Category Archives: Biology

Is vitamin D really a cure-all – and how should we get our fix?

Evidence is growing that the ‘sunshine vitamin’ helps protect against a wide range of conditions including cancers

Vitamin D is having quite a moment. In the past few months, evidence has been growing that the “sunshine vitamin” not only has an important role in bone and muscle health, but might also help prevent a range of cancers, reduce the chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis, protect against multiple sclerosis and cut the risk of colds and flu.

But is vitamin D truly a cure-all? And if the benefits are real, should we all be taking vitamin D supplements or even fortifying our foods?

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Source: gad

Britons in favour of editing genes to correct inherited diseases

But designer babies, micro-pigs and fluorescent carrots get the thumbs-down, Royal Society survey finds

Britons are broadly in favour of rewriting the genetic code of human embryos to prevent children from inheriting devastating diseases – but draw the line at designer babies and creating “cosmetic” organisms such as micro-pigs, fluorescent fish and perfect carrots.

The views were revealed in one of the first major surveys of public opinion on a new generation of genetic technologies that have given scientists the power to alter the DNA of living organisms with unprecedented ease and precision.

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Source: gad

Barbra Streisand’s dog cloning is a modern tragedy. Pets are meant to die | Stuart Heritage

To own an animal is to learn about the inevitability of dying – not that loved ones can be replicated if we cough up the cash

Barbra Streisand might not brim with the white-hot cultural relevance she used to, but nobody can deny that she’s a trier. For example, when everyone’s back was turned, she went off and created her very own Black Mirror episode.

In her episode, a broken-hearted millionaire realises that she cannot bear to part with her sick dog, so she spends an inordinate amount of money to have it cloned. However, with every passing day, the millionaire realises the futility of her gesture. The clones don’t behave like the original, and the differences between old and new tear at her soul until she drowns the puppies in a lake.

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Source: gad

Two become one: two raven lineages merge in 'speciation reversal'

After up to two million years of separate evolution, two types of common raven have been ‘caught in the act’ of consolidation, say scientists

Speciation, where one species diverges into two, is a well-known concept in the theory of evolution. But a new study based on almost 20 years of research has revealed that “speciation reversal”, the merging of two previously distinct lineages, may also play an important role.

Scientists have discovered that two lineages of common raven that spent between one and two million years evolving separately appear to be in the process of such a consolidation. The findings raise intriguing questions about how science should define species – and whether the boundaries are as clearcut as once thought.

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Source: gad

Hate body odour? You're more likely to have rightwing views

Scientists suggest authoritarian attitudes may be partly rooted in biological urge to avoid catching diseases from unfamiliar people

People who have a greater tendency to turn their nose up at the whiff of urine, sweat and other body odours are more likely to have rightwing authoritarian attitudes, research suggests.

The study also found having a greater disgust for body odours was linked, albeit to a small degree, with support for Donald Trump when he was a presidential candidate.

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Source: gad

Deep-sea microorganisms could survive on Saturn’s moon – in theory

Interest in Enceladus as a potential host for alien life likely to intensify as tests show Earth bacteria thrive in similar conditions

Deep-sea bacteria thrive in conditions designed to closely match those on Saturn’s tiny moon, Enceladus, according to scientists investigating the potential for alien life forms to survive there.

The findings are likely to intensify interest in Enceladus, which has risen to the top of the list of potential locations in our solar system that might have the right conditions to support extraterrestrial life. Last year Nasa announced that a flyby of Enceladus by the Cassini spacecraft had identified water, ice and most of the chemical ingredients necessary for habitability.

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Source: gad

Skip the dip? Swimming in the sea increases risk of illness, analysis suggests

Pollution of coastal waters by sources including sewage and farm run-off may be the cause, experts suggest

People who swim in the sea are at significantly higher risk of stomach bugs, ear problems and other illnesses than those who stick to the sand, research suggests.

The team behind the findings suggest the increased chances of becoming unwell may be down to pollution of coastal waters by sources such as farm run-off and sewage.

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Source: gad

Mirrors have revealed something new about manta rays – and it reflects badly on us

Humans make huge use of marine vertebrates, but manta rays may pass the self-awareness test and other fish potentially could too. Ethically, where does that leave us?

As a shark biologist, I enjoy nothing more than going scuba diving with sharks in the wild. However, I realise it’s an immense privilege to do this as part of my work – and that for the vast majority of people experiencing the underwater world in such a way is simply not possible.

Nevertheless, even without the aid of an air tank humans interact with fish on many levels and in greater numbers than they do with mammals and birds. A review published by the journal Animal Cognition in 2014 by Culum Brown, an associate professor at Macquarie University, Sydney, explains that fish are one of the vertebrate taxa most highly utilised by humans. But despite the fact that they are harvested from wild stocks as part of global fishing industries, grown under intensive aquaculture conditions, are the most common pet and are widely used for scientific research, fish are seldom afforded the same level of compassion or welfare as warm-blooded vertebrates.

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Source: gad

The Guardian view on Neanderthals: we were not alone | Editorial

The first human contact with another intelligent species is a staple of science fiction, but we now know it happened 40,000 years ago

The three human subspecies known to have hybridised to produce the present human population of the planet, Neanderthals, Homo sapiens and Denisovans, last had a common ancestor more than half a million years ago. Until now it has been assumed that the only branch of her descendants to think symbolically was us, Homo sapiens. In fact, until the development of sequencing techniques sensitive enough to work on ancient DNA, it was thought that the other two species had died out entirely, rather than leaving portions of their genome in European and Melanesian populations respectively. But the discovery, reported last week, of palaeolithic art at four sites in Spain that dates from the time when the peninsula was occupied only by Neanderthals, shows that they worked with symbols of stone and paint.

We have no idea what these markings mean. That is in the nature of symbolism, and indeed of language: the meaning of a sound, or a marking on the wall, is given by the community that uses it; it can’t be read by outsiders. We already know that Neanderthals were anatomically equipped for speech; their use of painted symbols suggests that they could make audible symbols and not just visible ones.

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Source: gad

So Neanderthals made abstract art? This astounding discovery humbles every human

Scientists say cave paintings in Spain, thought to have been by our ancestors, were actually by Neanderthals. So did they teach us everything we know?

If you go to the painted caves of Spain and France, crawl through narrow passages and keep your balance on slippery rock floors, you reach the hidden places where ice age hunters made their marks tens of thousands of years ago. Nothing seems more startling than the way they placed hands against the cold rock and blew red ochre out of their mouths to leave fiery images. Of what though?

Up to now we called it the human presence. “The print of the hand says, ‘This is my mark. This is man’,” declared the scientist Jacob Bronowski when he visited caves in northern Spain in his classic TV series The Ascent of Man. Simon Schama visits those same caves in the BBC’s new epic series Civilisations and raves about those same handprints. For what could communicate the curiosity, self-assertion, intelligence, and above all self-consciousness of our unique species Homo sapiens, more clearly that this desire to literally leave our mark?

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Source: gad