Archives for the month of: April, 2012

Astronomers in Japan have found the most distant galaxy cluster seen so far. This cluster existed just one billion years after the Big Bang, and is 12.72 billion light-years away from Earth. The Hubble telescope has spotted some that might be 13.1 billion light-years away, but this has not yet been confirmed, according to the Japanese researchers.

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A rat that lived on East Timor probably weighed about 6 kg and became extinct around 1000 to 2000 years ago.  The biggest rats still living weigh up to 2 kg and live in the Philippines and New Guinea.

Researchers have found that pigeons have neurons in their brains that are sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field, and they use these to navigate. It used to be through that they used iron in their beaks but these seem to be iron-rich blood cells.

pigeonRead the abstract in Science.

Is being a criminal in your genes? It might be… Looking at pairs of brothers and sisters, researchers think they have found a link between genetics and the chance of being a persistent offender, an adolescent-only offender or an abstainer.Don’t forget – the genes don’t mean that it will happen, just that it might – free will is still a part too.

Police tapeRead the abstract in Criminology.

Is there a gene for creativity? Creativity does seem to run in families, but there is unlikely to be a single gene for painting and another gene for writing; there will be a collection of genes that all work together.

Back in 2006, researchers linked two genes with creativity, the first time that any genetic connection had been made. More recently, another link was made, that with mental illness – there are connections between creativity and some forms or mental illness, and many of these are driven by genes.

As you will have seen with many of the Geek Science Facts, facts about science aren’t always facts, sometimes they are theories. And the great thing about scientists is that they take these theories, try to prove or disprove them and build on them.

Artist's materials

Frogs that are more athletic have genes that change faster. Researchers put frogs through fitness tests and then sequenced their genomes, and found that the fittest poison frogs had more changes to their genes. It’s not quite clear why – it might be because of the extra oxygen in the blood after exercise.

Frog

Researchers have made synthetic genetic material, called XNA. This uses six altered bases, made from the existing ‘letters’ in DNA, thymine, adenine, guanine and cytosine (T, A, G and C). The synthetic XNA could replicate and evolve. This could help us learn about how DNA began, and could one day lead to creation of synthetic life, though that is a very long way off.

Polar bears evolved 600,000 years ago, from brown bears, according to a study of the DNA in the nucleus of their cells. This is four times older than researchers previously thought

Polar bear

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Van Gogh’s sunflowers in his famous paintings are a wide variety of shapes and sizes and colours, and researchers have worked out the genes that made them look as they do. This might seem interesting rather than useful, but there is a big market for different varieties of sunflowers for gardens and as cut flowers.

A week’s worth of posts to celebrate yesterday’s DNA Day. Viruses are usually described as DNA viruses or RNA viruses. However, researchers have found a virus where its genome (its genetic material) is a hybrid of both RNA and DNA. This appears to be because the two types of viruses combined at some point in its evolution, but it’s not yet clear how.

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