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:: By Lydialyle Gibson

:: Image by Todd Marshall, courtesy Project Exploration

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Investigations ::


Fat in a cold climate

For more than a century, scientists have noted the correlation between cold climates and bulky inhabitants, and a study led by human geneticist  Anna Di Rienzo adds genetic evidence to their observations. In the February Public Library of Science–Biology, Di Rienzo and six University coauthors report that some genes involved in cold-weather tolerance help protect against diseases like obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes, while others increase risk. Studying genetic variation in 1,054 people across 54 populations, they found, for instance, that the lepin receptor, an appetite and energy regulator common in frigid climates, is linked to a lower body-mass index, while FABP2, another cold-temperature gene, promotes fat storage and high cholesterol.

Appetites for destruction


With a short snout and a head covered in horns, Kryptops scavenged for its meat.

The “tyrant king,” Tyrannosaurus rex, may have the most fearsomely regal name in the meat-eating prehistoric world, but new fossils discovered by paleontologist Paul Sereno offer a glimpse at two other carnivorous dinosaurs that would have matched T-rex’s ferocity. With coauthor Stephen Brusatte, SB’06, a University of Bristol graduate student, Sereno analyzed the new fossil evidence in the February Acta Paleontologica Polonica. Both dinosaurs roamed present-day Africa 110 million years ago. With blade-shaped teeth and a bony brow, the 25-foot-long Eocarcharia dinops, or “fierce-eyed dawn shark,” dismembered its live prey used its brow to head-but romantic rivals. Meanwhile, short-snouted scavenger Kryptops palaios, or “old hidden face,” was, Brusatte said, like a “fast, two-legged hyena gnawing and pulling apart a carcass.”

Why it’s OK to talk to the toaster

Lonely people reach out not only to other people but also to pets, gadgets, and God, says GSB behavioral scientist Nicholas Epley—and to some extent those things can reach back. Working with Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo, psychology doctoral candidate Adam Waytz, and Harvard social psychologist Scott Akalis, Epley found than when he provoked feelings of loneliness in research volunteers, they were more likely to describe pets and household objects in anthropomorphic terms. They were also more likely to believe in God. Loneliness is unique in prompting these reactions, the researchers discovered; fear, for instance, doesn’t have the same effect. Further, the team found that lonely people’s humanlike connections with animals, the inanimate, and the spiritual offered the same physical and psychological benefits as human-to-human friendships. They published their research in the February Psychological Science.

A piece of the autism puzzle

Studying the DNA of 712 people with autism, human geneticist Susan Christian and a group of Medical Center colleagues discovered a significant genetic disruption: the “microdeletion” of a small portion of chromosome 16. The loss amounts to about 25 known genes and constitutes a risk factor for autism, Christian says, and although it appeared in the DNA of only four subjects, the deletion is the second most common genomic link to autism (the most common known link is the replication of about 12 genes from chromosome 15). Publishing their findings December 21 in the online Human Molecular Genetics, the researchers plan to investigate whether one deleted gene in particular lies at the root of the autism risk.