Differences between the male and female brains.

18 January 2004
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Commercial GM crop planting to begin in UK, fish communicate by farting, whales and sharks eating giant squid, cloned GM cows engineered to resist BSE, Bee genome sequenced, why does egg change colour when you cook it ?, how do fish breathe underwater, science fact or science fiction and interview guest Professor Simon Baron-Cohen discusses the differences between how men and women think, and what is autism ?

In this episode

- Uk About To Approve First Commercial Gm Crops

Love them or hate them, GM crops look set to stay and farmers could be planting the UK's first commercial GM crops this spring.

Uk About To Approve First Commercial Gm Crops

Love them or hate them, GM crops look set to stay and farmers could be planting the UK's first commercial GM crops this spring.

That's if the government accepts the recommendation of ACRE – that's the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment – to allow planting of weedkiller-resistant GM Maize.

In giving the go-ahead to GM Maize (sweetcorn) ACRE looked at the results of farm-trials which have been carried out over the last 4 years involving a number of different GM crops.

ACRE say that whilst GM Maize gets the thumbs up, some other modified plants like oilseed rape and beet will not be planted soon because the recent farm trials showed that they could harm wildlife.

Sharks With a Taste For Giant Squid

Researchers announced recently that some giant sharks are partial to snacking on colossal squid, mysterious deep-sea beasts that we know hardly anything about and which are probably the responsible for legends of giant monsters attacking sailors in days gone by. Specimens of sleeper sharks, which live in deep waters off Antarctica, have been found with lots of deep-sea squid in their stomachs making them only the second animal, after sperm whales, known to regularly eat this species of squid. The colossal squid can be so big - at least 14 m long - that scientists are at a loss to explain how the smaller sharks, which are only about 7m long, can catch them witohut succumbing to their powerful tentacles and strong beak. Sperm whales are often found bearing scars and scratches following fights with giant squid, but no similar marks have been found on the sleeper sharks, suggesting that maybe they catch only baby squid, or scavenge adult squid that are already dead.

Fish Communicate By Farting

Dr. Doolittle may have been able to talk with the animals, but could he fart with them too ? That's what he may have had to do if he wanted to chat with a herring. Researchers at Canada's Bamfield Marine Science Centre have discovered that herring make noises by expelling air out of their anal duct from their gut or swimbladder. They've called it Fast Repetitive Tick (FaRT for short) and conclude that it may have a social function since herring seem to do it more when they are hanging out in big groups. But herring aren't the only animals with meaningful farts. 2 species of snake in North America use flatulence to ward off potential predators !

Researchers Cloning Cows To Prevent Bse

The recent discovery in the US of a cow suffering from BSE or mad cow disease has prompted a group of scientists at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine to attempt to clone cows that are genetically engineered to prevent them from developing the disease. Drs. Will Eyestone and Bill Huckle are attempting to remove the gene that codes for the so-called prion protein that causes BSE. All animals, including humans, make prion proteins which are normally roll up like a ball of wool. But in BSE the protein becomes abnormally folded into fibrous sheets which can kill nerve cells and leave the brain full of holes like a swiss cheese. Worse still, the abnormally folded prion protein can then convert other healthy prions to the abnormal form. The disease spreads when material containing the abnormal prion protein is fed to healthy animals, gets into the brain and triggers off the disease again. But scientists have shown that animals engineered to lack the prion protein appear to be healthy but, crucially, cannot develop BSE-like diseases. The researchers are hoping that cows genetically engineered and cloned to lack the essential prion protein will not be at risk from developing BSE. But with 100 million cattle in America they have their work cut out for them !

Bees Join The Genome Club

Bees have become the latest organism, and the third insect after fruit flies and mosquitos, to have their genetic blueprint decoded. A team of scientists in Texas led by Dr. Richard Gibbs, took 1 year to complete the work which cost 8 million dollars. The honey bee, or Apis mellifera to give it its latin name, has a DNA blueprint one tenth the size of our own. So far the work has helped scientists to discover new smell receptors that bees use when looking for food, and researchers are hoping to unlock the secret of how bees' genes control their very organised social behaviour. Researchers also hope that analysing bee DNA will help them to discover ways to breed bees that work harder, are better able to resist disease and have less painful stings, and there may also be advantages for medicine too because bees produce antibiotics and venom that could provide new classes of drugs.

World’s Longest Snake

A group of villagers in indonesia are claiming to have caught the world's biggest snake – a python nearly 50 feet in length, weighing over 70 stone. If the report is confirmed it will be the largest snake ever kept in captivity. It is currently being kept in a zoo on the island of Java. According to the Indonesian newspaper Republika, the snake, which was caught last year but only recently put on public display, eats three or four dogs a month.

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