Meet Wilma: The First Neanderthal Model

September 19, 2008

“Wilma” was named after the character on “The Flintstones”, history’s most famous Neanderthal family

Okay, she’s obviously no Kate Moss but Wilma has already won over the hearts of the scientific community as for the first time a reconstruction of a Neanderthal’s face has been completed based on DNA evidence. National Geographic explains:

Artists and scientists created Wilma (shown in a photo released yesterday) using analysis of DNA from 43,000-year-old bones that had been cannibalized. Announced in October 2007, the findings had suggested that at least some Neanderthals would have had red hair, pale skin, and possibly freckles.

Created for an October 2008 National Geographic magazine article, Wilma has a skeleton made from replicas of pelvis and skull bones from Neanderthal females. Copies of male Neanderthal bones—resized to female dimensions—filled in the gaps.

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DNA – Not Just For Lab Coat Wearing Nerds Anymore!

September 11, 2008

Our DNA keeps telling us more and more about ourselves

In the 1983 movie Trading Places starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd, there’s a great scene in which the characters played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche get into a discussion about the age old question of what influences an individual more: heredity or environment. The two men decide to conduct an experiment using Murphy’s and Akroyd’s characters and the plot is set.

Even though this film was made only a quarter century ago, the contention of the debate seems a bit archaic in light of the exponential understanding we now have in regards to genetics. There was a time when suggestions that a person acted the way that they did because of their ancestry would be laughed at as “old wives’ tales”. Yet now we know better. Researchers keep isolating genes regulating all sorts of things from our health to our intelligence to our psychological state on an almost weekly basis. Our genes seem to be our lives as an open book.

Our genetic makeup is now even being marketed for our love lives. A company called GenePartner wants to match potential couples together according to how complementary their genetic makeup is with one another. This Swiss firm wants to:

evaluate singles and couples according to the potential union of their HLA genes, which help regulate immune response.

People may naturally be attracted to mates with HLA profiles different from their own, ostensibly guaranteeing the hybrid vigor of their offspring’s immune systems — and also providing a spark that will last through good times and bad.

“Proper age, similar life goals and ideas, education levels — all of these things have to fit. And on top of that, you need to be biologically compatible,” said Tamara Brown, managing director of GenePartner.

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The Fountain of Youth May Have Just Been Discovered

September 3, 2008

dna sequence
The key to a longer life can be down to one simple gene

The Human Genome is unlocking all sorts of age-old mysteries and throwing up surprises on a very fast basis as scientists untangle the intricate strands of DNA contained in our bodies.

One of the most popular research forays has been into that of human longevity. Last month we learned that scientists halted the aging process in mice livers by stopping the buildup of harmful proteins in the organ’s cell. In even bigger news today, we learn that scientists have found the longevity gene. Two excerpts from the article:

FOR the first time researchers have identified a human gene firmly linked to ageing and longevity. People with a specific form of a gene are likely to live longer, healthier lives than those without it.

“What this article really emphasizes is what we all know anyway – if you want to live a long and healthy life, choose your parents carefully,” commented medical geneticist Bob Williamson, dean of Melbourne University’s Faculty of Medicine.


Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, so is directly linked to a range of biological conditions such as carbohydrate metabolic which are indirectly associated with health and, thus, ageing.

Their findings – reported overnight in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – help explain the “Winston Churchill paradox”.

That is, that some people live long, healthy lives despite smoking, drinking and other behaviours known to cause life-threatening – and shortening – disorders like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Because of the complex role of insulin, the finding may also be the link between the ageing affects of cell and DNA-damaging “free radicals”, by-products of normal metabolism, and alow calorie diet which lowers the metabolic rate.

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Is Your DNA Your Destiny?

July 28, 2008

DNA tests tell us a lot about what we can expect

DNA tests can tell us a lot about what we can expect in our future

The old “Nature vs. Nurture” argument has been around since Gluk the Caveboy started playing around with flint to the consternation of his cavemother and cavefather. Lately though, the argument has been tipping towards the nature side with the breakthroughs piling up in genetic research.

One BBC Reporter decided to do a genetic test and have his results analyzed. Here’s what he found:

Up pops a list of grisly conditions – most of which are familiar to me, indeed some of them lurk in my family history.

And it’s the ones that have touched my life that I am drawn to first. I click on Heart Attack, bypass the warm-up “introduction” to the condition, and head straight for my own “risk summary”.

I’m told: “According to the selected literature, the relative genetic risk calculated from your genotype for males of European ancestry is 0.90.

“This corresponds to a 44.2% lifetime risk of developing heart attack, which is 10% less than for males of European ancestry in general.”

So far so good, I suppose, but that’s still a high risk and I’m not celebrating with a full English breakfast yet.

I scan the list of 25 traits again and settle on Crohn’s disease. Here I’m told the research indicates that I have a lifetime risk 1.42 times the average. Not so good. But for Diabetes, types 1 and 2, better news.

Pretty neat! Read more from the above link to see what else the test told him about himself and then click on this link to see how the deCODEme site gives its users a genetic snapshot.  Read the rest of this entry »

Human Evolution is Speeding Up

July 25, 2008

DNA strand

Genetic research is telling us that human evolution is proceeding at a much faster pace than previously thought

While some are still mired in the debate about evolution actually being real, scientists continue to find the clues that are solving some of the most elementary mysteries of who we are as humans and where we’re going.  Nancy Shute in US World News Report tells us that human evolution is proceeding at a faster pace than any time in our short history. A few excerpts from this excellent article:

Until recently, anthropologists thought that human evolution had slowed down. But last December, Hawks reported that it has actually accelerated 100-fold in the past 5,000 to 10,000 years. He figured that out by comparing chunks of DNA among 269 people from around the world. Over time, DNA accumulates random mutations, just as the front of a white T-shirt tends to accumulate spots. The bigger the chunks of DNA without random spots, the more recently it had been minted. Using this system, Hawks concluded that recent genetic changes account for about 7 percent of the human genome. Much of the increase, he says, has been fueled by the growth of the world’s population, which has expanded by a factor of 1,000 over the past 10,000 years. Having more people increases the odds of mutations.

At the same time, the human genome has been scrambling to adapt to a rapidly changing world—11,000 years ago, nobody farmed, nobody milked domesticated animals, and nobody lived in a city. People with a mutation that aided survival were more likely to thrive, reproduce, and pass that mutation along to offspring. For example, the capacity to digest lactose, the sugar in milk, has become common only over the past 3,000 years. Now, about 95 percent of the people in northern Germany have the mutation, which also popped up independently among the Masai in Africa and the Lapps in Finland. Hawks says: “This is really rapid evolution.”

Mutations serve as triggers for change. Read the rest of this entry »