Thursday, May 8, 2008

Congratulations, sir... it's a platypus
A large consortium of scientists have successfully mapped the genome of the platypus, one of the strangest creatures on the planet. The BBC news story is here.
The platypus is not just physically a strange combination of attributes - the animal displays a mixture of genetic attributes as well, which manifest themselves in its physical appearance, among other things.
If anyone has ever seen a platypus skull, they know what I mean.

(photo of a platypus skull, on display at the Smithsonian in DC)

It turns out, the platypus has ten chromosomes to determine sex, as opposed to the normal mammalian two. However, this doesn't mean the platypus has some unreasonable number of possible genders, since the ten seem to "link" in a way that allows them to always act as either X or Y. Though the outcome is the same - mammalian male or female - the chromosomes themselves are vastly different from the regular X and Y, such as we possess.

I am, even as a scientist, blown away by the progress made recently in the fields of genetics, biology and the like. Being in a field like physics, where much of what we know was learned 40, 50, even 60 years ago, it's exciting to see an area of study where new things are discovered daily. In a way, I'm jealous.
But then I remind myself of that horrid formaldehyde smell that emanates from all biology labs... and I don't feel so bad anymore.

And now, you too can own a piece of this momentous history, thanks to SnorgTees.

Brown, S. (2008). Top billing for platypus at end of evolution tree. Nature, 453(7192), 138-139. DOI: 10.1038/453138a

1 comment:

  1. Biology is indeed a fascinating and dynamic subject, but as a discipline it is much younger than physics.

    But I'm sure you physicists have a lot to look forward to this summer in the Large Hadron Collider.


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