Bathroom hand-dryers suck in poo-particles and aerosolize them all over you and everything else

A new study in Applied and Environmental Microbiology (Sci-Hub mirror) conducted microbial surveys of the bathrooms at the University of Connecticut (where the study's lead authors are based) to investigate whether hand-dryers were sucking in potentially infectious microbes and then spraying them all over everything, as had been observed in earlier studies. Read the rest

The astounding present and dizzying future of synthetic biology

George Church's Harvard lab is one of the most celebrated fonts of innovation in the world of life sciences. George's earliest work on the Human Genome Project arguably pre-dated the actual start of that project. Subsequently, he's been involved in the creation of almost a hundred companies - 22 of which he co-founded.

Much of George's most recent and celebrated work has been with a transformationally powerful gene-editing technique called CRISPR, which he co-invented. George and I discuss CRISPR and its jarring ramifications throughout this week's edition of the After on Podcast. You can listen to our interview by searching "After On" in your favorite podcast app, or by clicking right here:

Our conversation begins with a higher-level survey of the field -- one which cleanly and clearly defines CRISPR by placing it into a broader, and also a quite fascinating framework. We cover four topics, which I'll now define up-front for you, so as to make the interview more accessible.

We begin by discussing genetic sequencing. "Sequencing" is a fancy (and rather cool way) of saying, "reading." Your genome is about three billion characters long. It's written in a limited alphabet, of just four letters: A, G, C, and T. And if someone sequences your genome, it simply means they've read it. They haven't modified it in any way. They haven't have cloned you. They've just gotten a readout (kind of like determining your blood type -- only a few billions times more complicated).

George and I next discuss gene editing. Read the rest

Genetic analysis reveals that bizarre extraterrestrial skeleton isn't extraterrestrial

This is Ata, a bizarre, tiny mummified skeleton found in a deserted mining town in Chile's Atacama Desert in 2003.

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Sara Varon's New Shoes: a kids' buddy story about the jungles of Guyana and redemption

Sara Varon is co-creator, with Cecil Castellucci, of Odd Duck, the 2013 outstanding kids' picture book, and her latest solo venture, New Shoes is a brilliant reprisal of the themes from Odd Duck: camaraderie among eccentric animals, charming small-town life, fascinating technical details, humor, and beautiful, engaging illustrations.

25 years ago, a mutant American crayfish turned to asexual reproduction, and all of Europe's lakes are filling up with its clones

The marbled crayfish (Procambarus virginalis) is a mutant slough crayfish (Procambarus fallax) an American species; the mutation that allowed slough crayfish to reproduce asexually by cloning itself occurred a mere 25 years ago, and it came to Germany as an aquarium pet in 1995, sold as "Texas crayfish." Read the rest

Future astronaut food could taste like shit

Scientists have been working on a way to turn poop into an edible which, even if it winds up tasting like French fries, will never let you entirely forget about the fact that you're eating poop.

According to Penn State News, researchers at the university's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences have been puttering about their lab, looking for a way to turn human waste into a viable food source for astronauts on deep space missions.

As most people don't want to play with their own brand, the researchers turned to an artificial human waste analog, commonly used for testing purposes in waste treatment plants. The waste was placed inside of a closed cylinder and treated with microbes. These microbes broke down their faux-feces through a process called anaerobic digestion. This breakdown of the waste results in a discharge of methane, which can be used to produce a microbe called Methylococcus capsulatus. Methylococcus capsulatus is currently used in animal feed, and since humans are animals, BOOM: astronaut food. By growing the microbes at a temperature that kills harmful bacteria, the research team was able to produce a bio mass consisting of 61% protein and 7% animal fats.

According to Penn State professor of Geosciences, Christopher House, the resulting foodstuff would have the consistency of Vegemite or Marmite.

With this being the case, there could be a large contingent of future astronauts that would prefer to eat their own crap, instead.

Photo via Flikr, courtesy of Dave Young

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Deep-sea expedition seeks clues about how extraterrestrial life might exist

Life on the Rocks is a fascinating account of a scientific expedition to a craggy archipelago off Brazil, where conditions may unlock secrets about possible life forms on Europa, Enceladus, and other nearby celestial bodies. Read the rest

New York's rat population has genetically diverged into "uptown" and "downtown" subpopulation

Matthew Combs, a Fordham University Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station grad student worked with colleagues from Fordham and the Providence College Department of Biology to sequence the genomes of brown rats in Manhattan, and made a surprising discovery: the geography of rats has a genetic correlation, so a geneticist can tell where a rat was born and raised by analyzing its DNA. Read the rest

How bacteria rule over your body - new explainer video

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell latest explainer video tackles the human microbiome - those passive, friendly, and unfriendly tiny lifeforms that inhabit and cover our body and affect our health and behavior in profound ways. Read the rest

Turkish high school students will no longer be taught "controversial" evolutionary theory

Evolution is one of 170 topics that have been purged from the high-school curriculum by the Erdogan regime as part of its efforts to cozy up to the reactionary religious right that has backed its extreme authoritarianism. Read the rest

Four anatomical models you assemble from 132 anatomically correct sub-components

The $45.28 Learning Resources Anatomy Models Bundle Set is a well-reviewed set of anatomical models: a 5" heart, a 3.75" brain, a 4.5" body and a 9.2" skeleton, all of which disassemble into anatomically correct sub-components that you assemble into the finished pieces. (via Fun Finds) Read the rest

About 40% of "worker" ants just hang around, doing nothing

Ants are cultural signifiers of busy industriousness, but a new paper in Plos One reveals that, across species, about 40% of "worker" ants spend most of their days doing nothing. Read the rest

Are solar storms causing whales to beach themselves?

A new study in the International Journal of Astrobiology posits that beached whales may sometimes be influenced by solar storms. Read the rest

Clear-cut tropical forest revitalized with industrial orange peel waste

In 1997, ecologists Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs convinced a Costa Rican orange juice maker to to dump their waste peels in a clear-cut abandoned pasture that was in a national park. Twenty years later, the enriched soil nourishes tropical forest again, according to a new report. Read the rest

Skeleton Flower turns transparent in the rain

Diphylleia grayi, the "skeleton flower" is normally opaque white but when it rains, the petals become transparent until the flower dries. Nanotechnologists are developing new materials inspired by the flower's structure that could lead to the likes of new underwater goggles that repel oil. From Mother Nature Network:

Skeleton flowers are native to wooded mountainsides in the colder regions of Japan, and they bloom from mid-spring to early-summer in shady conditions. The plant might be easier to spot if you look for its large, umbrella-shaped leaves. The pearly white (or clear, if it's raining) blossoms top the leaves in small clusters...

A related species, Diphylleia cymosa, can be found in the deciduous forests of the Appalachian Mountains here in the United States.

(via Daily Grail)

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Evolutionary psychologists are very butthurt about the new Scientific American

Scientific American dedicates its September issue to The New Science of Sex and Gender, and sociobiologists haven't been in this kind of tizzy since the Emmy-nominated Bill Nye episode about sex and gender. Read the rest

Researchers encoded a film clip in DNA and store it inside a living cell

In an astonishing step forward in biomolecular computing, Harvard researchers encoded a 19th century film clip in DNA and stored it inside living bacteria. Later, they sequenced the bacterium's genome and decoded the film. From IEEE Spectrum:

To get a movie into E. coli’s DNA, (neuroscientist Seth) Shipman and his colleagues had to disguise it. They converted the movie’s pixels into DNA’s four-letter code—molecules represented by the letters A,T,G and C—and synthesized that DNA. But instead of generating one long strand of code, they arranged it, along with other genetic elements, into short segments that looked like fragments of viral DNA.

E. coli is naturally programmed by its own DNA to grab errant pieces of viral DNA and store them in its own genome—a way of keeping a chronological record of invaders. So when the researchers introduced the pieces of movie-turned-synthetic DNA—disguised as viral DNA—E. coli’s molecular machinery grabbed them and filed them away.

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