What in our DNA makes us human?

Katherine Pollard of the Genome Center and Department of Statistics has a cover article in the current Scientific American on the genetic differences between humans and our closest living relatives, chimpanzees. In 2004, Pollard and colleagues used computers at UC Santa Cruz to compare the human and chimp genomes, and came up with a stretch of 118 base pairs —  called HAR1, or “human accelerated region 1” — that has diverged the most since our common ancestors split millions of years ago. Intriguingly, HAR1 is active in brain development.

NRC Advises Against National Ballistics Database

The National Research Council, part of the National Academies of Science, released a report yesterday advising against setting up a national database containing images of ballistics markings from new and imported guns sold in the U.S.

The idea behind such a database would be to link bullets from crime scenes to specific guns. But the NRC expert panel found that searches of the database would produce too many “false positive” results to be useful.

The full report is available online here.

Psi and statistics

News Service intern and sometime Australia-blogger Erin Loury had a feature in last Friday’s Dateline on two UC Davis researchers who have ventured into the tricky ground of investigating the paranormal.

Jessica Utts is a professor of statistics and also runs the Davis Honors Challenge. She also sits on the Board of the Parapsychological Association. Utts is the only statistician in the country, she says, to work on validating claims of paranormal abilities like being able to “see” images in a distant location.

“Proving” the impossible with statistics

Jim Kaput of the Center for Nutrigenomics sent along an interesting article from the Economist magazine, referring to a study presented at the AAAS meeting recently and also published in a medical journal.

Peter Austin of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto surveyed more than 10 million Canadians for associations between astrological sign and admission to hospital with a specific diagnosis. He found that Leos had a significantly (less than 5% due to chance) greater likelihood of gastrointestinal hemorrhage, while Sagittarians had an increased risk of a broken arm.