Category Archives: genetics

Tiny foxes on the Channel Islands lack not only mass, but also genetic variation and fear of humans

On the Channel Islands, 12-70 miles (20-113 km) off the Pacific coast of southern California, live six subspecies of the Channel Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis), a dwarf species that is a close relative of the gray fox living on the mainland (U. cineroargenteus). Genetic data suggest that these foxes have been isolated from the mainland species for about 9000 […]

Human evolution: a tangled bank

by Matthew Cobb Back in October, we looked at the discovery of anatomically modern human teeth in China, from 100,000 years ago. This was surprising because although archaeological evidence suggested that Homo sapiens first came out of Africa perhaps 125,000 years ago, it was thought that they hung around the Middle East, maybe venturing into […]

A radio programme about gene editing

by Matthew Cobb I’ve recently made a BBC radio programme about gene editing, a new form of genetic manipulation that generally goes by the name of the acronym CRISPR. Over the last 3-4 years this technique has taken biological and medical research by storm. Clinical trials of therapies for patients suffering blood-born genetic diseases may […]

A so-so quiz on DNA

Reader Diane G. called my attention to A Quiz on DNA at Now I Know quizzes.  Some questions were easy, others were harder, and one question is really, really dumb. You get 8 minutes to answer 19 questions. As a geneticist of sorts, I better have gotten them all, and I did (see below; click on […]

Rare white giraffe survives its first year

A rare white giraffe (not an albino but one showing the genetic condition of leucism), was reported in April as a calf in Tanzania. Here she is as a juvenile: At the time, people were worried that, visible as she is, she’d be easy prey for predators like lions. Well, now the calf has been named […]

100 years of Genetics, and my own contribution to the fête

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the journal Genetics, still the premier journal of genetical research in the world. I subscribed to it for decades until e-journals became common, and was proud to have published in it a few times (its peer review was notoriously tough). For the year 2016, the editors decided to reprint […]

Monday mites: the evolution of human hair mites (you have them!)

There are two species of “face mites,” Demodex, that live on humans. One, D. folliculorum, lives mostly on the hair follicles, and mostly on the face. It’s small (0.1-0.4 mm), has a transparent body with four pair of anterior legs (remember, mites are arachnids), and nearly all of us harbor them. They’re harmless, although in large numbers they […]

Kevin J Connolly (1936-2015)

by Matthew Cobb One of the key relationships in academic life is that between a PhD student and their supervisor. If everything goes well, the supervisor is part mentor, part in loco parentis, and by the end of the process, when the thesis is written up and passed, supervisor and student have learned as much […]

The irony of natural selection

Although most mutations in the DNA that affect fitness are harmful, without mutations there would be no evolution. Evolution depends on the genetic variation created by mutation, and although there are other ways to change DNA beyond conventional mutations (horizontal gene transfer is one, though in effect it acts like a big mutation), in general evolution would […]

Hold the presses: maybe tardigrades don’t have so much horizontal gene transfer after all

About a week ago I discussed a new paper by Boothby et al. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US) with a stunning finding: the sequenced DNA of the tardigrade species Hypsibius dujardini showed that about 17% of its genome comprised sequences taken from distantly-related species—mostly bacteria. This was the most pervasive example of horizontal gene […]


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