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Australia Science

Bees Reveal Nature-Nurture Secrets 84

NoFear writes "The nature-nurture debate is a 'giant step' closer to being resolved after scientists studying bees documented how environmental inputs can modify our genetic hardware. The researchers uncovered extensive molecular differences in the brains of worker bees and queen bees which develop along very different paths when put on different diets. The research was led by Professor Ryszard Maleszka of The Australian National University's College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, working with colleagues from the German Cancer Institute in Heidelberg, Germany and will be published next week in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology."
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Bees Reveal Nature-Nurture Secrets

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  • Great to see... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:05PM (#34156000)

    ...that a possibly major scientific paper is published in an open access journal. This trend seems ever more powerful, to the benefit of all, except the usual vultures (Elzevier, Springer, Wiley...).

  • Organisms are not programs. DNA is not data. Biology is not a branch of computer science.

    In bygone times, people would compare animals and indeed human beings to clocks or steam engines. Comparing them to computers is just a flawed and just as misleading. However, it is more fashionable, so I doubt people will stop doing it anytime soon.

  • Re:Kosher diet? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak ( 773371 ) <> on Sunday November 07, 2010 @03:29PM (#34156174) Homepage Journal

    People may not like to hear it, but the parent comment succinctly embodies the motivations for all nature-nurture studies and indeed a significant chunk of genetic/biology studies seen in the popular press.

    People can be bigoted and racist if they want; but we are free to object when they try to call their opinions science.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2010 @04:23PM (#34156566)

    How much you'll train a dog, it will never be able to play chess. How much you'll train a toddler, it will never be able to have capabilities to follow a scent trail like a bloodhound.

    No one is debating absurdities like that though. The question is more like, was Manson destined to be a serial killer or was that a social effect? Or phrased more dangerously, if I add some environmental inputs, can I make sure no one is gay ever again?

  • Re:Bees (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ( 1093595 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @06:08PM (#34157132)
    What you call 'luck' is what the rest of us call 'a combination of known unknowns and unknown unknowns'. It absolutely is calculatable, given enough data and research.
  • Re:Bees (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kilrah_il ( 1692978 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @06:18PM (#34157202)

    I take a dice and throw it in the air. Even if I give you the starting terms and the exact forces used to throw the cube, you still cannot, with 100% absolute certainty, tell me what number it will land on. Even with everything known, there are things we cannot calculate.
    I remember an example from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, "The Black Swan". If you hit a ball on a pool table, it is very easy to predict the outcome of the first collision. At about the 5th collision (IIRC, I don't have the book at hand), the mechanics of the collision are affected by the gravitational pull of someone standing near the table. A few more collisions, and the outcome is dependent on every mass in the universe. Given that, can you really predict the outcome of throwing a dice? Can you predict with 100% certainty if someone will have cancer, which type and at what age? We cannot predict everything, even if all the variables are taken into account. This uncertainty is what we call Luck.

  • by shugah ( 881805 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @07:32PM (#34157596)

    The "program" analogy is actually pretty good as far as analogies go - certainly far better than "clocks" or "steam engines", although the appropriateness of the analogy really depends on the context and purpose.

    The genome of an organism (it's hereditary information) is encoded into its DNA - this would be the "program". DNA is composed of genes, sequences of genetic information that encode specific traits - analogous to statements or commands. Genes are composed of codons - analogous to words or bytes. There are even protocols (micro-code) or rules for encoding, transcribing and translating genes - start codons, stop codons, built in redundancy, and other sequences that aid the transcription machinery. The RNA "reads" (transcribes) a gene and ribosomes synthesize a protein.

    So at least at the cellular level, the computer program analogy seems fairly good. For non-sentient animals, you could even use a computer analogy at the organism level. Brains process information, have long term and short term memory, various interfaces exist for input (sensory) and output (motor and instinctual behavior), etc.

    However at the organism level, the computer analogy fails with humans, only because we don't yet have a computer that is truly intelligent of self aware. That's probably why the whole nature - nurture thing is interesting to people who work in AI.

  • Re:Bees (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Sunday November 07, 2010 @07:34PM (#34157614)

    I take a dice and throw it in the air. Even if I give you the starting terms and the exact forces used to throw the cube, you still cannot, with 100% absolute certainty, tell me what number it will land on. Even with everything known, there are things we cannot calculate.

    I'm pretty sure if we had a marker on the cube and a hi-speed camera plus a rather fast image processing computer, we could give you an answer before the dice had landed. Also it wouldn't be too hard to create a robot arm to throw the dice with exactly the same force and position each time.

    Dice have to adhere to the laws of physics just like everything else. Its just when humans throw them, there are so many variables that it seems random.

    Now, when we start talking about particle decay or trying to determine the position of an electron.

    Then yeah... We can start talking about random.

FORTUNE'S FUN FACTS TO KNOW AND TELL: A giant panda bear is really a member of the racoon family.