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Greek magic spells love

Voodoo dolls, gemstones, and curse tablets are just a few of the ancient Greek magic spells that classics department chair and professor Christopher A. Faraone refers to in his new book, Ancient Greek Love Magic (Harvard University Press). Gender plays a key role in the two distinct spells presented by Faraone: the curse charm, used by men to torture females with passion until the women surrendered to them, and the binding charm, used by women to sedate men and bring out their affections. Through his study of “love magic,” Faraone offers insight into ancient Greek sexuality and society.

Last sperm to the finish line wins

The early sperm does not get the ovum, say Jerry Coyne, an ecology & evolution professor, and Catherine Price, PhD’99—at least when it comes to the mating of fruit flies. Coyne and Price report in the July 29 Nature that the last male fruit fly to copulate with a female is most likely to sire the most offspring. Though the female mates with multiple males, the last male to fertilize her will physically displace and incapacitate the sperm of her previous mates and thereby ensure his own paternity.

Trench warfare yields plant survival

The “arms race” theory of plant resistance paints an inaccurate picture of plant life, says assistant professor of ecology & evolution Joy Bergelson in the August 12 Nature. This theory holds that plant genes will fight battles against germs before the plant mutates to a higher level of resistance. Bergelson and colleagues contend that a “trench warfare” model is more appropriate. They say diseases are likely to maintain stable forms of resistant and non-resistant genes over long periods. Focusing on the Rpm1 gene of the common mustard plant, the researchers found that when germs kill all of the non-resistant plants, the germs fade away because they have no more available hosts. The resistant plants are left to dominate until non-resistant plants can grow again in safety.

Market tied to art’s worth and artist’s age

Art critics and scholars may turn up their noses at the suggestion that the marketplace can serve as a guide to quality work, but that’s just what U of C economist David Galenson found in a study for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Galenson argues that comparisons between price values and artistic judgments show that market prices tend to reflect critical reviews. He also notes that the criteria for sought-after qualities in modern art have changed, so that artists are judged to be creating their best and most highly valued works at a young age.

Gene linked to skin’s barrier function

Researchers led by post-doctoral fellow Julie Segre, and working in Elaine Fuchs’s molecular genetics & cell biology lab, have discovered the gene responsible for the acquisition of the barrier function in skin. The barrier function keeps water inside the skin and microbes outside. According to the researchers’ report in the August Nature Genetics, the fat layer that forms a sealed barrier on the skin was missing in lab mice without the Klf4 gene.

Monica-gate in review

Richard A. Posner, senior lecturer at the Law School and Chief Judge of the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, analyzes the presidential impeachment process employed during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in his new book, coyly titled An Affair of State (Harvard University Press). Addressing the overall place of impeachment in the American constitutional scheme, Posner provides key definitions of obstruction of justice and perjury, summaries of the independent counsel’s investigation and related congressional hearings, and thoughts on questions of public versus private morality.—B.B.

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