Genetics

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A love for coffee may run deep in the Northwest, but now a Seattle scientist says the craving for coffee seems to be written into some people’s DNA.

Researchers from Harvard University, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and elsewhere sifted through the genes of more than 100,000 people, looking for common variants that correlate with heavy coffee consumption. They zeroed in on eight genetic variations associated with that deep compulsion to hoist a mug of joe.

University of Washington

A researcher in genetics at the University of Washington has won a prominent award, sometimes referred to as the American version of the Nobel Prize, in part for a key contribution to understanding breast cancer.

Mary-Claire King knew that breast cancer runs in some families, but it wasn’t clear why. In the 1970s and '80s, genetic research was much more cumbersome and expensive than it is today, and the very idea that a gene could trigger a complex disease like cancer was controversial.

Courtesy of University of Washington / Nature Chemistry

Even the tiniest misprint in a person’s genetic code can cause big health problems, but they can be hard to find. Now members of a team at University of Washington say they’ve designed a better way to track down those mutations.

If you think of DNA as a twisted ladder, each rung is made of two little structures called bases, stuck together. If even one of the billions of these rungs gets copied wrong it can have serious consequences, such as which kind of tuberculosis you get.

In a decision that could have broad-reaching effects on the future of science and medicine, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that:

-- "A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated."

-- But, synthetically created "strands of nucleotides known as composite DNA (cDNA)" are "patent eligible" because they do not occur naturally.

Got milk? Ancient European farmers who made cheese thousands of years ago certainly had it. But at that time, they lacked a genetic mutation that would have allowed them to digest raw milk's dominant sugar, lactose, after childhood.

Today, however, 35 percent of the global population — mostly people with European ancestry — can digest lactose in adulthood without a hitch.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

A Chinese scientist recently suggested that prehistoric humans ate pandas. The evidence, based on cut marks on panda bones, strikes me as thin, but the report led me to a thought experiment.

How would people in the modern world react if the some population or subculture today made panda-foraging a goal? I imagine most of us would be horrified, and not only because the panda is an endangered species. The panda has become a symbol of cuteness, an animal we love to love.