How do COVID variants emerge?

This article was originally posted on 15th April 2021, and updated on 30th November. Since its first appearance in Wuhan, China, SARS-CoV2 has been acquiring random mutations. In recent months several new variants – such as omicron – have been observed. Some of those cause significant changes in how the virus behaves, including how contagious or deadly … Continue reading How do COVID variants emerge?

Monarch butterflies’ predators copy their poison resistance at a genetic level

Monarch caterpillars live on poisonous milkweed, which makes the adult monarch butterflies noxious to most predators. Over the past decade, researchers have been able to spot a number of key genetic mutations which allow the monarchs to tolerate milkweed toxins. Now, a study has shown that four of the monarch butterflies’ North American predators also … Continue reading Monarch butterflies’ predators copy their poison resistance at a genetic level

Let’s talk about genetics and disease

Being told you are genetically predisposed to disease is scary – what does it even mean? Genetics and disease are highly complex and this often means it is hard to navigate whether there is high risk of disease or not. Beyond this, our genetic data can feel personal. So how do we ensure our genetic … Continue reading Let’s talk about genetics and disease

The key gene that allows bees to collect pollen

Bees: what gives them their ability to collect pollen? It turns out that a single gene is largely responsible, scientists believe. The gene, known as Ultrabithorax, or Ubx, is responsible for leg and wing development in insects. In honey bees, it plays a crucial role in the formation of pollen-carrying structures. “This gene is critical … Continue reading The key gene that allows bees to collect pollen

Origins of the mysterious Tarim Basin mummies revealed

The dry Tarim Basin, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of north-western China, is home to hundreds of naturally mummified human remains, all between 4,000 and 1,800 years old. Little is known about the people who became the “Tarim Basin mummies”, although their burial sites have provided clues about their society and economy. Until now it’s … Continue reading Origins of the mysterious Tarim Basin mummies revealed

COVID’s genetic solution?

Some people get severely sick with COVID-19. Others don’t even notice they’ve caught the infection. The phenomenon intrigued scientists, who began to probe the human genome in search of clues that could help them understand why some people quickly succumb to the coronavirus and others are unaffected by it. Over the past months, several studies … Continue reading COVID’s genetic solution?

How a leopard gets its spots

It’s been a more than 70-year mystery in the making, but now we may finally understand how the leopard got its spots – thanks in part to the decades-old workings of one of the UK’s greatest minds. In 1952, Alan Turing – more famous as the code-busting war hero ultimately destroyed by the country he … Continue reading How a leopard gets its spots

Excel autocorrect errors still plague genetic research

By Mark Ziemann, Deakin University and Mandhri Abeysooriya, Deakin University Autocorrection, or predictive text, is a common feature of many modern tech tools, from internet searches to messaging apps and word processors. Autocorrection can be a blessing, but when the algorithm makes mistakes it can change the message in dramatic and sometimes hilarious ways. Our … Continue reading Excel autocorrect errors still plague genetic research

This adorable mouse was considered extinct for over 100 years — until we found it hiding in plain sight

Emily Roycroft, Australian National University Australia has the world’s worst track record for wiping out mammals, with 34 species declared extinct since European colonisation. Many of these are humble native rodents, who’ve suffered the highest extinction rate of any mammal group. But today, we bring some good news: one rodent species, Gould’s mouse (Pseudomys gouldii), … Continue reading This adorable mouse was considered extinct for over 100 years — until we found it hiding in plain sight

Genetic clues to link between PTSD and migraines

A study comparing pairs of identical twins has highlighted potential genes that may explain the common – but poorly understood – link between migraines and PTSD. The two conditions often co-occur, but researchers have historically known little about how or why.  The new study, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, compared identical twins among whom one twin lives with … Continue reading Genetic clues to link between PTSD and migraines

What is a gene drive?

As part of its $50 million mouse control package, announced in May, the NSW Government yesterday committed $1.8 million to “breakthrough genetic biocontrol research” – a three-year program to identify “fast-acting gene drives”. What does that mean? Sometimes a population of animals becomes problematically large, leading to rampant disease or plague: reference the current mouse … Continue reading What is a gene drive?

Animals don’t mind inbreeding

Because it’s evolutionarily unfavourable, there is a common assumption that animals will avoid mating with relatives. Inbreeding can lead to ‘inbreeding depression’: a reduction in available traits for offspring, making the population less genetically diverse and thus less able to adapt to their environments. But nature doesn’t operate with a genetic testing kit in hand. … Continue reading Animals don’t mind inbreeding