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Week in Review: February 10–14

First Ancient North American genome; cannabinoids connect hunger with olfaction and eating; biotechs explore crowdfunding; confronting creationism

By | February 14, 2014

Ancient North American genome

MIKE WATERSInvestigators from the University of Copenhagen and their colleagues have sequenced the first ancient North American genome—that of the 12,600-year-old remains of an infant found buried in Montana. Comparative analyses suggested that the child descended from ancient Asians, not from Western Europeans. The work was published in Nature this week (February 12).

“This study, like other recent studies of ancient genomes, shows that genetic patterns have changed over time, and we must be cautious about inferring ancient patterns of human genetic variation from present-day patterns,” said molecular anthropologist Deborah Bolnick from the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the work.

Cannabinoids, hunger, olfaction, and eating

WIKIMEDIA, ALLEN INSTITUTE FOR BRAIN SCIENCECannabinoid type-1 (CB1) receptors in the olfactory bulb help increase olfaction, promoting feeding behavior in fasted mice, researchers from the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and elsewhere have found. Their work was published this week (February 9) in Nature Neuroscience.

“The study clearly establishes the relationship of food intake and olfactory processing and implicates the endocannabinoid system as a key player in this signaling pathway,” said Howard University College of Medicine’s Thomas Heinbockel, who was not involved in the work.

Biotechs look to the crowd

WIKIMEDIA, MPLAJAAs the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finalizes its rules for equity-based crowdfunding, American biotech firms are beginning to jump into the fray. QuantuMDx is one such firm that’s seeking crowd-based funds, to test its handheld device to diagnose malaria in the field. The company’s CEO told The Scientist that the Indiegogo campaign is as much about raising awareness as it is about raising money.

“For life sciences, I really like the idea of donation-based crowdfunding, because it allows people who might be doing charitable giving to put money into something they may feel will realize some true value more quickly or in a more focused fashion for something that’s pertinent to their life,” explained biotech consultant Barbara Nelsen.

Is creationism worth debating?

WIKIMEDIA, SOMEDRIFTWOODGenerally not, if you ask Ann Reid and Glenn Branch, who argue in an opinion piece this week five reasons why scientists should decline invitations to debate creationism in support of evolution. “Decades of experience suggest that formal oral debates between scientists and creationists are by and large counterproductive—at least if the goal is to improve the public’s understanding of evolution and the nature of science, and to increase the level of support for the teaching of evolution uncompromised by religious dogma,” Reid and Branch wrote.

Culture Friday:

Review: “Please Continue”
A play that dramatizes Stanley Milgram’s infamous social psychology experiments from the 1960s captures the personal side of human research.

Other news in life science:

Royal Treatment
Scientists in the U.K. will sequence the genome of King Richard III.

E.U. Pushes Forward with GM Corn
The European Commission is set to approve a new strain of genetically modified maize despite opposition from member nations.

Molecular Motors
Researchers control nanomotors inside living cells.

Retaining Female Scientists
Efforts that encourage women to pursue STEM careers surpass those aimed at keeping them in those fields, according to the U.K. House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

The Year of Crystallography
UNESCO highlights accomplishments in crystallography in a year-long celebration in 2014.

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