Category Archives: Genetics

Hardware or Software: Searching for the Genetic Basis for Biological Diversity

Are you up to date on the hot debate in biology regarding how genes influence evolution? Some scientists contend genes are in the driver’s seat. Others assign more pull to regulatory factors controlling genetic expression. At noon, Wednesday, May 27, come hear Duke biologist Greg Wray explore the importance of it all in a talk entitled “Hardware or Software: Searching for the Genetic Basis for Biological Diversity.”
You may not want to miss this one. After Wray’s talk, Pizza Talk embarks on its traditional three-month summer vacation. The next nine-month series debuts in September.
Sigma Xi Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might be interested in attending. RSVPs are required (for a reliable slice count) to cclabby AT amsci DOT org.
Directions to Sigma XI:


Do you love or hate Cilantro?

If you think that political or religious debates can get nasty, you haven’t seen anything until you go online as see how much hate exists between people who love cilantro and those who hate cilantro. What horrible words they use to describe each other!!!!
Last weekend, I asked why is this and searched Twitter and FriendFeed for discussions, as well
Wikipedia and Google Scholar for information about it.
First – cilantro is the US name for the plant that is called coriander in the rest of the world. In the USA, only the seed is called coriander, and the rest of the plant is cilantro.
Second – there are definitely two populations of people: one (larger) group thinks that it is the best taste ever, while the other group thinks it is awful. The latter group is not simply incapable of tasting cilantro – they can taste it in minuscule quantities hidden in food and describe it as “dirty dish-soap water taste”. People who cannot stand cilantro leaf are perfectly OK with eating the coriander seed. So, it is something in the leaf that makes the difference.
Third – anecdotal information from scouring the Web suggests (“me and my Dad hate it…”) that the type of response to cilantro is inherited. It is also not experiental (those who hate it, hated it when they were kids, those who love it sometimes first tried it when they were already old and loved it at first try, and the response does not change with age, amount, kind of food preparation, etc).
Fourth – there is no scientific literature that I could find on the genetics of this. Is the difference at the level of the gustatory (or olfactory) receptors, or at higher-level processing centers in the brain?
Fifth – there is one paper that shows that the type of response to cilantro taste has nothing to do with the individual being a supertaster or not.
Sixth – There are a few older papers that identified chemical compounds in the leaves of cilantro, and a few about the allergy to cilantro, but no final identification of the compound that makes the difference in taste to the two groups.
So, does anyone else know more about this? Let us know in the comments.
In the meantime, be nice to people who are not your cilantro-type – they cannot help it.

From cloning to stem cells: How can pigs help us solve problems in human medicine?

From Sigma Xi:

NCSU molecular biologist Jorge Piedrahita has cloned pigs and explored why they are not carbon copies despite sharing the same DNA. Now he is trying to crack puzzles that could result in transgenic animals useful in human and veterinary medicine. His studies in cloned pigs led him to an unusual family of genes called imprinted genes, involved in placental function and fetal development. Recently he found they are implicated in human diseases too and is developing stem cell technologies in swine to try to speed up clinical applications in people.
To learn more, come hear Piedrahita discuss “From cloning to stem cells: How can pigs help us solve problems in human medicine?” at the next Sigma Xi Pizza Lunch at noon on Wednesday, March 25.
Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to others you think might be interested. RSVPs are required (for a reliable slice count) to
Directions to Sigma XI:
Hope to see you there,

Science Cafe, Raleigh: Gene-Environment Interactions


Tuesday, March 24
6:30-8:30 pm
Science Cafe, Raleigh: Gene-Environment Interactions
EPA statistician and geneticist David Reif discusses the interplay between our genes and the environment. What does our shared evolutionary history have to do with common, complex diseases? How might genetics shape differential susceptibility to the multitude of chemicals–both manufactured and natural–present in the environment? How do modern lifestyles impact the evolutionary process? Tir Na Nog, 218 South Blount Street, Raleigh, NC, 919.833.7795

Meetings I’d like to go to….Part V

Genetic Manipulation of Pest Species: Ecological and Social Challenges:

In the past 10 years major advances have been made in our ability to build transgenic pest strains that are conditionally sterile, harbor selfish genetic elements, and express anti-pathogen genes. Strategies are being developed that involve release into the environment of transgenic pest strains with such characteristics. These releases could provide more environmentally benign pest management and save endangered species, but steps must be taken to insure that this is the case and that there are no significant health or environmental risks associated with releases. Our conference will foster discussion of risks and benefits of these technologies among scientists, policy makers, and citizens.

March 4-6, 2009
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
This is very soon – I’ll try to go to some of it if I can….

Humanity’s Path (video)

This shows how waves of humans spread throughout the world from their origins in Africa over a period of some 50,000 years. The video was created by geneticist Daniel Falush of University College Cork in Ireland and colleagues. For more info, go here:
Soundtrack courtesy of Garageband

The map is in the bag, but the sequence may yet reveal if kangaroos have jumping genes

There is an utterly confusing press release out today – Australian First: Kangaroo Genome Mapped:

Australian researchers are launching the world first detailed map of the kangaroo genome, completing the first phase of the kangaroo genomics project.

Why is it confusing?
Because we are used to seeing press officers and media botch the terms. They often use the words “map” and “sequence” interchangeably.
Mapping a genome means locating genes on chromosomes, i.e., you get to know where each gene is on each chromosome. For this, you do not need to know the sequences of any genes, and certainly not the sequences of stuff between and around the genes.
Sequencing a genome means figuring out the exact order of all nucleotides in the entire DNA of the organism.
Some people do the mapping. Some do the sequencing. Some map first, sequence second. Others sequence first, map later. Some sequence most of the genome, then map it in order to put the last finishing touches on the sequencing, i.e., making sure that all the fragments are ordered correctly.
What appears that the Australian team did is that they mapped the Tammar Wallaby genome first. They intend to sequence it next year.
The source of confusion is the press release which does not state this clearly. Usually a press release reports on the research that is already done and published. In this case, the press release mixes together TWO statements – a) the map has been finished, and b) the sequence is on its way next year. The first is done, the second is yet to be done.
RPM and T. Ryan Gregory are trying to grapple with it all.