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Dung beetles follow Milky Way

11When dung beetles see the Milky Way, their thoughts turn to keeping their food source away from other insects.

Scientists have found that these inch-long creatures use the glowing edge of the galaxy to guide them as they roll their balls of dung across the African landscape. The report, published online by the journal Current Biology, provides the first documentation of animals using the Milky Way for navigation.

Shakespeare stored in DNA

It can store the information from a million CDs in a space no bigger than your little finger and could keep it safe for centuries.

Is this some new electronic gadget? Nope. It's DNA.

Researchers reported recently they had stored all 154 Shakespeare sonnets, a photo, a scientific paper, and a 26-second sound clip from U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. That all fit in a barely visible bit of DNA in a test tube.

The process involved converting the ones and zeroes of digital information into the four-letter alphabet of DNA code. That code was used to create stands of synthetic DNA. Then machines "read" the DNA molecules and recovered the encoded information. That reading process took two weeks, but technological advances are driving that time down, said Ewan Birney of the European Bioinformatics Institute in Hinxton, England, one of the report's authors, which was published online by the journal Nature.

Canine carbo-loading

Long ago, some brazen wolves started hanging around human settlements, jump-starting events that ultimately led to today's domesticated dogs. Now geneticists say they have identified one of the key changes that turned wolves into the tame, tail-wagging creatures well-suited to living by our sides -- the ability to digest carbohydrates with ease.

The report, published online last week by the journal Nature, found signs that dogs can break down starch into sugar, and then transport those sugars from the gut into the bloodstream, more efficiently than can wolves. Comparing dog and wolf DNA, the authors pinpointed several changes in starch and sugar-processing genes that would have made early dogs better able to digest the scraps they scavenged from dumps in early farming villages, helping them to thrive as they gave up the independent life of the pack to entwine their lives with ours.

-- From the news services

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 J14

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