Blue-eyed humans have a single, common ancestor

From PhysOrg.com:

New research shows that people with blue eyes have a single, common ancestor. A team at the University of Copenhagen have tracked down a genetic mutation which took place 6-10,000 years ago and is the cause of the eye colour of all blue-eyed humans alive on the planet today.

“Originally, we all had brown eyes”, said Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology. “But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a “switch”, which literally “turned off” the ability to produce brown eyes”.

The OCA2 gene codes for the so-called P protein, which is involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that gives colour to our hair, eyes and skin. The “switch”, which is located in the gene adjacent to OCA2 does not, however, turn off the gene entirely, but rather limits its action to reducing the production of melanin in the iris – effectively “diluting” brown eyes to blue.

The switch’s effect on OCA2 is very specific. If the OCA2 gene had been completely destroyed or turned off, human beings would be without melanin in their hair, eyes or skin colour – a condition known as albinism.

Variation in the colour of the eyes from brown to green can all be explained by the amount of melanin in the iris, but blue-eyed individuals only have a small degree of variation in the amount of melanin in their eyes. “From this we can conclude that all blue-eyed individuals are linked to the same ancestor,” says Professor Eiberg. “They have all inherited the same switch at exactly the same spot in their DNA.” Brown-eyed individuals, by contrast, have considerable individual variation in the area of their DNA that controls melanin production.

Professor Eiberg and his team examined mitochondrial DNA and compared the eye colour of blue-eyed individuals in countries as diverse as Jordan, Denmark and Turkey. His findings are the latest in a decade of genetic research, which began in 1996, when Professor Eiberg first implicated the OCA2 gene as being responsible for eye colour.

The mutation of brown eyes to blue represents neither a positive nor a negative mutation. It is one of several mutations such as hair colour, baldness, freckles and beauty spots, which neither increases nor reduces a human’s chance of survival. As Professor Eiberg says, “it simply shows that nature is constantly shuffling the human genome, creating a genetic cocktail of human chromosomes and trying out different changes as it does so.”

Source: University of Copenhagen

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Sunday Science Update #3

Last week was a busy week and I found myself pressed for time and unable to produce my Sunday Science Update. I stuck with the news though and tried my best to post relevant and interesting news items later in the week. Scroll down to check them out.

The news items from this week cover a wide range of topics, but i think you’ll find each one a fascinating. The last one is just for laughs.

First up, a brush with mass extinction? Nah, this asteroid is 334,000 miles shy. Though any closer and we might have to send Bruce Willis to handle it. In all seriousness though, the asteroid poses no threat to Earth and should be an excellent opportunity for novice sky gazers to see something they don’t see every night. Check the article out for information on how you can see it.

Asteroid to Make Rare Close Flyby of Earth
Physorg.com
Scientists are monitoring the orbit of asteroid 2007 TU24. The asteroid, believed to be between 150 meters (500 feet) and 610 meters (2,000 feet) in size, is expected to fly past Earth on Jan. 29, with its closest distance being about 537,500 kilometers (334,000 miles) at 12:33 a.m. Pacific time (3:33 a.m. Eastern time). It should be observable that night by amateur astronomers with modest-sized telescopes.

If Bruce Willis did have to go save the Earth from an asteroid, he might do it in one of Sir Richard Branson’s new Spaceship Two vehicles.

Virgin Galactic unveils designs for new spacecraft
VirginGalactic.com
Plans for a new commercial suborbital spacecraft were presented this week by Virgin Galactic, the space tourism arm of Virgin Atlantic, and Scaled Composites, maker of the first privately funded manned spacecraft.

It’s good that there are people like Sir Richard Branson out there. NASA’s fleet of spaceships is getting a bit rickety and with the doors open for new machines and new utilizations of the, pardon the word usage, space above our heads, things can only go forward. Branson is fully committed to revolutionizing space travel and making it available to… well, not my income bracket. But, AN income bracket. Go Branson.

And while Mr. Willis is up there flyin’ round space commercially, he can break out his new Sony digital camera.

Sony Cameras Wait for Baby to Smile
Physorg.com
Sony has improved the smile shutter feature, which enables the camera to detect multiple smiles, and delay the shot until everyone is smiling. The smile shutter feature can be set to prioritize children or adults, and the new models with the feature will wait to snap a picture when a child in the frame smiles – even if it´s just for a second.

Unbelievable… cameras that wait for smiles. What’s next? Antibiotics that wait until you’re sick? Grass that doesn’t require mowing?

And finally, this bit of humor:

That’s all for this week. More science updates next week. Until then, uh… stay learned!

A New Epoch in Human History?

From Physorg.com

Man-made changes bring about new epoch in Earth’s history

Geologists from the University of Leicester propose that humankind has so altered the Earth that it has brought about an end to one epoch of Earth’s history and marked the start of a new epoch.

Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams at the University of Leicester and their colleagues on the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London have presented their research in the journal GSA Today.

In it, they suggest humans have so changed the Earth that on the planet the Holocene epoch has ended and we have entered a new epoch – the Anthropocene.

They have identified human impact through phenomena such as:

— Transformed patterns of sediment erosion and deposition worldwide
— Major disturbances to the carbon cycle and global temperature
— Wholesale changes to the world’s plants and animals
— Ocean acidification

The scientists analyzed a proposal made by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen in 2002. He suggested the Earth had left the Holocene and started the Anthropocene era because of the global environmental effects of increased human population and economic development.

The researchers argue that the dominance of humans has so physically changed Earth that there is increasingly less justification for linking pre- and post-industrialized Earth within the same epoch – the Holocene.

The scientists said their findings present the scholarly groundwork for consideration by the International Commission on Stratigraphy for formal adoption of the Anthropocene as the youngest epoch of, and most recent addition to, the Earth’s geological timescale.

They state: “Sufficient evidence has emerged of stratigraphically significant change (both elapsed and imminent) for recognition of the Anthropocene—currently a vivid yet informal metaphor of global environmental change—as a new geological epoch to be considered for formalization by international discussion.”

Bond 22 named Quantum of Solace

Craig on location in Italy.

From the Associated Press:

IVER HEATH, England (AP) — “Quantum of Solace” is the title of the new James Bond film, the 22nd Bond adventure.

The title was revealed to reporters Thursday at Pinewood Studios outside of London, where the movie is being filmed.

Producer Michael G. Wilson said the title, chosen only a few days ago, was taken from a story by Bond creator Ian Fleming that appears in the collection “For Your Eyes Only.”

“We thought it was an intriguing title and referenced what happened to Bond and what is happening in the film,” he said.

Daniel Craig is returning as Agent 007. He picks up where 2006’s “Casino Royale” left off, with Bond contemplating revenge after his betrayal by his true love, Vesper Lynd.

“It is not a revenge movie,” said co-producer Barbara Broccoli. “It’s a lot more complicated than that. It has lots of action but it also deals with the inner turmoil Bond is feeling.”

Filming began at Pinewood Studios earlier this month. Location shooting is planned in Austria, Italy and Panama. Judi Dench returns as the MI-6 boss M and Mathieu Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) plays the villain. Additions to the cast include Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko as mysterious Bond girl Camille.

“Quantum of Solace” is set to open in Britain and the United States on Nov. 7.

Michael Wilson has confirmed that the film will pick up “literally an hour after” Casino Royale’s conclusion.  In regards to Fleming’s story from the novel For Your Eyes Only, Quantum of Solace is not a spy story and Bond appears only in the background. The tale has Bond attending a boring dinner party at the Government House In Nassau with a group of socialites he can’t stand.

Bond makes an offensive remark after dinner when the other guests have left in order to stimulate conversation. This solicits a careful reply from the elderly Governor of The Bahamas who tells 007 a sad tale about a relationship between former civil servant Philip Masters stationed in Bermuda and air hostess, Rhoda Llewellyn. After meeting aboard a flight to London the two eventually married but after a time Rhoda became unhappy with her life as a housewife. She then began a long open affair with the eldest son of a rich Bermudan family. As a result Masters’ work deteriorated and he suffered a nervous breakdown.

After recovering he was given a break from Bermuda by the governor and sent on an assignment to Washington to negotiate fishing rights with the US. At the same time the governor’s wife had a talk with Rhoda just as her affair ended. Masters returned a few months later and decided to end his marriage, although he and Rhoda continued to appear as a happy couple in public. Masters returned alone to the UK, leaving a penniless Rhoda stranded in Bermuda, an act of which he’d been incapable of merely months earlier. But Masters never recovered emotionally, his vital spark never relit. The governor goes on to tell Bond how after a time Rhoda married a rich Canadian and seems to be happy, telling Bond that his dull dinner companions whom he found so boring were Rhoda and her new husband.

While the story does not include action elements, as other Fleming tales do, it attempts to posit that Bond’s adventures pale in comparison with real life drama. Bond reflects that the lives of the people he passes somewhat superficial judgments upon can in fact hide poignant episodes.

Latest News From ICROSS

KENYA CRISIS APPEAL
(21 January 2008)

ICROSS is working closely with the Ministry of Health and communities in the midst of the current crisis in Kenya. With hundreds dead, hundreds of thousands displaced and homeless there are immediate needs that must be met today.

While NGOs, local communities and villages are doing everything they can the scale of the crisis is difficult to manage without more support. Children are unable to go to school, there is no shelter for many and a lot of families who have lost their homes have also lost the little they possess. Together with the communities we work with we are identifying those most vulnerable including the old and sick we are working to help families return to a normal life responding to immediate needs in the communities we serve.

All ICROSS projects are fully operational. Our teams, which are comprised of members of the local communities, continued home visits to patients and the terminally ill throughout the riots and violence. All ICROSS staff remained at their posts throughout the violence and will continue to work. There is great heroism and compassion in every corner of every slum, many people are doing wonderful things. But there is fear and with so many small businesses destroyed and homes burnt there is a lot to do.

The Kenyan people have endured so much recently and with our help can rebuild. ICROSS has for 27 years been working with communities to ensure a better tomorrow. We need your help today to continue both the immediate and the long term programmes that remain the centre of our work.

www.icross.ie

The crazy train has just derailed…

This is a clip from the awards ceremony where Tom Cruise received the Freedom Medal of Valor award from his Scientology buddies. Watch this video and ask yourself this:

Does anyone have any idea what he is talking about?

Does he even know what he is talking about?

This man is truly brainwashed by this bullshit. The insane laugh around 4:30 is a good indication that this man is clearly a few quarters short of a dollar.

Tom Cruise – Authority on the Mind.