Category Archives: Genetics

Europe’s first farmers

EIGHT thousand years ago small bands of seminomadic hunter-gatherers were the only human beings roaming Europe’s lush, green forests. Archaeological digs in caves and elsewhere have turned up evidence of their Mesolithic technology: flint-tipped tools with which they fished, hunted deer and aurochs (a now extinct species of ox), and gathered wild plants. Many had dark hair and blue eyes, recent genetic studies suggest, and the few skeletons unearthed so far indicate that they were quite tall and muscular. Their languages remain mysterious to this day…

First farmer of the Linear Pottery Culture in Neolithic Central Europe. Illustration: Karol Schauer, State Museum of Prehistory in Halle (Saale), Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American. To continue reading, click here.

Food, globalisation and pandemics

ONCE a dangerous new pathogen is out, as we are seeing, it can be difficult if not impossible to prevent it going global. One as contagious as SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to infect the whole of humanity. Eighty per cent of cases may be benign, but with such a large pool of susceptible hosts, the numbers who experience severe illness and die can still be shockingly high. So the only sensible answer to the question, how do we stop this from happening again, is: by doing all we can to prevent such pathogens infecting humans in the first place. And that means taking a long, hard look at our relationship with the natural world, and particularly with the animals that sustain us…

This article first appeared in Time on 13 April 2020. To continue reading, click here.

Is factory farming to blame for coronavirus?

WHERE did the virus causing the current pandemic come from? How did it get to a food market in Wuhan, China, from where it is thought to have spilled over into humans? The answers to these questions are gradually being pieced together, and the story they tell makes for uncomfortable reading…

This article first appeared in The Observer on 28 March 2020. To continue reading, click here.

 

When will a coronavirus vaccine be ready?

Even at their most effective – and draconian – containment strategies have only slowed the spread of the respiratory disease Covid-19. With the World Health Organization finally declaring a pandemic, all eyes have turned to the prospect of a vaccine, because only a vaccine can prevent people from getting sick…

Illustration by James Melaugh

This article first appeared in The Observer on 15 March 2020. To continue reading, click here.

 

Your DNA is valuable, why give it away?

THE announcement by 23andMe, a company that sells home DNA testing kits, that it has sold the rights to a promising new anti-inflammatory drug to a Spanish pharmaceutical company is cause for celebration. The collected health data of 23andMe’s millions of customers have potentially produced a medical advance – the first of its kind. But a few weeks later the same company announced that it was laying off workers amid a shrinking market that its CEO put down to the public’s concerns about privacy…

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 16 February 2020. To continue reading, click here.