Shining Like a Ground Beetle — my review of Darwin’s nerdy birthday party

Week before last, I went to Darwin’s Birthday Party at the Natural History Museum in London. The next day, I scribbled about it for Pi Media. Read the review here:

What follows is a version with hyperlinks:

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Commuters in London’s Waterloo Station during the 1960s may not have realised the shaggy man sitting alone on a bench, casting himself outside the bustle, was about to revolutionise evolutionary biology.
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Y: The (not quite) Last Man

Human males will not exist in five million years’ time. So goes a popular line of thinking. But maybe it’s not quite right.

This week for BioNews, I report on a study that draws on 16 complete, high-coverage genomes and a bunch of mathematical models to show that the ‘male’ Y chromosome will be sticking around for a while. The little bastard may contain only 27 genes but they seem to be 27 genes that natural selection is holding onto.

Have a read.

Reference: Wilson Sayres, Lohmueller & Nielsen (2013). Natural selection reduced diversity on human Y chromosomes PLOS Genetics DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004064

Genetics and pesticide exposure ‘double hit’ might underlie Parkinson’s (for some)

This week for BioNews, I report on a thorough and thoroughly cool study that weaved its way down a biological pathway from exposure to pesticides to the death of nerve cells linked to Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers found how a genetic mutation can interact with toxins produced from pesticides to disrupt the functioning of neurons involved in movement and coordination. The mutation lies in a gene encoding a protein that is the main ingredient of Lewy bodies — the clumps found among neurons of people with Parkinson’s or certain forms of dementia.

They looked at the problem from all sorts of angles and involved patient-derived lines of induced pluripotent stem cells and embryonic stem cells and a lot of tweaking, coming to firm causal conclusions about a very particular interaction between genetics and environmental factors.

Have a read.

C. diff superbug: “most of us get it and it doesn’t matter”

Clostridium difficile, almost affectionately known as C. diff, is one of the famous ‘hospital superbugs’ along with brethren such as MRSA.

C. diff (Source: Wikipedia)

Previous wisdom held that the spindly, drumstick-shaped bacterium was transmitted around hospitals. This week for BioNews, I cover a study showing that hospitals are linked to fewer than one in five C. diff infections. Most, it may be, come from contact within wider communities, or possibly from animal or food sources.

Study co-author Professor Tim Peto gave a couple of choice quotes to BBC News:

“I think we’re eating [C. diff] all the time, probably from animals, and most of us get it and it doesn’t matter.”

“More and more deep cleaning ain’t going to do any good.”

Read more here.