Why Some Flowers Only Smell at Night

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells, and one measly petunia!”  –Curly

Curly Howard didn’t think highly of petunias, but had the Three Stooges spent more time gardening, they would have known that petunias are most fragrant at nighttime. Now, scientists have figured out the reason why. Continue reading

Creative People Really Are a Little Crazy

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

The notion that highly creative people tend to be eccentric or even a little “crazy” is not just a stereotype. New research in the journal Nature Neuroscience has shown that people who are genetically predisposed toward schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are likelier to be artists or a member of the creative professions. Continue reading

Genes and the Placebo Effect: Are You Easily Pleased?

GIVE someone who is sick a sugar pill that you have told him is a powerful drug, and it will often make him feel better. Even if you tell him what it really is, he may still feel better. The placebo effect, as this phenomenon is known—from the Latin for “I shall please”—is one of the strangest things in medical science. It is a boon to doctors and a bane of those running clinical trials, who must take account of it in their designs. But how it works is obscure. Read the rest at The Economist.

Pathogen Jumped from Humans to Rabbits in 1976

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Zoonotic diseases, such as the plague and Ebola virus, jump from animals to humans. Often, but not always, such interspecies transmission occurs following mutations in the pathogen’s genome that make it more suitable for targeting a new host. But, infectious disease is not a one-way street. This same evolutionary process also makes possible “reverse zoonosis” (more properly dubbed zooanthroponosis) — i.e., the transmission of disease from humans to animals. Continue reading

Malaria May Be Driving Evolution of Blood Type

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Malaria is a deadly disease that, according to the World Health Organization, infects roughly 200 million people annually and kills more than half a million. It has thus become a powerful force of natural selection, helping shape the evolution of its human host. Continue reading

Sci-Fi Now Reality: Mind Control of Gene Expression

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Mind control — specifically, the ability to manipulate machines or the environment through the power of our thoughts — has long been the fascination of sci-fi enthusiasts. Now, a team of European researchers has made a giant leap toward turning this sci-fi fantasy into reality: They have demonstrated human mind control of gene expression in a mouse. And, they used some of the best tools of neuroscience, physics and synthetic biology to accomplish it. Continue reading

Will Epigenetics Be Used to Oppress Women?

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Epigenetics is the next big field that the media, fearmongers, and political hacks will attempt to exploit. How do we know? Because there is a flurry of research in the field (which is not always a good sign), and journalists are already hacking away. You can find articles blaming epigenetics for obesity, cancer, personality, homosexuality, and (absurdly) how we vote. Continue reading

Why Domesticated Dogs Have Floppy Ears

OVER the course of several thousand years, mankind slowly transformed the wild canine into man’s best friend. Wolves would linger near early human settlements, supplementing their diets with food scraps and other waste. Some of these beasts were less afraid of humans, and over generations, this intrepid subset of mongrels built a mutually beneficial relationship with humans. Read the rest at The Economist.