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Analysis and Comment (107)

Is beauty in the face of the beheld? Is beauty in the face of the beheld? Shutterstock

Facial symmetry and good health may not be related

Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder. And yet, there are many faces that a majority would find beautiful, say, George Clooney’s or Audrey Hepburn’s. Psychologists interested in mate selection…
The face of malaria - diagnosed with a severe case of malaria. The face of malaria - diagnosed with a severe case of malaria. Flickr/Gates Foundation

Stopping malaria by starving the parasite may lead to new drugs

A new drug for malaria could be developed after a way has been found to kill the parasite that causes the disease. Malaria remains one of the world’s top three single-cause infectious diseases and is caused…
Domesticated mammals, including dogs, share a number of characteristic features. Domesticated mammals, including dogs, share a number of characteristic features. Klearchos Kapoutsis/Flickr

Why so many domesticated mammals have floppy ears

Take a look at several domesticated mammal species and you might spot a number of similarities between them, including those cute floppy ears. The famous naturalist and evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin…
Many of the genes for maths and reading overlap. Many of the genes for maths and reading overlap. Businessman via alphaspirit/Shutterstock

Better at reading than maths? Don’t blame it all on your genes

I disliked and feared maths for most of my school career and dropped it as soon as I possibly could. My mother recalls me crying as a five-year-old because: “I can’t do the people-on-the-bus sums”. If…
Genetics is just the latest specialist knowledge threatening to take the question of criminal responsibility away from law and hand it over to science. Genetics is just the latest specialist knowledge threatening to take the question of criminal responsibility away from law and hand it over to science. Graham/Flickr

Genes made me do it: genetics, responsibility and criminal law

Welcome to Biology and Blame, a series of articles examining historical and current influences on the notion of criminal responsibility. Today, Arlie Loughnan considers the challenge to the legal system…
Rather than there being a single ‘gay gene’, there may be many which contribute to sexual preference. Rather than there being a single ‘gay gene’, there may be many which contribute to sexual preference. Sasha Kargaltsev/Flickr

Born this way? An evolutionary view of ‘gay genes’

The claim that homosexual men share a “gay gene” created a furore in the 1990s. But new research two decades on supports this claim – and adds another candidate gene. To an evolutionary geneticist, the…
Building yeast chromosomes – cheers to that! Building yeast chromosomes – cheers to that! Scott Beale/Flicke

Making ‘designer genes’ from scratch begins with yeast

Australia is to play a significant role in the quest for artificial life as it joins an international project to create the world’s first synthetic yeast, we can announce today. Under the leadership of…
Same genes, different outfits. Same genes, different outfits. Spinal Research

Explainer: what is twin research?

Hugo and Ross Turner are a pair of intrepid twins currently on an expedition to Greenland. One of them, Ross, is using the same style of equipment and facilities used by Ernest Shackleton 100 years ago…
Neurogenetic disease is an umbrella term to describe inherited diseases that affect the nervous system. Neurogenetic disease is an umbrella term to describe inherited diseases that affect the nervous system. Shutterstock/Dmitry Naumov

Explainer: what are neurogenetic diseases?

Each year, thousands of Australians are diagnosed with an inherited condition that affects their nervous system. Neurogenetic disease is an umbrella term to describe these conditions, which are primarily…
Subject to change. Subject to change. Bak16/Deviant Art

Explainer: what is genetic risk?

Genetic risk is the contribution our genes play in the chance we have of developing certain illnesses or diseases. Genes are not the only deciding factor for whether or not we will develop certain diseases…
A gamma bomb was responsible for Bruce Banner’s alter ego the Hulk, but for most men, aggression is the result of genes. A gamma bomb was responsible for Bruce Banner’s alter ego the Hulk, but for most men, aggression is the result of genes. Kevin Thai/Flickr

Temper trap: the genetics of aggression and self-control

Everyone knows someone with a quick temper – it might even be you. And while scientists have known for decades that aggression is hereditary, there is another biological layer to those angry flare-ups…
You can never be too safe. You can never be too safe. government_press_office

Households are new source of antibiotic-resistant superbug

Human skin is a garden of microbes which is home to about 1,000 bacterial species. Most are benign but some invade the skin and cause illness – and of these, antibiotic resistant bacteria are particularly…
Supermodel Gisele Bündchen: sixth generation German, 100% Brazilian. Supermodel Gisele Bündchen: sixth generation German, 100% Brazilian. Bob Bekian

Genetic research fights disease but it can be hijacked by politics

There’s a huge variety in physical appearance in Latin America: there are indigenous native Americans, descendants of African slaves, Europeans and Middle Easterners of all kinds, and Chinese and Japanese…
Paternity doubts are a source of gossip and emotional trauma – with a man, woman and child caught in between. Paternity doubts are a source of gossip and emotional trauma – with a man, woman and child caught in between. SBS (resized)

Who’s your Daddy? seeks answers in all the wrong places

How often is a person’s biological father someone other than the man they call dad? Paternity doubts are a source of gossip, on the one hand, and emotional trauma, on the other. But our assumptions about…
A conservation success story, Bald Eagle numbers are now sky high. A conservation success story, Bald Eagle numbers are now sky high. Frank Kovalchek

Conservation should protect genetically isolated species, not just the most rare

The number of endangered bird species is rising and even with our best intentions, there isn’t enough money to save them all – so how do we decide which species we should let go? A new approach has been…
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…
An Inupiat Eskimo family from Alaska in 1929, whose ancestors would have crossed Beringia thousands of years previously. An Inupiat Eskimo family from Alaska in 1929, whose ancestors would have crossed Beringia thousands of years previously. Edward Curtis

First Americans lived on land bridge for thousands of years, genetics study suggests

The theory that the Americas were populated by humans crossing from Siberia to Alaska across a land bridge was first proposed as far back as 1590, and has been generally accepted since the 1930s. But genetic…
Moving forward in science doesn’t mean moving back in politics. Moving forward in science doesn’t mean moving back in politics. Weeklydig

Gay genetics research still causes irrational fears

Why does a “gay gene” paper still cause a stir? A similar paper on any other topic would probably have passed unnoticed. But this is sex research – where public interest is huge but real funds and real…
The disease is written in our DNA code… somewhere. The disease is written in our DNA code… somewhere. www.shutterstock.aom

Diving deep into data to crack the gene code on disease

The key to understanding disease is in our DNA – the human genome which contains the instructions on how our body should develop and grow. The key to progress in genomics research is in combining as much…
How many A*s does one family need? How many A*s does one family need? Andrew Milligan/PA

Twins show success at school is not just down to genes

There is a common misconception that genes are deterministic and that human potential is fixed at birth. This could not be further from the truth. We, as behavioural geneticists, see no evidence whatsoever…
Unlocking the code for global solutions. Unlocking the code for global solutions. ricricciardi

Genetics may be key to climate change solutions

As the effects of climate change rapidly alter communities, economies and natural systems, the need to advance new solutions to what may be the most pressing biological challenge of our time has never…
Heritability: how much do your genes impact your traits? Heritability: how much do your genes impact your traits? Jenn Durfey

Explainer: what is heritability?

Schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder and autism have all had recent attention for being “genetically caused”. In scientific research being genetically caused usually corresponds to having a high…
It’s hard to replace plain flour with self-raising flour in a cake, but luckily, our chromosomes are more like cars. It’s hard to replace plain flour with self-raising flour in a cake, but luckily, our chromosomes are more like cars. juni xu

Explainer: what is gene therapy?

Every now and again you might read about gene therapy and efforts to correct serious genetic diseases. But I’m betting that very few readers have had gene therapy, nor have they ever met anyone who has…
Granny, why are your eyes so big? Granny, why are your eyes so big? Gustave Dore

As they spread, folktales evolve like biological species

We all know the story: Once upon a time there was a young girl who took a walk through the woods to visit her grandmother, carrying a basket of goodies. When she arrived she found her granny ill in bed…
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…
Ash dieback - wilting our leaves since September 2012. Ash dieback - wilting our leaves since September 2012. Gareth Fuller/PA

We must develop the genetic tools to fight ash dieback

Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood in Norfolk, England has been managed by coppicing, an ancient form of forestry, for more than a thousand years. It was recorded as coppiced woodland in the Domesday Book published…
Even with water temperatures down to -20°C, Deep Lake is home to a surprising amount of life (and not just our research camp). Even with water temperatures down to -20°C, Deep Lake is home to a surprising amount of life (and not just our research camp). Rick Cavicchioli

Sub-zero heroes: extremophiles call salty Antarctic lakes home

Imagine a lake so salty its water exists in a liquid state at -20 °C – then picture something thriving in that seemingly lethal environment. Such an organism exists; several of them, in fact. In a paper…
The difference between developing as a normal male and being intersex can be down to a single gene. The difference between developing as a normal male and being intersex can be down to a single gene. briansuda

Ambiguous genitals? You may have wrinkly genes

Sex in mammals, including mouse and human, is determined genetically and depends on the paternal sex chromosome - X or Y - received at the time of fertilisation. If nothing goes wrong, an XX individual…
Metal-resistant trout: first Cornish rivers, then the world. Metal-resistant trout: first Cornish rivers, then the world. Philthy54

The trout that like heavy metal

Contaminated during the surrounding area’s history of mining, the River Hayle in Cornwall contains metals including copper, zinc, nickel and cadmium at levels that can kill brown trout, a particularly…
On the comeback trail? On the comeback trail? flickr: London looks

Mammoth cloning: the ethics

The display of a frozen mammoth in Japan has again raised questions as to the possibility of creating a live born clone of extinct animals. Theoretically, mammoths could be cloned by recovering, reconstructing…
What matters more when it comes to intelligence: nature or nurture? What matters more when it comes to intelligence: nature or nurture? Brain image from www.shutterstock.com

Are genes really the reason more poor kids do badly at school?

A news report recently informed readers that the reason children from poorer backgrounds struggle is due to genetic “inherited abilities”. According to the article, a new Productivity Commission report…
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…
At least I’m not French … oh, wait. At least I’m not French … oh, wait. Mark Richards/PA

Will-I-Am Indian, but does it matter?

The front-page of The Times carried a story today that William could be “Britain’s first king to have proven Indian ancestry”. The story continues inside, along with an advert for the personal DNA testing…
The Times claimed today that Prince William has Indian ancestors. The Times claimed today that Prince William has Indian ancestors. Vincent Lyon-Dalberg-Acton

Attention The Times: Prince William’s DNA is not a toy

An ancestor of Prince William’s from the 19th century was half Indian, according to The Times. This claim is based on analysis of his distant cousins' DNA. We have such technology today, but how comfortable…
Mice have revealed many of biology’s secrets. Mice have revealed many of biology’s secrets. Stuart Read/APN

Animals in research: mice

Our series, Animals in Research, profiles the top organisms used for science experimentation. Here, we look at a species familiar to most: Mus musculus, or the mouse. Mice have been close companions of…
The key to becoming the dominant species on the planet. The key to becoming the dominant species on the planet. Gabriel-Alexandre Decamps

What makes us human: genetics, culture or both?

In Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey, a group of our ape-like ancestors encounter a towering black rectangle somewhere in an African desert. Something in them changes. A seed is sown. Everything…
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…
Dad? Dad? Hans S

Are you a Viking? Yes, but so is everyone else

In our lab we have a phone that rings several times a day. The conversation is always the same. A man from somewhere in the UK is desperate to know the answer to one question: “Am I a Viking?” An answer…
Can our knowledge of genetics allow us to one day breed happier animals? Can our knowledge of genetics allow us to one day breed happier animals? Reema Rattan

Genomics in the future: a glimpse at the Future Farm

A leading molecular biologist and her children are visiting Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, but it’s 2053 now and things are slightly different. “Will there be chickens at the Easter Show?” asks Emily, the…
Genes aren’t the be-all-and-end-all - there are other factors that influence you. Genes aren’t the be-all-and-end-all - there are other factors that influence you. Cayusa

Are you a mutant? Genes matter, but there’s more to life …

Are you a mutant? Am I? The advent of personal genomics makes this question less like a Marvel Comics story idea than it did in the past. But, as Spiderman’s uncle Ben might have put it: with great power…
We have plenty of resources that could stop us falling off the edge. We have plenty of resources that could stop us falling off the edge. Chris Philavanh

Can we resolve the ‘peak everything’ problem?

With world population exceeding seven billion, there is renewed interest in the limits to growth concept first articulated by the Club of Rome in the 1970s. How can a growing population with growing affluence…
The definition of the word gene has evolved as our knowledge has advanced. The definition of the word gene has evolved as our knowledge has advanced. Katy.Tresedder

Explainer: what is a gene?

There’s a very confusing exchange in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more…
It seems Architeuthis dux is the only species of giant squid. It seems Architeuthis dux is the only species of giant squid. NHK/NEP/Discovery Channel

There can be only one: giant squid is the singular king of the ocean

As many as 21 species of giant squid live and die under the surface of our oceans. At least, that’s what we thought. A paper published today by my colleagues and I in Proceedings of the Royal Society B…
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…
Maybe we’re not as different as we’d like to think. Maybe we’re not as different as we’d like to think. pcgn7

Talk it over: language, uniquely, makes us human

We humans tend to consider ourselves apart from other species. But we’re not really so different. So what makes us unique? I’d say it’s language, though not everyone would agree. Some people insist it’s…
Your genetic make up interacts with what you eat to either promote or harm good health. Your genetic make up interacts with what you eat to either promote or harm good health. Mark Lucock

Nutrigenomics: how nutrition and genetics impact health

A month ago, I returned to Australia from a trip to Burma. After four weeks in the country, I’d acclimatised to the culture, cuisine and people. My conditioning was so complete that on my return, I was…
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…
There are a lot of components to biology – bioinformatics helps us makes sense of them all. There are a lot of components to biology – bioinformatics helps us makes sense of them all. Image from Shutterstock.com

Explainer: what is bioinformatics?

Bioinformatics underpins and enables research across the life sciences. This ranges from high-volume reductionist science (genomics, proteomics and the other “omics”, regulation of gene activity, epigenetics…
In order to drag themselves onto land, fish-like creatures needed limbs. In order to drag themselves onto land, fish-like creatures needed limbs. Thierrry

They came from the sea: the gene behind limb evolution

In the late Devonian period, roughly 365 million years ago, fish-like creatures started venturing from shallow waters onto land. Among the various adaptations associated with the switch to land life was…
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…
We share many behaviours and characteristics with our primate cousins and now we know our blood types are more closely linked as well. We share many behaviours and characteristics with our primate cousins and now we know our blood types are more closely linked as well. AAP Image/Taronga Zoo

As easy as A, B … humans and other primates are blood brothers

A study published in PNAS this week has confirmed that human blood types were present in one of our ancient primate ancestors. The ABO blood groups Beloved by genetics teachers the world over, the ABO…
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…
The stories behind the Human Genome Project are themselves extraordinarily human. The stories behind the Human Genome Project are themselves extraordinarily human. widdowquinn

Explainer: what is the Human Genome Project?

For many decades humans have pursued work to characterise the human genome. Today, publicly available references to genome sequences are available and have been instrumental in effecting recent advances…
Scientists are looking for ever-more-sophisticated ways to find and optimise athletes. Scientists are looking for ever-more-sophisticated ways to find and optimise athletes. Steven Johnson

Athletic ability and genetics: can science spot a sure-fire winner?

For more than 50 years, sport scientists have used a variety of physical tests to try and identify those exceptional athletes who walk among us. Despite most countries having some sort of athlete talent…
The completed sequence of the banana’s 11 chromosomes has global implications. The completed sequence of the banana’s 11 chromosomes has global implications. Caro Wallace

Musa genome mapped: that’s bananas!

What’s not to love about bananas? Besides being a wildly popular dessert fruit, they are the staple food of millions of people in developing countries. The current edition of Nature carries a paper that…
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…
Genetic information should only be shared with full and informed consent. Genetic information should only be shared with full and informed consent. Jack Fussell

Sharing isn’t always caring: genetic privacy must come first

Yesterday on The Conversation, Timothy Smith from the Florey Neurosciences Institute argued that in order to improve genetics research, we need free and open access to genetic information. But while the…
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…
It’s time for a change in the way we categorise life on Earth. It’s time for a change in the way we categorise life on Earth. ஆ ன ந் த ம் / a n a n d h a m

DNA barcoding: a better way to discover species

It might surprise you to learn that the idea of a “species” is one of the more ambiguous concepts in science. Originally, “species” (meaning “kind” or “sort” in Latin) was used to refer to organisms that…
Rejoice: rumours of male extinction may be out of line. Rejoice: rumours of male extinction may be out of line. StuartOlver

Despair not, blokes, there’s hope for the Y chromosome yet

There’s something degenerate in every male (no, seriously). We members of the facial-hair-bearing sex carry, among the 23 pairs of chromosomes in every one of our cells, an odd pair of sex-chromosomes…
Genetic variants that contribute to the risk of schizophrenia are present in everyone. Genetic variants that contribute to the risk of schizophrenia are present in everyone. Flickr/Akelei van Dam

Schizophrenia risk linked to common genetic variants

A quarter of the risk for developing schizophrenia can be traced to genetic variations that are common in the general population, a study by Queensland researchers has found. A new method of genetic analysis…
Researchers have taken important steps in conserving endangered cats. Researchers have taken important steps in conserving endangered cats. dragaroo/Flickr

Saving the snow leopard: stem-cell generation a bright new hope

Looking at embryonic cells allows researchers to understand many of the fundamental questions about how an animal’s genes are structured and the role they play in developing the adult animal. This information…
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…
Motherhood has made women’s immune systems stronger. Motherhood has made women’s immune systems stronger. Wendkuni

The X-factor: women are stronger than you think (it’s in our genes)

Research published in this month’s BioEssays confirms something many of us have always known: women have stronger immune systems than men. We fight off infections more readily, are less likely to develop…
It’s clear that some people are just more predisposed to getting melanoma with the same level sun exposure than others. It’s clear that some people are just more predisposed to getting melanoma with the same level sun exposure than others. Andrey/Wikimedia Commonns

Understanding the genetic basis of melanoma

An international study published today in Nature Genetics, has discovered two genetic variants that increase the risk of melanoma. Melanoma is not the most common type of skin cancer but it is one of the…
Psychologists have debated whether our interests are a result of nature or nurture for more than 100 years. Psychologists have debated whether our interests are a result of nature or nurture for more than 100 years. pbkwee/Flickr

Nature v nurture: score one all

So, you’ve got your father’s blonde hair and you were raised in a cricket-mad household and you like cricket. But is it your genes or your childhood that’s responsible for your love of cricket or your…
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…
Francis Galton pioneered the concept of eugenics in this lab in London in the late 19th century. Francis Galton pioneered the concept of eugenics in this lab in London in the late 19th century. Flickr/Science Museum London

Eugenics in Australia: The secret of Melbourne’s elite

Eugenics — the science of improving the race —was a powerful influence on the development of Western civilisation in the first half of the twentieth century. And Melbourne’s elite were among its chief…
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…
Despite attacks, CSIRO isn’t giving up on genetic research. Despite attacks, CSIRO isn’t giving up on genetic research. AAP

CSIRO: GM essential for health and food security

Just as medical researchers work to unlock the role our human genes play in disease, CSIRO investigates how plant genes can be used to boost the health benefits of food, increase crop yields and prevent…
These genes exert their influence through the immune system. These genes exert their influence through the immune system. Flickr/Natashacld

Revealed: 57 pieces of the MS puzzle

In one of the largest human genetic studies ever undertaken, scientists have identified the major common genetic variants that contribute to the cause of the devastating neurological disease, multiple…
A test case is slated to challenge Myriad’s claim for breast cancer genetic mutations next February. A test case is slated to challenge Myriad’s claim for breast cancer genetic mutations next February. TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³/Flickr

Patent controversy: don’t let breast cancer gene genie out of the bottle

The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has found Myriad Genetics is entitled to patents on two sets human genetic mutations used to predict if women have an increased risk of breast and ovarian…
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…
Specialists can go on a genetic fishing expedition tracking down potential relatives. Specialists can go on a genetic fishing expedition tracking down potential relatives.

Why loosening genetic privacy law is a recipe for fear and frustration

Doctors are supposed to keep patient information confidential unless told otherwise, right? Well, not any longer. If you’re diagnosed with a genetic disorder, medical specialists are now allowed to contact…
Stem cells have successfully been transplanted to restore sight. Stem cells have successfully been transplanted to restore sight. BWJones

It’s a vision thing: the case for a far-sighted approach to stem cell research

In 2002, the Australian federal Parliament passed two Acts to regulate human embryo and stem cell research. The Prohibition of Human Cloning Act banned practices that people seemed to be most worried about…
Hard laws and regulations are needed to protect our genetic information. Hard laws and regulations are needed to protect our genetic information. California Institute for Regenerative Medicine

We’ve cracked the genetic code, now what?

The rapid development of genetic science and technology holds hope for greatly improved health outcomes, with better diagnostics, treatments and cures, as well as the beginning of pharmacogenomics and…
Genetic change in humans is driven by cultural change, for example, blue eyes. Genetic change in humans is driven by cultural change, for example, blue eyes. Corey Butler

Determined to be different: what we do changes the wiring of our genes

The human genome provides penetrating and unexpected insights into human individual and collective history. Among them is the counterintuitive idea that genes are at the mercy of experience – that what…
Heart attacks damage important muscles but now scientists think that a special protein can awaken the stem cells that grow new muscles. Heart attacks damage important muscles but now scientists think that a special protein can awaken the stem cells that grow new muscles. Flickr

Fixing a broken heart with stem cells

Vital heart muscles damaged during cardio arrest can be replaced by stem cells within the organ with the help of a special protein, scientists have discovered. Heart attacks cause dangerous damage to muscle…
Dialysis is one of the only currently available treatments for kidney disease. Dialysis is one of the only currently available treatments for kidney disease. AAP

Why stem cells have a stake in kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a significant and growing global public health problem. But the creation of a new type of stem cell offers new hope for therapies and drugs for this worldwide problem. In…
Inherited only from mothers, the mitochondria may harbour male-harming mutations. Inherited only from mothers, the mitochondria may harbour male-harming mutations. ddc c z/flickr

Could ‘mother’s curse’ cause male infertility?

As many as a one in 20 men is infertile, but in many cases the underlying cause for it remains unknown. Recent research has found that a peculiarity in the way in which the DNA inside our mitochondria…
Mapping genetic diseases will reduce the unknown risks in family planning. Mapping genetic diseases will reduce the unknown risks in family planning. flickr/Mrs Flinger

The benefits of mapping genetic disease in the Human Variome Project

Thanks to the genetic revolution and the internet, we can now see a way to map genetic diseases and reduce the burden of inherited conditions. Each year more than 3 million children born with a serious…
The Bill seeks to close the loophole opened by the US Patent Office 30 years ago. The Bill seeks to close the loophole opened by the US Patent Office 30 years ago. AAP

Who owns the rights to the human body? It’s patently obvious

Read the argument against the proposed legislation Patents are only to be for granted inventions - that’s the intent of the Patents Act 1990, it has been the law for nearly 400 years, and it’s also what…
Does homosexuality have something to offer everyone? Does homosexuality have something to offer everyone? marlin harm/Flickr

Best of mates: why ‘gay genes’ are a good fit for Darwin

Sexual orientation has long been cause for discussion and controversy, but just where does our sexual orientation come from? Are people “born gay” or are environmental causes at play? Historically, many…
Francis Crick (right) and James Watson (far left) started a revolution in medicine. Francis Crick (right) and James Watson (far left) started a revolution in medicine. AAP

Genomics was great but it’s time for a new medical revolution

Medical science has changed the human health and lifespan in the last century and now another revolution is coming in health. This revolution will entail closing the chasm between what medical evidence…
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…
Your grandparents' lifespan can offer some valuable clues. Your grandparents' lifespan can offer some valuable clues. joeduty/Flickr

Who wants to live forever?

It’s well known that humans are living longer than ever before, thanks partially to developments such as sanitation and modern medicine. But will it ever be possible for humans to live forever? The late…
A vocal minority opposes stem cell research on moral grounds. A vocal minority opposes stem cell research on moral grounds. Elizabeth Ng

Striking the balance in laws for stem cell research

The two pieces of Commonwealth legislation strictly regulate research use of human embryos in Australia are currently being reviewed. The Australian public is overwhelmingly in favour of stem cell research…
Analysing the genome has revealed a great deal about common diseases. Analysing the genome has revealed a great deal about common diseases. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Genome sceptics, you’re wrong: just look at MS

A few days ago, Jonathan Latham of The Guardian newspaper decried the failure of modern genetics to make inroads on common diseases. I think he got things very wrong. Latham claimed that: Despite more…

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Research Briefs (71)

New genetic risk factors for Parkinson’s

Researchers have combined data analysis with genomic techniques and found six new genetic risk factors for Parkinson’s disease…

Married couples have similar DNA

Married couples share a significantly higher number of genetic similarities compared to any two random individuals. Researchers…

Pollution and genes increase autism risk

Air pollutants may increase the risk of autism in people who have a genetic disposition to the condition. US researchers…

Corn seeds show sibling connection

By studying the fertilised seeds of corn, scientists from the University of Colarado Boulder have discovered a form of plant…

Is AEG an ancient genetic molecule?

AEG - a small molecule that can link into chains, which has been synthesised and studied by the pharmaceutical industry…

Asiatic pear genome mapped

The genome of the Asiatic pear has been accurately sequenced to within 3% of its complete assembly. Sometimes referred to…

Defective gene linked to osteoporosis

Women with a particular faulty receptor lose 10 times more bone mass than women without it. The receptor for the energy molecule…

Genetics testing in school a success

A study offering genetic screening of year 10 and 11 students has been able to identify students at risk of a hereditary…

Gene critical to immune system

Researchers have found that a specific gene is responsible for the function of the immune system, and may be blocked or amplified…

Breast cancer risk viewed differently

Women with a strong family history of breast cancer, but no genetic link, are not consistent in how they perceive their risk…

Even plants get stressed

Plant and computer scientists have discovered the genes plants use to manage environmental stresses. Called “cis-regulatory…

Genetic basis of thinness

Researchers have found the genetic cause for extreme thinness, finding that people with extra copies of certain genes are…

Iberian lynx not doomed by its genetics

The low genetic diversity of the Iberian lynx – the most endangered carnivore in Europe – may not decrease the species' chance…

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…

New clues to auto-immune arthritis

New information about a form of auto-immune arthritis which can damage the spine has been found by researchers from the University…

Making lasers from kidney cells

A biological cell has been genetically engineered to produce the first, visible “living laser”. A single human embryonic…

Stem cell treatment for bone fractures

Stem cell therapy enriched with a bone-regenerating hormone, insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), can help mend broken bones…