Last Week in Science

Why men have a thing for blondes

  • Scientists have now made it easier to solve murder mysteries… so long as the murderer leaves a DNA sample behind and doesn’t dye their hair after the crime.
  • The colour of human hair is determined by genes, and 124 of them were discovered just last week. Analysing and comparing the hair colour and DNA data of nearly 300,000 people of European origin, the study published in Nature Genetics has improved our understanding of how pigmentation genes evolved by adapting to the external environment and social cues.
  • It will also help understand diseases like skin and prostate cancer, and explain why men have a thing for blondes.

A mutant to fight plastic waste pollution

  • The days of plastic waste are numbered. And all because scientists got lucky enough to create a mutant plastic-eating enzyme in the lab.
  • A team of scientists were trying to figure out how the enzyme called PETase evolved, from being used by bacteria to digest the waxy coating on plants, to being able to digest plastic.
  • But they ended up tweaking PETase’s structure in a way that actually improved its appetite for plastic.
  • This mutant enzyme isn’t quite going to wipe out the 9-billion tonnes of the planet’s plastic waste just yet. But the researchers say it’s a start, and not a petty one.

An eye in the sky looking for life

  • Is there life outside our solar system? This is the question NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS is hoping to answer. Launched in the U.S. last week aboard a SpaceX Falcon9 rocket, the satellite will fit into a Goldilocks orbit around the earth and search 85% of the sky for dips in the brightness of starlight caused by orbiting exoplanets, and beam the images back to earth.
  • Using spectroscopy, researchers will then analyse the images to determine the exoplanet’s mass, density, atmosphere, and whether it can harbour life. Jessica Chastain would be proud.


Leave a Reply