Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Wednesday Science Blogging

Scientists in Britain are reporting that Flora, a Komodo dragon, has given birth to five sons, without having been fertilized by a male Komodo. That's right, the Virgin Flora has given birth to five Messiahs!

The process is called Parthenogenesis (for "virgin birth") and can only produce male offspring in Komodos because of their chromosome structure. Because the mother only has one chromosome in her ova, the children can only be double-chromosomed, in this case "ZZ" offspring, or male. Were parthenogenesis possible in humans, it could only produce females for the same reasons -- XX results in girls, and YY will not produce offspring.

Which brings me to one of David Brin's better books, Glory Season. It's about a young woman born on a planet where women make up 75% of the population due to the genetic engineering of the founding colonists. Women reproduce almost exclusively parthenogenically, with the occasional sexual reproduction to keep the gene pool flowing. Men have, through similar genetic trickery, been bred to be much calmer and less violent. This is all context, though -- the story itself is well-written and makes it clear that Brin sees this kind of world as neither dystopia nor utopia, but just another place.

In other science news, physicists have finally devised a falsifiable test for string theory. One of the contenders for the "grand unified theory" of physics, string theory has fallen out of favour because it's been impossible to test in a lab. That may now be changing.
He added, "If the test does not find what the theory predicts about W boson scattering, it would be evidence that one of string theory’s key mathematical assumptions is violated. In other words, string theory—as articulated in its current form—would be proven impossible."

"If the bounds are satisfied, we would still not know that string theory is correct," said Distler. "But, if the bounds are violated, we would know that string theory, as it is currently understood, could not be correct. At the very least, the theory would have to be reshaped in a highly nontrivial way."


adam said...

Cool news, thanks for the links. But what's up with the Google links on the String Theory page? ;P

john said...

What, you don't think I'm competent to judge Einstein? Well, screw you pal.