Open Access week

Celebrate Open Access Week (24-30 October) with these open access articles from the latest review issue of Human Molecular Genetics:

Image credit: Open by Finn Hackshaw. Public domain via Unsplash.

There is a fundamental reason why we look at the sky with wonder and longing—for the same reason that we stand, hour after hour, gazing at the distant swell of the open ocean. There is something like an ancient wisdom, encoded and tucked away in our DNA, that knows its point of origin as surely as a salmon knows its creek. Intellectually, we may not want to return there, but the genes know, and long for their origins—their home in the salty depths. But if the seas are our immediate source, the penultimate source is certainly the heavens… The spectacular truth is—and this is something that your DNA has known all along—the very atoms of your body—the iron, calcium, phosphorus, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and on and on—were initially forged in long-dead stars. This is why, when you stand outside under a moonless, country sky, you feel some ineffable tugging at your innards. We are star stuff. Keep looking up.
—  Jerry Waxman

Here’s a clearer version of my ADHD info graphic
Happy ADHD awareness month everyone!!

Your experiences today will influence the molecular composition of your body for the next two to three months, or perhaps for the rest of your life. Plan your day accordingly.

UCLA’s Steve Cole from The Social Life of Genes.

Your DNA is not a blueprint. Day by day, week by week, your genes are in a conversation with your surroundings. Your neighbors, your family, your feelings of loneliness: They don’t just get under your skin, they get into the control rooms of your cells.
Plants Know When They’re Being Touched
Researchers saw a change in thousands of plant genes occurred just minutes after they were sprayed with water.

Humans have been attributing a secret, interior life to plants for thousands of years. It began with the nature worship of our far-distant ancestors and continued on into the modern age thanks to people like Cleve Backster, a CIA polygraph expert who performed experiments in the 1960s to demonstrate that plants could read our minds.

By and large, most research seeking to attribute a mental life to plants has been discredited over the years. Yet new research coming out of the University of Western Australia shows that while plants may not be able to think, they are—in a way—able to feel.

The UWA researchers arrived at this conclusion after they noticed that a change in the expression of thousands of plant genes occurred just minutes after they were sprayed with water. These genetic changes were short-lived (most reverted to their normal state within half an hour), suggesting that plants are highly in touch with their immediate environment and capable of dynamic responses to changes in their surroundings.

“Unlike animals, plants are unable to run away from harmful conditions,” said Olivier Van Aken, the lead researcher in the study. “Instead, plants appear to have developed intricate stress defense systems to sense their environment and help them detect danger and respond appropriately.

Continue Reading.

Scientists Discover That Eyes Are Windows To The Soul

The eye is the window to the universe, and some would say they are also windows to the soul… We have heard this phrase get passed around before: “The eyes are the windows of the soul”. People usually say this when they can see pain, anger, or some other emotion in somebody else’s eyes.  But recent research gives a whole new meaning to this phrase.  Eyes not only windows to emotions, they are windows to the soul.

Keep reading

Structural differences between DNA and RNA.

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is like a blueprint of biological guidelines that a living organism must follow to exist and remain functional. RNA, or ribonucleic acid, helps carry out this blueprint’s guidelines. Of the two, RNA is more versatile than DNA, capable of performing numerous, diverse tasks in an organism, but DNA is more stable and holds more complex information for longer periods of time.


Our DNA is 99.9% the same as the person sitting next to us.

Physicist Riccardo Sabatini recently demonstrated a printed version of your genetic code would fill 262,000 pages, or 175 big books.

Large amounts of genetic code are used for similar biological mechanisms that are the same across many species. Here’s other genetically similar species.

(Business Insider)

Wasp uses Virus to Genetically Modify Butterfly

Many of us are familiar with the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), but a research group is France has identified the genes for C-type lectins in this species most likely originated from parasitic wasps that are known to lay their eggs in the caterpillars of this species. These proteins are carbohydrate binding proteins with a large number of roles in cells. 

Parasitic wasps are common in the insect world, with virtually all Lepidopteran species being targets for parasitism. It is believed that ~100 million years ago a wasp ancestor domesticated the bracovirus, and now these parasitic wasps employ it as a biological weapon against the caterpillars. The virus is produced in the wasp’s ovaries and acts as a vector for horizontal gene transfer (HGT). In the eukaryotic world, it is fairly rare for such an exchange of DNA between organisms.

The virus has long since lost its ability to generate a successful capsid, and as a result is reliant on the wasp’s ovaries for replication. The virus is injected into the host along with the wasp’s eggs where the domesticated virus promotes the growth of wasp progeny within the caterpillar by inhibiting its immune system. Each wasp lineage has its own set of virulence determinants encoded by the virus.

Integration of viral DNA may occur occasionally, if a caterpillar host manages to successfully defend itself against a parasitic attack or if the wasp lays its eggs in the wrong target. In both cases the caterpillar may go onto to develop into a moth or butterfly in possession of viral and wasp derived genes as seen in the monarch butterfly.

Figure showing the hypothesised process for HGT to occur between wasps and Lepidopteran species (Source)

Source: Plos Genetics -  Recurrent Domestication by Lepidoptera of Genes from Their Parasites Mediated by Bracoviruses