Byte-Size Science – 31 January 2013

Under-armDo you always come up smelling sweet?

Leading scientists have isolated a gene (ABCC11), the lucky owners of which don’t produce any under-arm odour. The study was carried out by a team of researchers on 6,495 women. They found 2% carried this beneficial gene. However, the need to conform to social norms means the majority of those with the helpful gene needlessly wear deodorant each day. In other parts of the world, most people with the beneficial variant are aware they do not smell and consequently do not rely on scents to alter their odour. Carriers of this rare genetic variant are also more likely to have dry ear wax.


DNA archiving of digital data

A team of UK scientists have encoded a variety of information including a scholarly paper, a photograph and a Shakespearean sonnet in a segment of DNA. The information was then read back with 100 per cent accuracy. Although the new technology is eye-wateringly expensive it does have the potential to store large volumes of data over thousands of years, without the need for electricity or maintenance. Mammoth DNA has been sequenced thousands of years after it was first made. It is hoped that technological breakthroughs will make DNA archiving of digital data faster and more affordable, especially for long-term archiving.


Swiss Cheese Plant doesn’t make a hole lot of sense

Swiss cheese plants, found in the wild from southern Mexico to Colombia, have leaves riddles with holes that have baffled scientists for years. Many theories have been proposed for the holes’ existence including allowing plants to resist hurricane winds, allowing better temperature regulation, allowing water to run more easily to the plants roots, and providing camouflage. However, a new idea has recently been put on the table: Christopher Muir at Indiana University suggests that the hole-y leaves allow the plant to capture sunlight more regularly. Although this may appear counter intuitive, a leaf with the same surface area, but riddled with holes, would contact sunlight more regularly because it takes up more space.