Like the emperor’s new clothes, DNA kits are a tailored illusion

A DNA test promises to reveal your hidden history — but is it all smoke and mirrors?

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

Most people remember the emperor: a vain ruler, swindled into paying for a nonexistent magical garment, parades in public, only to be embarrassed by a little boy. To me, the story is really about the swindling tailors.

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Surprising Science

How A.I. will liberate doctors from keyboards and basements

Giving A.I. a role in health care can help both doctors and patients.

  • Machines can help doctors by spotting abnormalities in X-rays or MRA scans that the physicians themselves may have missed.
  • A.I. can also help physicians by analyzing data and, through the use of algorithms, produce possible diagnoses.
  • The freed up time, as doctors make their rounds, can help physicians establish better connections with their patients, which in turn can lead to better treatment plans.
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Nanotechnology vs. cancer: How tiny particles sniff out the deadly disease

We may be able to detect cancer soon by simply peeing on a stick.

  • Cancer is an aberrant function of a normal cell, where the regulators of that cell's dividing are broken and the cell starts to divide without regulation. Left to its own devices, that dividing without regulation will overcome the entire body.
  • Until we have a cure, early detection is the holy grail. MIT professor Sangeeta Bhatia is currently devising a simple urine test that works just like a pregnancy test to detect cancer the moment it starts.
  • How does it work? Nanoparticles are injected into the body that force specific peptides, previously invisible signs of cancer, to be easily detected in urine. In the future, this test may be part of your yearly physical check up.
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Scientists discover why supermarket tomatoes taste so bland

A new genetic analysis reveals big differences between cultivated and wild tomatoes and domesticated, store-bought tomatoes.

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  • Scientists compared the genomes of 725 wild and cultivated tomatoes (a pan-genome) to the tomato genome that's used to represent all varieties.
  • The representative genome was missing thousands of genes present in the pan-genome, including one that's responsible for imparting flavor to the vegetable.
  • The good news is that breeders seem to have recently began selecting for flavor, so it's possible that store-bought tomatoes could soon start tasting better.
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Surprising Science

Researchers successfully sent a simulated elementary particle back in time

Don't start investing in flux capacitors just yet, though.

  • The second law of thermodynamics states that order always moves to disorder, which we experience as an arrow of time.
  • Scientists used a quantum computer to show that time travel is theoretically possible by reverting a simulated particle from an entropic to a more orderly state.
  • While Einstein's general theory of relativity permits time travel, the means to achieve it remain improbable in nature.
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Surprising Science