Editor's choice: Beards, home-made graphene and flesh-eating microbes

A round-up from the scientific and technical journals.

The study suggests people find beards more attractive when fewer people have them. – Mike Harrington/Getty Images

It's hip to be hirsute when you're the only one

How attractive are beards? Less by the day given current fashion trends, Australian research suggests. The scientists showed volunteers a selection of male faces ranging from clean-shaven to fully bearded, and asked them to rate each face’s attractiveness. The fewer beards there were in the sample of faces being tested, the more attractive bearded faces were perceived to be. Similarly, the more beards in the pack, the more attractive clean-shaven faces were seen to be. As male facial hair is a secondary sexual trait, the study helps explain why evolution hasn’t given men a universal, ideal beard. The study is reported in full here.

Making graphene - all you need is a blender and a pencil

The wonder-material graphene, a single-atom-thick sheet of carbon atoms with record-breaking strength and electronic properties, was first isolated using sticky tape to peel it from flakes of graphite, the same material used in pencils. Researchers in Ireland have now shown a kitchen blender works even better. Suspending graphite flakes in liquid, they found that the forces generated by industrial mixers, or even household appliances, are strong enough to peel the graphite apart to provide large quantities of cheap, high-quality graphene. The team showed this material could be mixed with polymers to give a reinforced plastic, or used as an electrode in solar cells.

The deadly transformation of a flesh-eating killer

How does a harmless microorganism turn into a flesh-eating pathogen? Researchers from the Houston Medical Research Institute analysed the genomes of 3,615 strains of Group A Streptococcus bacteria to determine what leads them it becoming pathogens capable of infecting 600 million people worldwide each year. They discovered that it took just four molecular events to turn the normally benign bacteria into a virulent, flesh-eating form. A series of viral infections, mutations and DNA transfers produce genes that create toxins that break down human flesh, something that occurred naturally as recently as the early 1980s. A full report of the study is published here.

  1. http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/lookup/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2013.0958
  2. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nmat3944
  3. http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1403138111
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