Genetics & Molecular Biology

Asymmetry is crucial for the heart proper functioning, and now, scientists from the Institute Gulbenkian of Science in Portugal and Harvard University, have discovered that a family of genes, called Nodal, is crucial determining this asymmetry by controlling the speed and direction of the heart muscle cells during embryonic development.

The finding, by helping to understand how the heart develops, is a step closer to intervention and is of particular importance if we consider that problems in heart asymmetry are the main cause of heart congenital diseases that can affect as much as 8 out of 1000 newborns. The research appears in a special December issue of the journal Development Dynamics 1 dedicated to left-right asymmetry development.
Can science journalism get any more embarrassingly bad?

"Real-time gene monitoring developed" says a headline over at physorg.com. The piece starts off with an insane hook that makes no sense whatsoever:
With GeneVision, military commanders could compare gene expression in victorious and defeated troops. Retailers could track genes related to craving as shoppers moved about a store. "The Bachelor" would enjoy yet one more secret advantage over his love-struck dates.
Men determine the sex of a baby depending on whether their sperm is carrying an X or Y chromosome. An X chromosome combines with the mother's X chromosome to make a baby girl (XX) and a Y chromosome will combine with the mother's to make a boy (XY).

A Newcastle University study suggests that an as-yet undiscovered gene controls whether a man's sperm contains more X or more Y chromosomes, which affects the sex of his children. On a larger scale, the number of men with more X sperm compared to the number of men with more Y sperm affects the sex ratio of children born each year.
The first demonstration that a single adult stem cell can self-renew in a mammal was reported at the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) 48th Annual Meeting, Dec. 13-17, 2008 in San Francisco.   The transplanted adult stem cell and its differentiated descendants restored lost function to mice with hind limb muscle tissue damage.
Airline pilots who have flown for many years may be at risk of DNA damage from prolonged exposure to cosmic ionizing radiation, suggests a study in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The research team compared the rate of chromosomal (DNA) abnormalities in blood samples taken from 83 airline pilots and 50 university faculty members from the same US city.

The two groups were matched for age (35 to 56), sex (male), and smoking habit (light or non-smokers). Age and smoking are known risk factors for cumulative DNA damage.

Fifty eight of the pilots (70%) had served in the military, and they had undertaken significantly more personal air travel than the university staff. Both these factors would have exposed them to more ionising radiation.

How can we share 98% of our DNA with a chimpanzee and still be so different? One of the biggest biological surprises found in our genomes is that chimps, mice, and even flies don't differ very much from us in either number or types of genes. What makes the many diverse animal groups different is not what genes they have; the secret is in how those genes are used.

Something similar takes place inside ourselves: nearly every one of our cells carries the exact same DNA, and yet some cells transmit electrical signals in the brain, while others break down toxic compounds in the liver. How do you get such different cells from the same DNA? Again, the secret lies in how genes are regulated.

It should be no surprise then that gene regulation has been the subject of intense study. Most of these studies have focused on taking known genes and describing how they are regulated, but what biologists would really like to do is predict how an unfamiliar gene is controlled, simply by analyzing that gene's regulatory DNA. Once we can predict how genes are regulated, we're not far away from being able to design new regulatory DNA, which we can use to control the fate of stem cells, manipulate dosing in gene therapy, and design microbes that make better biofuels or degrade toxic waste.  A new report in Nature describes an innovative new way to learn the logic of gene regulation.
What is the point of group classification in science? The point is predictive power. Inclusion in a group should tell me usefully accurate information about the individual or item that would require an inconvenient amount of work to learn directly.

I can create a group called "coffee mugs". There are the traditional "coffee mug" characteristics: handle, cute art on the side, and being labeled "not dishwasher safe". The characteristic that I really care about is how well it insulates the beverage (i.e., keeps the heat in the coffee and out of my hand).

If the traditional "coffee mug" characteristics predicted good insulation, then inclusion or exclusion
A new genome-wide study examines genetic variants associated with nine metabolic traits and is the first to draw out novel variants from a population unselected for current disease. The traits are indicators for common disease such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, blood pressure, inflammation and lipid levels.

Cohorts are followed throughout their lives, gathering lifelong information about their health: these data will help researchers to dissect the complex causes of common disease, whether genetic or environmental. The current study might indicate genetic variants that influence early development of disease, informing public health measures. 
A new study presages a real aim of genetics: to look at whole populations to in order determine the significance of individual genetic variants for individual health. A research team says they found six novel genetic variants that are associated with lipid levels, a common indicator of heart or artery disease.

The power of 'genetic microscopes' has increased because the methods are in place to study many thousands of DNA samples. This study, involving over 20,000 samples and researchers from a dozen European countries, is the first to find such lipid–gene links by looking at the general population, rather than patients.
From looking at the responses to recent articles on the science of race by Massimo Pigliucci and Michael White, it is clear that a lot of people are coming poorly equipped to the quantitative genetics party. A great deal of fuss was made over the heritability of IQ. What does heritability mean?

RED FLAG: If someone says the heritability of X is Y, then they probably don't know what they are talking about.