The internet is abuzz with rumors of the biggest breakthrough of the decade in complexity theory, the study of what's hard or easy to solve with a computer. A mathematician now claims to have a mathematical recipe or "algorithm" that supposedly can take two networks—no matter how big and tangled—and tell whether they are, in fact, the same, in far fewer steps than the previous best algorithm. But don’t jump to conclusions just yet: Other researchers still need to verify the work, which will happen later this month when more details are presented.
Astronomers have found the most distant object ever in our solar system, three times farther away than Pluto. The dwarf planet V774104 is between 500 and 1000 kilometers across and 15.4 billion kilometers from the sun. That’s 103 times the distance from Earth to the sun! Although the new planet’s trajectory is still unknown, it could end up joining an emerging class of extreme solar system objects whose strange orbits point to the hypothetical influence of rogue planets or nearby stars.
For decades, popular depictions of gay men have portrayed them pronouncing the letter “s” as more of a “th” sound—even though studies have failed to find “lispier” speech in gay men than in straight men. Preliminary data from a new study shows that young boys with gender dysphoria—those who don’t identify with their assigned gender—use “th”-like pronunciation at slightly higher rates than their peers, but they seem to grow out of that tendency. The authors speculate that stereotypes of gay adults may be rooted in the speech of boys who go on to identify as gay.
Back in 1985, hikers climbing Argentina’s Aconcagua mountain stumbled upon a frozen corpse of a 7-year-old boy. The Aconcagua boy, as he came to be called, died during an Incan ritual of child sacrifice and was naturally mummified by the mountain’s cold, dry environment. Researchers have now extracted the mummy’s complete mitochondrial genome and found that the boy’s pattern of genetic variations placed him in a common lineage that dates all the way back to the earliest Paleoindian settlements in Mesoamerica, more than 18,000 years ago. Further analysis revealed that he belonged to a rare subset of that population that all but disappeared after the Spanish conquest of the New World.
You don’t want to be missing these genes! Researchers compared the parts of the genome known as exomes from 60,000 people—10 times more DNA data than previously attempted—and found that about 15% of our 20,000 genes are so critical that certain changes to them can kill us before we’re born. The data suggest that whenever one of these 3230 “critical” genes mutates, the embryo usually dies or the person is too sick to reproduce—so the variation disappears. This information should help researchers better track down the genes that cause human disease.
A new study separated European shore crabs into two tanks and gave crabs in one tank electric shocks, whereas the crabs in the other tank served as a control. Findings show the crabs that received jolts had almost three times the amount of lactic acid in their haemolymph, a fluid that’s analogous to the blood of vertebrates—a clear sign of stress in the critters. According to a new definition of pain, these crabs definitely feel it!
Glyphosate, one of the world’s most commonly used herbicides, is unlikely to increase the risk of cancer—at least in its pure form—according to?an assessment released this week?by the European Food Safety Authority in Parma, Italy. The report will likely have a major influence on the European Union’s upcoming decision whether to keep glyphosate, the active ingredient in widely used herbicides such as Roundup, on its list of approved chemical substances. Approval for the chemical expires at the end of 2015.
Eight years after questions were first raised about the work of Duke University cancer researcher Anil Potti, federal officials have found him guilty of research misconduct. In 2006 Potti’s team published several papers in high-profile journals reporting that certain gene expression signatures predicted a patient’s response to chemotherapy. Two outside biostatisticians soon raised concerns about the studies, and this week a federal report brings to a close one of the most egregious U.S. scientific misconduct cases in recent years.