Massive project maps DNA tags that define each cell’s identity
Our DNA may encode all the instructions needed to build the human body and keep it running, but each of our cells must follow just a subset of those instructions in order for the body to work properly. Thanks to the $300 million, National Institutes of Health (NIH) Roadmap Epigenomics Project, researchers have now identified most of the chemical tags on DNA and its associated proteins that influence gene function and help define more than 100 different kinds of human cells. The knowledge of these so-called epigenetic modifications has already led to new insights into Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and development.
Five things scientists could learn with their new, improved particle accelerator
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is back, and it’s better than ever. The particle accelerator, located at CERN, the European particle physics lab near Geneva, shut down in February 2013, and since then scientists have been upgrading and repairing it and its particle detectors. The LHC will be back up to full speed this May.
Nanoparticle drug stops cancer’s spread in mice
When a person dies from cancer, the culprit is usually not the original tumor but rather the cancerous cells that spread throughout the body and replicate in distant organs, a process called metastasis. Researchers have long known that metastasizing cancer cells slip their bonds and avoid immune detection by altering the sugars on their surfaces. They’ve even come up with a would-be drug to prevent such sugar alterations. But that compound interferes with needed sugars on normal cells, too, with lethal results in animals. Now, Dutch researchers report that they’ve packaged the drug in nanoparticles targeted exclusively to cancer cells, and they’ve shown that this combination prevents cancer cells from metastasizing in mice.
Are earthquakes also earth burps?
Researchers have found that Earth belches a potent greenhouse gas known as tetrafluoromethane (CF4) during earthquakes and other tectonic events. The emissions likely aren’t making a significant contribution to global warming, but the findings could change the way scientists model future climate scenarios. They also complicate the use of CF4 as a way to measure how the continents and climate have changed over millennia.
Half-male, half-female bird has a rough life
This bird might look like a holiday ornament, but it is actually a rare half-female, half-male northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis, pictured with female plumage on the left and male plumage on the right) spotted a few years ago in Rock Island, Illinois
Human skeleton has become lighter over time
If you compare a chimpanzee’s bones with those of a modern human, one difference will immediately jump out at you. Chimp bones are densely packed with microscopic structures known as spongy bone. Human bones aren’t. That relative lack of spongy bone makes our skeletons lighter and increases our risk of fractures and osteoporosis. But weaker skeletons and more broken bones don’t seem like great evolutionary strategies. So why the change?
‘Dinosaur eggs’ spotted on Rosetta’s comet
There are places on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko where cauliflowerlike textures appear in the dusty crust, like goose bumps under the skin. Scientists using theRosetta spacecraft—which arrived at 67P in August and became the first mission to orbit and land on a comet—now think they may have discovered the source of these patterns on cliff faces and in deep pits: layer upon layer of rounded nodules, 1 to 3 meters across. These spherules, dubbed dinosaur eggs, could be the fundamental building blocks that clumped together to form the comet 4.5 billion years ago.
Want to influence the world? Map reveals the best languages to speak
Speak or write in English, and the world will hear you. Speak or write in Tamil or Portuguese, and you may have a harder time getting your message out. Now, a new method for mapping how information flows around the globe identifies the best languages to spread your ideas far and wide. One hint: If you’re considering a second language, try Spanish instead of Chinese.
Why women’s bodies abort males during tough times
In times of trouble, multiple studies have shown, more girls are born than boys. No one knows why, but men need not worry about being overrun by women. An analysis of old church records in Finland has revealed that the boys that are born in stressful times survive better than those born during less challenging periods. The work helps explain why women may have evolved a tendency to abort certain males and could lead to a better understanding of miscarriages.
Filefish uses ‘smell camouflage’ to hide from predators
The harlequin filefish is a master of disguise. The reef-dwelling fish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris) sports a brightly colored pattern that allows it to fade into the coral it calls home. Now, scientists have discovered that the filefish doesn’t just look like a branch of coral—it smells like one, too.