Richard III’s DNA to be analysed to create complete genome sequence.


Researchers hope to produce first genome sequence from ancient DNA for a named historical figure from remains found in Leicester car park.
 
Reconstruction of Richard III's face

Reconstruction of Richard III’s face. The sequencing could reveal his susceptibility to diseases and whether the scoliosis which contorted his spine was genetic. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The bones of the king under the car park have more to tell: scientists are to analyse the DNA from the remains of Richard III to create the world’s first complete genome sequence for a named historical figure.

The process could reveal his hair and eye colour, his susceptibility to conditions including Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, whether he was lactose intolerant, and whether the scoliosis that contorted his spine was genetic. It could also show if any of the surviving portraits, all completed years after his death, are accurate.

The extent to which genes influence character is still a matter for scientific debate, so while the experiment may reveal whether the last Plantagenet king had straight or curly hair, it is unlikely to establish whether Richard was likely to have murdered his way to the throne, his victims including his young nephews, the little princes in the Tower. The tale was a source of scandal in his lifetime and was trumpeted after his death on the battlefield at Bosworth in 1485 by Tudor propagandists including William Shakespeare. “It has been suggested that there is a ‘warrior-worrier’ gene, but I am not yet convinced,” said geneticist Turi King, who will lead the £100,000 project.

Although genome sequencing has successfully been done on much older bones, including the 5,300-year-old remains of Ötzi the Iceman, and recently a 7,000-year-old tooth which revealed that a hunter gatherer from Spain had blue eyes, King and her colleagues hope to produce the first results from ancient DNA from a named individual whose history is known. It was King who managed to extract DNA from the bones excavated from a scruffy council car park in Leicester, and helped to prove that they were indeed those of the king whose grave had been lost for 500 years. The announcement last February that the team from Leicester University had found Richard “beyond reasonable doubt” made front-page news around the world.

Richard left no descendants but the mitochondrial DNA, passed through the maternal line, proved a perfect match for a Canadian-born, London-based furniture maker, Michael Ibsen, Richard’s 17-times great-nephew through the descendants of his sister Anne of York. King is also going to create a complete genome sequence for Ibsen, to check if any other segments of DNA are still shared across so many centuries.

King will carry out the tests on small samples of bone ground to a powder, in addition to the samples she has already taken. Any residue will be buried with the bones, but where his final resting place will be is still being fought over in the courts, after a group who believe he should be buried in York challenged the original plan to bury him in Leicester Cathedral, 100 yards from the car park where he lay hidden for so long.

Extracting ancient DNA, particularly if the bones come from a site with poor conditions for preservation – such as the clay where Richard’s uncoffined body was hastily buried in a slightly too short grave – is notoriously difficult. King said it was invariably fragmentary, and it was a question of piecing together and overlaying fragments to complete a jigsaw. She will be working with Professor Michael Hofreiter in the ancient DNA laboratory at Potsdam University. The complete genome sequence will be placed online in an archive available to historians, scientists and the public, although Ibsen’s will not be published.

The £100,000 cost of the project, which is expected to take at least a year, is being funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Leverhulme Trust and the geneticist Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys – who asked King, in a chat over dinner, if she would be interested in taking up the challenge. “We will never have this chance again, wherever he ends up being buried and whenever it ends up happening,” King said. “We have this unique opportunity now and it seemed a shame not to do it.”

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Lasers used for meningitis test.


Scientists at Strathclyde University have developed a new test to speed up the diagnosis of bacterial meningitis.

It uses nanoparticles and lasers to “fingerprint” more than one bacterium at a time – and so opens the way for targeted treatment.

Unless caught quickly, bacterial meningitis can lead to blood poisoning and brain damage.

Meningitis

Details of the new test have been published in the journal Chemical Science.

Bacterial meningitis is most common in children under five and it can often take time to diagnose precisely which bacteria are responsible.

The new process – called Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) – scatters laser light from a sample that has been combined with silver nanoparticles.

It can fingerprint more than one bacterium at a time, allowing treatment to then be targeted.

Dr Karen Faulds, a reader in the department of pure and applied chemistry at Strathclyde university, said: “Essentially what you do is shine a laser beam at the molecule and measure the shift in wavelength.

“This gives you a fingerprint – what you call a vibrational spectrum.

“And you can definitively identify that molecule.”

The Strathclyde researchers said their test could be applied to any kind of pathogen that contains DNA, like fungi or viruses.

Here’s How To Have A Happy Relationship, According To Science.


Scientists spend a lot of time figuring out what makes people happy, especially when it comes to love and relationships.

Thanks to the folks at Happify — a website dedicated to the science of happiness — all that wonderful scientific mumbo-jumbo has beendistilled into an infographic. It’s got everything from how many times a week the happiest couples do the deed to how happy couples fight (because even they do that too).

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Is America Evolving on Evolution?


 
crowded street scene
For the scientific community, the release of public polls on contentious questions of science usually makes us feel like Bill Murray’s character in the film “Groundhog Day.”  As in each repeating day in Punxsutawney, each new poll asks the same questions and gets the same discouraging answers. And news outlets produce the same stories about the large percentage of Americans who reject evolution or climate change, or believe in UFOs or ghosts.
We scientists just shake our heads, shrug off a few incredulous remarks from foreign colleagues, and accept that the dark winter continues.At first glance, the latest iteration kept to the script. On December 30, 2013, the Pew Research Center released the results of a new survey of American attitudes towards evolution. The resulting news stories reported that the overall acceptance of the idea that humans have evolved remained steady at about 60 percent. Most coverage highlighted that the divide between Democrats and Republicans about human evolution had widened to a 24-percentage point margin (67 percent of Democrats accept that humans evolved versus 43 percent of Republicans) from just a 10-point margin in 2009.But beyond the continuing bad news from the culture war front, some of my colleagues and I detected a bit of good news in the Pew study that went largely unreported.

The Pew researchers parsed the data not only by party affiliation, but by age. Those numbers were not only interesting but – dare I say it – encouraging.

The 60 percent level of acceptance of human evolution includes all adults. But digging into particular age groups reveals that, while acceptance is significantly lower in adults older than 65 (49 percent), it is significantly higher in younger adults, between 18-29 (68 percent), with other age groups close to the national average.

To me as an evolutionary biologist, that demographic gap suggests that American attitudes about evolution just might be evolving, and for the better.

In the evolutionary process, a trait expands through a population when individuals possessing it survive longer and reproduce more than do those lacking the trait. Younger adults will survive much longer and reproduce much more than will today’s older adults. Assuming that younger Americans—and their children—continue the trend toward greater acceptance, we can expect the overall level of acceptance of evolution in America to increase over time as the older, less accepting generations pass.

The Pew study did not explore directly why the millennial generation is more accepting of evolution, or less accepting of the opposite view that humans have always existed in their present form. One factor among younger adults may be their attitudes toward traditional religious ideas. The highest level of acceptance of evolution and the lowest level of belief that humans were recently created are found among the religiously unaffiliated. An earlier Pew survey revealed a very high proportion of nonbelievers and unaffiliated persons among millennials.

But an additional possibility that we in the science education profession would like to entertain is that today’s young-adult generation has received the most and best information about evolution. The last few decades have been a golden era for evolutionary science, from discoveries in the fossil record to the mining of DNA to reveal how evolution works at the molecular level. And over the past decade the concerted efforts of various academic and scientific organizations have led to greater emphasis in textbooks and curricula on the central place of evolution in understanding life.

Regardless of specific contributing factors, increasing acceptance of evolution is crucial. The 21st century has been dubbed “the biology century,” in recognition that many of the increasing world population’s most difficult challenges—food, water, energy, medicine—will be addressed through the biological sciences. And a proper interpretation of biological data can only be achieved through a unifying evolutionary perspective.

An understanding and consideration of evolution is also vital for grappling with that other most politically contentious scientific issue—climate change. Three-and-a-half billion years of life’s history has taught us one inescapable truth: as the Earth changes, life changes along with it. In a world rapidly undergoing many kinds of environmental transformations due to human activity, our ability to understand, predict and manage the effects on humanity’s life support systems will be more than an academic matter.

How long will we remain in denial about climate change? A gap similar to the one between younger and older adults about evolution exists concerning the evidence for, seriousness of, and human role in global warming. We have not caught up yet with the level of concern in the rest of the world, but perhaps the coming generations will.

And that might make for a new day at last in Punxsutawney.

Why I Want A Microchip Implant.


Would you like to have an RFID microchip implanted under your skin?  If you are anything like me, you would never allow such a thing to be done. But many others, especially among the younger generations, see things very differently.  RFID microchip implants and other forms of “wearable technology” are increasingly being viewed as “cool”, “trendy” and “cutting edge” by young people that wish to “enhance” themselves. And of course the mainstream media is all in favor of these “technological advancements”.

For example, the BBC just published a piece entitled “Why I Want A Microchip Implant“.  We are told that such implants could solve a whole host of societal problems.  Identity theft and credit card fraud would be nearly eliminated, many other forms of crime would be significantly reduced, children would never go missing and we wouldn’t have to remember a vast array of passwords and PIN numbers like we do now.  We are told that if we just adopted such technology that our lives would be so much better.  But is that really the case?

As our society becomes “digitally integrated”, technologists tell us that it is “inevitable” that wearable technology will become as common as smart phones are today.  And the BBC article that I just mentioned is very eager for that day to arrive…

Ultimately, implanted microchips offer a way to make your physical body machine-readable. Currently, there is no single standard of communicating with the machines that underpin society – from building access panels to ATMs – but an endless diversity of identification systems: magnetic strips, passwords, PIN numbers, security questions, and dongles. All of these are attempts to bridge the divide between your digital and physical identity, and if you forget or lose them, you are suddenly cut off from your bank account, your gym, your ride home, your proof of ID, and more. An implanted chip, by contrast, could act as our universal identity token for navigating the machine-regulated world.

And for some people, that day is already here.  In fact, at some technology conferences people actually line up to get chipped…

This month at the Transhuman Visions conference in San Francisco, Graafstra set up an “implantation station” offering attendees the chance to be chipped at $50 a time. Using a large needle designed for microchipping pets, Graafstra injected a glass-coated RFID tag the size of a rice grain into each volunteer. By the end of the day Graafstra had created 15 new cyborgs.

How creepy is that?

In addition, scientists have now developed batteries that are powered by the human body that could be used to provide a permanent power source for implantable technology.  The following is a brief excerpt from a recent article by Kristan Harris entitled “Scientists Develop Human-Powered Battery For RFID Implantable Chips“…

A group of United States and Chinese researchers have collaborated to created a tiny implantable batteries that feed off of human energy. These thin, flexible mechanical energy harvesters have had been successfully tested on cows. The process uses what is known as conformal piezoelectric energy harvesting and storage from motions of the heart, lung, and diaphragm.

It the future, they say, it could be used to power a range of gadgets. Will it be long until you will charge your I-phone by plugging into your own body?

Of course RFID microchips don’t actually have to be implanted to be useful.  In fact, they are already being used to track schoolchildren all over the United States

Upon arriving in the morning, according to the Associated Press, each student at the CCC-George Miller preschool will don a jersey with a stitched in RFID chip. As the kids go about the business of learning, sensors in the school will record their movements, collecting attendance for both classes and meals. Officials from the school have claimed they’re only recording information they’re required to provide while receiving  federal funds for their Headstart program.

And over in the UK, RFID microchips are being used to track children wherever they go all day long

For those who think the NSA the worst invader of privacy, I invite you to share an afternoon with Aiden and Foster, two 11-year-old boys, as they wrap up a Friday at school. Aiden invites his friend home to hang out and they text their parents, who agree to the plan.

As they ride on the bus Foster’s phone and a sensor on a wristband alert the school and his parents of a deviation from his normal route. The school has been notified that he is heading to Aiden’s house so the police are not called.

As they enter the house, the integrated home network recognizes Aiden and pings an advisory to his parents, both out at work, who receive the messages on phones and tablets.

We are rapidly entering a dystopian future in which it will be “normal” for technology to monitor our movements 24 hours a day.  Most people will probably welcome this change, but it also opens up the door for an oppressive government to someday greatly abuse this technology.

Another type of “wearable technology” that is rapidly gaining acceptance is “smart tattoos”.

Normally, we are accustomed to thinking of tattoos as body art.  But that is about to change.  Just check out this excerpt from arecent Gizmodo article

Everyone from neurologists to biohackers is reinventing the very idea of the tattoo. With the right technology, tattoos can do a lot more than just look beautiful or badass. They can become digital devices as useful and complex as the smartphone that bounces around in your pocket. It sounds wildly futuristic, but the technology already exists.

In fact, a company called MC10 is working on a wide range of “smart tattoos” that will be able to do some pretty wild things

Materials scientist John Rogers is doing some pretty incredible work with flexible electronics that stick to your skin like a temporary tattoo. These so-called “epidural electronics” can do anything from monitoring your body’s vital signs to alerting you when you’re starting to get a sunburn. Rogers and his company MC10 are currently trying to figure out ways to get the electronics to communicate with other devices like smartphones so that they can start building apps.

And Motorola actually has a patent for a tattoo that will take commands from unvocalized words in your throat…

The tattoo they have in mind is actually one that will be emblazoned over your vocal cords to intercept subtle voice commands — perhaps even subvocal commands, or even the fully internal whisperings that fail to pluck the vocal cords when not given full cerebral approval. One might even conclude that they are not just patenting device communications from a patch of smartskin, but communications from your soul.

They are calling it “wearable computing”, and what we are witnessing now is just the tip of the iceberg.

What we will see in the future is probably far beyond anything that any of us could imagine right now. The following is from a recent Computer World article

But imagine a future where anything you might want to know simply appears to you without any action or effort on your part. You could be eating in a restaurant, and Google Glass could, for example, tell you that it’s the spot where your father proposed to your mother. Or that your friend will be late because of traffic, the salmon got bad reviews online, your parking meter will expire in 20 minutes, or the bathroom is through the bar and up the stairs to the right. Imagine that such knowledge could simply appear into your field of vision at the exact moment when you want to know it.

That’s where wearable computing is going.

All of this may sound very “cool” to a lot of people.

But what happens if we are all required to have “electronic identity tattoos” someday?

What happens if an oppressive government uses this technology to watch, track, monitor and control all of us 24 hours a day with this technology?

What happens if you are not able to get a job, have a bank account or buy anything without “proper identification”?

I think that you can see where I am going with this.

Technology is truly a double-edged sword.  It can do great good, but it can also be used for great evil.