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The emotional sensitivity gene

Serotonin is one of the major neurotransmitters (i.e. chemicals) in the brain. It’s very connected to our emotions and so it’s not a coincidence that a lot of the drugs that are used to treat depression and anxiety act on the serotonin system in the brain. This is clearly a very important chemical for determining the nature of our emotional lives.

The serotonin transporter gene regulates serotonin in the brain. People are born with variations of this gene. The long variation clears serotonin out of the neural synapse more efficiently. The short variation is less efficient, which lets the serotonin hang around a little bit longer in the synapse. 

The short variation was originally considered a risk gene — but it’s now being thought of as a sensitivity gene.

Learn more about how the gene impacts our emotional responses →

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.

How? The answer has to do with the actual eyeball itself.  Everyone has a different structure of lines, dots and colors within the iris of their eye.  Some people may have similar eye color to each other, but the lines and dots on the iris are as unique as a fingerprint.

Although they vary from person to person, there are certain patterns contained within the iris which are widespread, and scientists at Orebro University in Sweden wanted to see if these patterns correlated with specific personality traits.

They focused on patterns in crypts (threads which radiate from the pupil) and contraction furrows (lines curving around the outer edge) which are formed when the pupils dilate.  The studied the eyes of 428 subjects to see if the crypts patters and contraction furrows reflected their character traits.

What they found

Their findings showed those with densely packed crypts are more warmhearted, tender, trusting, and likely to sympathize with others.  In comparison, those with more contraction furrows were more neurotic, impulsive and likely to give way to cravings.

It’s crazy to think how the markings on a person’s eyeball can reveal the most deep-rooted character traits of an individual.

There was an extremely strong correlation between a person’s iris and their personality traits.  But correlation does not imply causation right? Right. But it appears as though both eye detail and a person’s character traits may be caused by the same thing.

The researchers said that eye structure and personality could be linked because the gene sequences responsible for developing the structure of the iris also contribute to the development of the frontal lobe of our brain, which is the motherboard of our personality.

“‘Our results suggest people with different iris features tend to develop along different personality lines,’ said Matt Larsson, a behavioural scientist who led the study at Orebro University.  ‘These findings support the notion that people with different iris configurations tend to develop along different trajectories in regards to personality.  Differences in the iris can be used as a biomarker that reflects differences between people.’”

The scientists also mentioned something very interesting about a gene called PAX6, which controls the formation of the eye in the early stages of embryonic development.  Research has shown that mutation of the gene results in poor social skills, impulsiveness, and poor communication skills.

Eye color reveals even more

According to researchers at Pittsburgh University, women with lighter colored eyes experience less pain during childbirth compared to women with darker eyes. People with lighter eyes also consume significantly more alcohol, as darker eyed people require less alcohol to become intoxicated.

The reason boils down to genes. A senior lecturer in biomolecular sciences at Liverpool John Moores University said, “What we know now is that eye color is based on 12 to 13 individual variations in people’s genes… These genes do other things in the body.”

Take melanin, the pigment that makes eyes darker. Melanin may also makes people more susceptible to alcohol. When psychologists at Georgia State University in Atlanta surveyed more than 12,000 men and women, they found those with light eyes consumed significantly more alcohol than those with dark eyes. The reason brown-eyed people may drink less – and also be less likely to be alcoholics – is because they need less alcohol to become intoxicated.

Melanin not only determines eye darkness, it’s also an insulator for the electrical connections between brain cells. The more melanin in the brain, the more efficiently, sensitively and faster the brain can work, the researchers reported in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.  So the chemical responsible for eye darkness is also responsible for brain efficiency.

Eyes are literally the windows to the inner most aspects of our personality and character traits.  If you look into someones eyes, you can easily tell if they are scared, sad, or worn down inside.  But if you look even closer, you will also be able to see what kind of psychology and personality that person has.  Eyes are literally a window into people’s souls.

By: Steven Bancarz

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First Time Humans Saw the Structure of DNA - the photograph that revealed the Geometry upon which all Life is based.

Photo 51 is the nickname given to an X-ray diffraction image of DNA taken by Raymond Gosling in May 1952, working as a PhD student under the supervision of Rosalind Franklin. It was critical evidence in identifying the structure of DNA.

Working in the lab alongside Wilkins in 1952, Franklin had taken a startling, high-resolution photograph of a piece of DNA using X -ray crystallography, a technique whereby X -rays are shone on a crystalline structure (in this case, the DNA protein), to create a scattered reflection pattern on film.To the naked eye the photo looked merely like an X diced up into bits, but to Franklin it confirmed that DNA was a double-helix.

Photo 51 has an important place in history and has at least a claim to be the most important image ever taken.

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View the TED-Ed Lesson Where do genes come from?

When life emerged on Earth about 4 billion years ago, the earliest microbes had a set of basic genes that succeeded in keeping them alive. In the age of humans and other large organisms, there are a lot more genes to go around. Where did all of those new genes come from? Carl Zimmer examines the mutation and multiplication of genes.

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The Gene For Sweet: Why We Don't All Taste Sugar The Same Way
We know that a gene can determine how strongly we experience bitter flavors. Scientists wanted to know if this was also true for sweet. Their study shows genetics may affect our taste for sugar, too.

“How you perceive [sweet] may influence what you like in the extreme, but it’s more like shades of gray,” says Danielle Reed at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. “And we still need to see whether this has any implications for people’s food behavior.”

Listening to classical music modulates genes that are responsible for brain functions

Although listening to music is common in all societies, the biological determinants of listening to music are largely unknown. According to a latest study, listening to classical music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic neurotransmission, learning and memory, and down-regulated the genes mediating neurodegeneration. Several of the up-regulated genes were known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds, suggesting a common evolutionary background of sound perception across species.

Listening to music represents a complex cognitive function of the human brain, which is known to induce several neuronal and physiological changes. However, the molecular background underlying the effects of listening to music is largely unknown. A Finnish study group has investigated how listening to classical music affected the gene expression profiles of both musically experienced and inexperienced participants. All the participants listened to W.A. Mozart’s violin concert Nr 3, G-major, K.216 that lasts 20 minutes.

Listening to music enhanced the activity of genes involved in dopamine secretion and transport, synaptic function, learning and memory. One of the most up-regulated genes, synuclein-alpha (SNCA) is a known risk gene for Parkinson’s disease that is located in the strongest linkage region of musical aptitude. SNCA is also known to contribute to song learning in songbirds.

“The up-regulation of several genes that are known to be responsible for song learning and singing in songbirds suggest a shared evolutionary background of sound perception between vocalizing birds and humans”, says Dr. Irma Järvelä, the leader of the study.

In contrast, listening to music down-regulated genes that are associated with neurodegeneration, referring to a neuroprotective role of music.

“The effect was only detectable in musically experienced participants, suggesting the importance of familiarity and experience in mediating music-induced effects”, researchers remark.

The findings give new information about the molecular genetic background of music perception and evolution, and may give further insights about the molecular mechanisms underlying music therapy.

Listening to classical music enhanced the activity of genes that are mainly related to reward and pleasure, cognitive functions and proper brain function. Some of the findings of this study may explain the molecular mechanisms underlying music therapy.
— 

Chakravarthi Kanduri, Computational Biology Researcher at the University of Helsinki

Music can change your genes — and that’s huge for just about everyone

22 May 2015

Better Make-up?

Our genes define almost everything about us – the good and the bad. If you could alter your genes to prevent an illness, would you? Recently a research team in China has managed to do exactly that. β-thalassaemia is a hereditary blood disorder caused by the mutation of the gene haemoglobin beta, by modifying this gene it’s possible to stop the disease from ever developing. Only unviable human embryos (pictured), which could not result in a live birth, were used in this study – the DNA contained inside the embryos was spliced and repaired using a gene cutting technique known as CRISPR/Cas9. However, the success rate was low, and the trial has now been stopped, but it does indicate a new step towards the eradication of genetic diseases. Clearly this work raises a lot of ethical questions – where do you draw the line with making up our make-up?

Written by Helen Thomas

Image by Yorgos Nikas
Science Photo Library
Any re-use of this image must be authorised by Science Photo Library
Research published in Protein and Cell, April 2015

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How a single gene can influence your emotional reactions

It’s challenging to understand how something as simple and small as a gene can affect something as complicated as human behavior — the effects can take a long time to manifest. With this in mind, UC Berkeley’s Robert Levenson embarked on a 20 year study. 

For the study, he looked at a particular gene that’s involved in the regulation of serotonin in the brain. A variation of this gene — known as the “short allele” — leaves serotonin in the brain a bit longer and seems to amplify a person’s emotional reactions. (About 30% of the population has this variation.)

People with the short alleles laugh more when they watch funny films. They also get more embarrassed (the researchers tested this out by having the study participants perform karaoke and then watch the tape of themselves singing).   

At every emotional fork in the road, the people with the short alleles had an emotional reactions that was just a little bit stronger than people with long alleles. 

Learn more about how this gene can impact your love life 

‘Purposes’ of the different genes:

-Tiger/Stripes: Camouflage in grasslands. Likely originated from the Windswept Plateau. 

- Bar/Daub: Camouflage in forests and probably hailing from the Viridian Labyrinth.

- Ripple/Current: Camouflage in water/swamps and according to dragon scientists it first occurred in the Tidelord’s domain.

- Clown/Eyespot: Warning or threat display. They get more brilliant in color if a dragon is scared or angry. Place of first occurrences not known, but Eyespot is believed to have been a Fae exclusive trait in the earliest days of its existence so it may be the result of high irradiation levels on the Starfall Islands. 

- Seraph/Underbelly: Mating displays. When dragons enter their mating season, their other colors will dull a bit while Seraph/Underbelly get more eye catching. At least Underbelly is believed to have developed several times independantly. 

- Speckle/Freckle: More of an all purpose camouflage that works reasonably well (depending on colors) in basically all environments. Dragon scientists believe that it developed several times independently. 

- Crystal: Protective coat. The dragon’s skin secrets a mixture of different minerals they absorb from their environment. Commonly thought to originate in Dragonhome where the dragons borrowing into the ground wouldn’t just have access to all kinds of minerals and metals, but also need protection to avoid being injured on sharp rocks. Dragons who are not able to consume enough minerals/metals will slowly use their protective crystal coat. 

- Iridescent/Shimmer: these genes are actually the heterozygous form of Crystal. A dragon that only carries one allele doesn’t develop the full protective coat of Crystal, but instead a higher-than-normal level of mineral deposits under the outermost skin layer. While not much in the way of protection, it does serve excellently as a mating display. 

- Gembond: A disease that causes the dragon’s body to deposit minerals in certain spots to form bulbous ‘gems’ in patterns distinctive for each breed. The color of the gems may change to an extend with the food sources of the dragon. It’s commonly believed to have originated in the Scarred Wasteland, where it’s considered a blessing from the Plaguebringer. In Plague dragons (or other dragons, while they’re sick) the gems contain a high density of germs, making shed gems a valuable weapon in a fight. 

- Circuit: Another gene related to metal deposits in the skin. The circuit patterns hold a very high metal contend and are usually placed over calloused areas. This allows electricity of flow over the dragon instead of through them, like a Faraday cage. For this reason scientific consensus is that this gene developed in the Shifting Expanse, where death by lightning strike is a significant danger. 

- Smoke: Mating display. When a dragon enters mating season, bio-luminescent proteins will be produced in the skin cells, making the smoke patterns stand out in a glow. Even outside of mating times, there often is a faint bio-luminescence visible at the edges of the pattern. This gene likely developed in the Tangled Wood, where it supplies an additional camouflage aspect. 

- Crackle: patches and lairs of calloused skin, frequently very resistant to both heat and cold, especially along the edges of the wing or the limbs. As such it may have developed either in the Southern Icefield or the Ashfall Waste. So far, both options are still hotly contested by scientists.