Science Interviews

Interview

Tue, 26th Jun 2012

Daddy's Damaged DNA and Tornadoes Heating up the Sun

Diane Anderson, University of Bradford
Sven Wedemeyer-Bohm, University of Oslo
Amanda Henry, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

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Smoking Away Mutations

Fathers who smoke at the time of their babyís conception risk passing on damaged DNA to their fertilisationchildren.

Using biomarkers to measure breaks in DNA in paternal blood and semen at the time of conception as well as maternal and umbilical cord blood at birth, and accounting for environmental factors that could damage DNA such as smoking, Diane Anderson from the University of Bradford found a correlation between the DNA damaged in the sperm of smokers and their newborn children.

Diana -   Anti-smoking campaigns are aimed at pregnant women but couples planning their family and public health policy makers need to know that the father must stop smoking before conception to avoid risking the health of the baby.  It starts at the time of conception.  If they stopped smoking and waited 3 months, because thatís the time it takes for the sperm to develop, before trying to conceive then the chances of having them damaged would be much lessened.

The inheritance of damaged DNA could cause the development of childhood diseases such as cancer.

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Magnetically heating the Sunís Atmosphere

Magnetic tornadoes on the surface of the Sun transports heat into its atmosphere, helping create the significantly hotter temperatures found in this outer atmosphere, known as the corona.

Swirling magnetic structures, similar to super-tornadoes were detected stretching from the Sunís surface upto 2000km into the corona by Sven Wedemeyer-Bohm from the University of Oslo.  Using 3D numerical models his team showed in the journal Nature that these swirls convect heat away from the surface and transfer the energy needed to reach these high temperatures, the causes of which were unknown until now.

Sven -   We currently estimate that there are at least 11000 of them across the sun at all times transporting energy from the surface into the upper layers.  That is very important when we want to solve the so-called coronal heating problem.  The outer layers of the sun have temperatures in excess of a million degrees or more, so that means we need to transport some energy from the surface of the sun into these outer layers, but itís not very clear how this happens.  And these swirling tornadoes now provide a very promising way to do that.

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Australopithecus sedibaEating like Sediba

And finally, the early hominin species Australopithecus sediba, which lived 2 million years ago, lived on a diet of leaves, fruit and bark, according to work published in Nature.

By analysing carbon isotopes in tooth enamel, patterns of dental wear and scratches and plant remains in the plaque of teeth from 2 skeletons of these early humans, Amanda Henry from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany identified their diet to consist predominantly of bark and woody tissues, varying greatly from other African hominins of that time.

Amanda -   This species was living in an environment that were pretty open, grassland like a savannah, but they ate foods that came from the very small forested patches within that bigger environment.  The other hominids usually focused on grassland resources - they're really strongly focusing on those open savannah-like environments.  And so now, we have sort of the first evidence that there was really more variation.  These species were moving into new areas and trying new things.

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