has a long history based on the promise…
Whole genome sequencing can help identify the source of the antibiotic resistance. Whole genome sequencing can help identify the source of the antibiotic resistance. Shutterstock

Genomic analysis could help win the fight against superbugs

Some recent headlines from Australian newspapers: NSW hospitals worst place for Golden Staph; CA-MRSA - the killer in our midst; Superbug onslaught. By now, most people are aware that antibiotic-resistant…
This Yellow Wagtail is a fugitive in flight, but forensic technology will track him down. This Yellow Wagtail is a fugitive in flight, but forensic technology will track him down. Flickr: jcoelho

CSI: Birding … barcoding the past, present and future

The extinction of an animal is no longer the end of our opportunity to learn new things about its ecology and biology. The same technology that recently reconstructed the genome of the Neanderthal man…
RNA is similar to DNA in lots of ways. But an extra oxygen atom makes all the difference. RNA is similar to DNA in lots of ways. But an extra oxygen atom makes all the difference. Image from shutterstock.com

Explainer: what is RNA?

Our genetic material is encoded in DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA is famous. But you may also have also heard of RNA (ribonucleic acid). So, what is RNA, and what is it good for? Quite a lot really…
Three metres of DNA is looped and folded so it fits into a tiny human cell nucleus, but what other effects does this have? Three metres of DNA is looped and folded so it fits into a tiny human cell nucleus, but what other effects does this have? dullhunk

Kinky genes: how we fit three metres of DNA into a cell nucleus

When scientists first decided to sequence the human genome, it seemed an impossibly large and complicated challenge. A decade since achieving this aim, scientists are faced with a similarly overwhelming…
Genetics can explain a black or white cat in a litter, but what about a stripey cat? Enter epigenetics. Genetics can explain a black or white cat in a litter, but what about a stripey cat? Enter epigenetics. Taylor Bennett

Explainer: what is epigenetics?

The word epigenetics means things imposed “on top of genetics”. But what sort of things? Imagine a white mouse breeds with a black mouse – say you get three white babies and three black babies. That’s…
Children are getting their (mis)information about some scientific concepts from mass media sources. Children are getting their (mis)information about some scientific concepts from mass media sources. Genetics image from www.shutterstock.com

‘You catch criminals with DNA’: What kids know (and don’t know) about genetics

“DNA is your blood in you, we can use DNA as evidence if someone’s been stabbed. We can run tests in suspects.” (Girl, 12, central Queensland) “DNA has to do with blood types and fingerprints, it helps…
Allowing patents that capture categories of unique genomic DNA damages the principle of open access. Allowing patents that capture categories of unique genomic DNA damages the principle of open access. Nestlé/Flickr

Ensure open access to genetic data to protect innovation

Public investment in the Human Genome Project was expected to deliver a global public good that would help generate scientific breakthroughs. But open access to our genetic blueprint is a precondition…
Colorized low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria. The individual bacterium are rectangular and brown. Colorized low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria. The individual bacterium are rectangular and brown. Microbe World/Flickr

Bacterial genomics offers new approaches to better health

Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms abundant in nature that can’t be seen with the naked eye. In fact, there are approximately five multiplied by 10³¹ bacteria on the earth, constituting 90% of its…
Personalised nutrition helps us understand the unique nutritional requirements of each individual. Personalised nutrition helps us understand the unique nutritional requirements of each individual. Cayusa/Flickr

Personalised nutrition unravels why you are what you eat

The father of western medicine Hippocrates famously said: “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”, arguing disease was not a punishment from the gods, but the consequence of a poor diet. Today…
It makes sense to exercise caution when we’re fiddling with genes in food. It makes sense to exercise caution when we’re fiddling with genes in food. Food Ethics Council

Securing the safety of genetic modification

Most genetically modified (GM) crops are based on moving DNA from one organism to another to introduce a new protein. Now a growing number of genetically modified crops are based on intentionally changing…
The use of the term “junk DNA” has always been controversial. The use of the term “junk DNA” has always been controversial. Nick Kidd

Not dead yet: junk DNA is back

A controversy at last: most of our DNA is junk, no it isn’t, yes it is. Actually, I think it is – up to 90% really is junk. Last year The Conversation published an article with an exciting headline: Human…
The Falkland Islands wolf was marooned for thousands of years before going extinct. The Falkland Islands wolf was marooned for thousands of years before going extinct. Michael Rothman for Ace Coinage, Inc

History mystery solved: the origins of the Falkland Islands wolf

A long-standing natural history mystery has been solved, as my colleagues and I explain today in the journal Nature Communications. The Falkland Islands wolf, or warrah, may have been the world’s loneliest…
The skeleton of Richard III was discovered beneath a car park in Leicester, and identified using the DNA of his descendants. The skeleton of Richard III was discovered beneath a car park in Leicester, and identified using the DNA of his descendants. EPA/HO

More than a hunch: identifying Richard III with DNA

In the past few days news has come to light of the confirmation that skeletal remains discovered in an excavated site of a Leicester car park are indeed that of the famous English king Richard III. But…
We’re all familiar with the double helix structure so vital to life, but DNA can take other forms. We’re all familiar with the double helix structure so vital to life, but DNA can take other forms. ctbroek/Flickr

Explainer: quadruple-helix DNA

DNA has been called many things: the king of molecules, the blueprint of life, and less excitingly but perhaps more accurately, the genetic code. DNA’s double helix, discovered in 1953 by James Watson…
You could fill this with coffee … or the equivalent of millions of DVDs. You could fill this with coffee … or the equivalent of millions of DVDs. raindog/Flickr

DNA data storage: 100 million hours of HD video in every cup

Biological systems have been using DNA as an information storage molecule for billions of years. Vast amounts of data can thus be encoded within microscopic volumes, and we carry the proof of this concept…
The Indian Myna is an invasive species – but has its behaviour changed in Australia? The Indian Myna is an invasive species – but has its behaviour changed in Australia? Wikimedia Commons.

Besieged by destructive plants and animals? Blame epigenetics

Plants and animals that are seemingly harmless in their native habitats can become quite aggressive or even destructive in a new location. Think of the rats that have been a source of human and animal…
The human brain can write plays and build robots, but where did this intelligence come from? The human brain can write plays and build robots, but where did this intelligence come from? ores2k

Human intelligence: why are we the smartest primates?

Intelligence is our most complex characteristic. Some would even say it defines us, setting us apart from other primates. And now, a new study – published this week by Hennady P. Shulha and colleagues…
Could DNA-based prevention efforts spell trouble for illegal loggers? Could DNA-based prevention efforts spell trouble for illegal loggers? jimmedia

DNA based methods leave illegal loggers with no place to hide

Illegal logging is a major contributor to tropical deforestation and forest degradation. Australia is currently considering legislation to prevent the importation of illegally logged wood. But if the legislation…
DNA in bone appears to decay at a rate almost 400-times slower than previously thought. DNA in bone appears to decay at a rate almost 400-times slower than previously thought. M.Bunce

Moa bones reveal DNA half-life but Jurassic Park remains fiction

Moa birds disappeared from New Zealand following the arrival of human settlers in the 13th century, but their fossils now provide us with a valuable clues about long-term DNA survival and how DNA decays…
More than 99.5% of the genome is identical between two humans, but that still leaves 15m positions to search through. More than 99.5% of the genome is identical between two humans, but that still leaves 15m positions to search through. fdecomite

Personal genomics: where science fiction meets reality

Imagine a future where doctors take a strand of your hair or a drop of your blood and tell you your DNA predicts a 78% risk of developing heart disease. On the plus side, it also predicts exactly which…
DNA barcoding uses a few standard genes to provide a sure-fire genetic species identification method. DNA barcoding uses a few standard genes to provide a sure-fire genetic species identification method. Conor Lawless

Genetically linked, a continent apart: the rise of DNA barcoding

We’ve written previously on The Conversation about how taxonomy – the science of describing and naming species – can be quite a subjective science. But taxonomists can broadly be split into two camps…
What part do superstition and inconsistency play in contemporary genetic research? What part do superstition and inconsistency play in contemporary genetic research? DNA Art Online

Uncomfortable truth: an ecologist in the genetics lab

I’ve been an ecologist in Australia for the last ten years, working for both government agencies and as a university researcher. Over this time, funding for fieldwork has been increasingly hard to secure…
Technical, financial and legal barriers stop the sharing of vital information in medical research. Technical, financial and legal barriers stop the sharing of vital information in medical research. Frans de Waal/ Wikimedia Commons

Sharing is caring: we need open access to genetic information

A paper published today in Science Translational Medicine calls for the open sharing of clinical trial data among the medical research community. Researchers argue data sharing would lead to faster, more…
A whole genome test is meaningless unless you can interpret it. A whole genome test is meaningless unless you can interpret it. Dave Faryam

The $1000 genome map: do you really want to know?

It’s now possible to access genetic testing from your living room or office, without the need to visit a health professional. There are many reasons why you might like to get a genetic test. Maybe someone…
Lack of genetic diversity makes it hard for island-bound species to survive when threats arrive. Lack of genetic diversity makes it hard for island-bound species to survive when threats arrive. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Island living may have been a death sentence for the Tassie tiger: is the devil next?

We have all heard at some time or another that Australia has the worst record of mammal extinctions in history, with many of our unique and vulnerable critters succumbing only years after the first Europeans…
The Red Deer Cave people and humans could be part of different evolutionary lines. The Red Deer Cave people and humans could be part of different evolutionary lines. Peter Schouten

Defining ‘human’ – new fossils provide more questions than answers

The origin of the human species remains one of the most fascinating and difficult topics of modern science. One of the main reasons for this is a continuing lack of agreement about how we should define…
The demise of the woolly mammoth could teach us much about our effect on other species. The demise of the woolly mammoth could teach us much about our effect on other species. George Teichmann

Did climate cause the extinction of the Ice Age megafauna?

When we think of the last 50,000 years of prehistory, particularly the “Ice Age”, extinct species such as the woolly mammoth and woolly rhinoceros often spring to mind. Did humans bring about the extinction…
Landscape is the star in The Hunter, but science plays a respectable supporting role. Landscape is the star in The Hunter, but science plays a respectable supporting role. Matthew Nettheim

The Hunter: bioethics and extinct DNA in the Tasmanian wilderness

All over the planet, a new wave of exploration and exploitation is taking place. Bioprospectors are searching for new and useful biological samples and compounds from previously unstudied animals and plants…
We may have pinpointed the event that started modern Y. pestis epidemics. We may have pinpointed the event that started modern Y. pestis epidemics. Steam Pirate.

Did the Black Death give birth to modern plagues?

Could contemporary plague outbreaks such as those that have hit Peru and the USA have their origins in the medieval era? It would seem so. A paper published in Nature today reports a genome sequence taken…
So what’s it to be, buddy, my cave or yours? So what’s it to be, buddy, my cave or yours? Kaptain Kobold

Sex with our evolutionary cousins? What’s not to love?

We humans had sex with Neandertals; we bonked the relatives of Neandertals; we got down and dirty with members of an as-yet unrecognised African population; and we, of course, got jiggy with each other…
GM is not being used to make fishbread Frankenfoods. GM is not being used to make fishbread Frankenfoods. Dave Lifson/Flickr

Top five myths about genetic modification

The Conversation asked CSIRO scientist, Richard Richards, to look at the top five myths about genetic modification (GM), and correct the public record. Myth one: GM is just haphazard, imprecise cross-breeding…
The man behind the mask. Ned Kelly’s skeleton can finally be laid to rest. The man behind the mask. Ned Kelly’s skeleton can finally be laid to rest. the euskadi 11

Ned Kelly remains are positively identified … but how was it done?

The remains of iconic bushranger Ned Kelly have been positively identified by forensic scientists more than a century after his hanging in 1880. The identification was made after an exhaustive forensic…
A US court has recognised Myriad Genetics' patent for an isolated gene, which plays a role in breast cancer. A US court has recognised Myriad Genetics' patent for an isolated gene, which plays a role in breast cancer. Mel Rowling

Patent controversy: what the US decision about breast cancer gene patent means for Australia

The recent US Federal Court of Appeals decision relates to the patent law status of inventions based on the discovery that particular mutations in BRCA genes predispose women to breast and ovarian cancer…
Understanding DNA is vital to developing our knowledge of complex diseases. Understanding DNA is vital to developing our knowledge of complex diseases. DNA Art Online

Want to assemble the human genome on your desktop? Now you can …

Imagine taking a thousand copies of a phone book, shredding them all together, then trying to use the overlapping pieces to reconstruct a copy. This is a simple problem compared to assembling the human…
Animals aren’t to blame – the bacteria came from humans. Animals aren’t to blame – the bacteria came from humans.

Genetic detectives: tracking the real culprits the German E. coli outbreak

The genomes of the recent German E. coli outbreak have revealed crucial insights into the origins of this deadly strain. The bacteria was found in German bean sprouts but it didn’t originate from the gut…
Try as you might, there’s no proof you can control your genetic expression. Try as you might, there’s no proof you can control your genetic expression. mutsmuts/Flickr

Think you can think yourself better? Think again

Can the way we think influence the way we feel? Most of us would say yes. But can thinking affect the way our bodies behave on a genetic level? Can we, in essence, think ourselves better? A growing band…

Research and News (9)

Research Briefs (33)

Minor DNA changes determine hair colour

Hair colour in humans is largely determined by a molecule critical to stem cell function and development, according to a…

DNA link to asthma

A study involving thousands of people has revealed two distinct DNA areas in asthma patients. “Two regions of the DNA were…

Chronic stress damages your DNA

For the first time, researchers have identified the mechanism by which chronic stress can damage DNA. By infusing mice with…

DNA sent from space

New evidence has supported belief that the building blocks of DNA were brought to Earth by meteorites. The existence of DNA…

DNA linked to heart attacks

A specific DNA variant is linked with a person’s likelihood of suffering sudden cardiac death, according to researchers at…

Limb gene present in ancient fish

A genetic instruction controlling limb development was present in fish almost half a billion years ago, researchers at a…