Random Samples

Science  26 Mar 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5973, pp. 1561
  1. Geek Chic


      In celebration of National Science and Engineering Week in the United Kingdom, lab coats made by fashion designers went on show in London last week. “Labcoats = Safety,” according to London-based designer Oknah Somit, who says this creation “brings a focus on the safety issue whilst the cut of the tail coat adds a classic and formal element.”

    1. The Genes of Finns

        Curious about their origins, willing to provide DNA samples, and the subject of reproductive near-isolation for centuries, the Finnish are a gold mine for population geneticists and disease gene hunters.

        More than 40,000 Finns have donated to the Finnish Gene Atlas, a project initiated by Leena Peltonen, who died on 11 March. Scientists offered a preview of the findings last week in Helsinki at the launch of the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM). They reveal several distinct subpopulations in different parts of the country, likely caused when subsets of the population headed out to settle new territory.

        “Finns are really at a crossroads between East and West, and there is possibly a northern influence as well,” says geneticist Olli Kallioniemi of the University of Helsinki, director of FIMM. The project has also challenged a theory, long held by anthropologists, that Finns are related to Hungarians because of similarities in their languages. There's “little evidence that Finns would be any more closely related to Hungarians than to other Central European populations,” says FIMM geneticist Samuli Ripatti. Having distinct, but closely related, Finnish populations should be useful in finding disease genes, says geneticist Mark Daly of Harvard Medical School in Boston. If researchers find, for example, that two closely related populations have significantly different incidences of coronary artery disease, he says, “this might allow us to find the few places in the genome where [they] differ and figure out which is relevant.”

      1. When Macho Appeals


          Why do some women go crazy for androgynous men like David Bowie, whereas others swoon for Javier Bardem?

          One evolutionary theory suggests that women may prefer tough-looking guys because their offspring are more likely to survive. But the downside is that manly men tend not to be the best dads, investing fewer resources in their offspring. So women should go more for he-men when local health risks are high. A study published last week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B supports that idea.

          For the study, led by Lisa DeBruine, a psychologist at the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, some 4500 women from 30 different countries in Europe and the Americas went to a Web site (faceresearch.org) and noted their preferences between pairs of 20 different white male faces, some of them digitally manipulated to increase or decrease masculine features. The researchers also ranked the relative health of the women's countries using statistics from the World Health Organization.

          The less healthy a woman's country was, the more likely she was to prefer the masculinized faces. Those at the high end of the macho-preferring scale came from Brazil, also ranked as having the worst health. Those who tended more toward the girly men were from Belgium and Sweden, the healthiest.

          It's a “novel finding,” says psychologist Fiona Newell of Trinity College Dublin in Ireland. But Newell cautions that more masculinized faces tend to look older, a feature related to “social fitness” and wealth.

        1. Does Sonar Disrupt Deep Divers?


            Beaked whales are the world's most extreme divers, reaching depths of 1888 meters to dine on squid. To avoid getting the bends—a buildup of nitrogen bubbles in body tissues—they need to come up slowly, so dives can take as long as 90 minutes.

            But some whales, particularly young ones, have been so disturbed by anti-submarine sonar during naval exercises that they shoot up en masse and end up dead on beaches. This has happened in at least six cases in the Canary Islands, leading the Spanish Navy to move exercises farther offshore.

            The U.S. Navy also holds sonar exercises off the coast of Hawaii. No mass strandings have been reported there, but some researchers warn that local whales may be suffering from the same effects as those in the Canaries. In a paper published in Marine Mammal Science this month, biologist Robin Baird of the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia and graduate student Meghan Faerber of the University of Wales, Bangor, in the United Kingdom say predatory sharks, strong currents, a natural habitat farther offshore, and other factors could be concealing whale casualties. “It would make sense to at least ban sonar within 45 kilometers of the Big Island,” Baird says. The U.S. Navy so far hasn't changed the position stated in a 2006 report: that “any significant behavioral response” to the sonar from the Hawaii whales is “extremely unlikely.”

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