Face-Shape Secrets May Lie in 'Junk' DNA
Face shape is largely determined by genetics, yet no two faces are entirely alike.
Sept. 26, 2012 --
Genetic mutations and advanced technology can give comic book characters super-human abilities. And the same holds true in real life. Sure, humans don't yet have the ability to shape-shift or walk through walls or, as is the case with Wolverine, heal in seconds from just about any injury. But there are a few other super powers that are within practical reach (and no shortage of people claiming to possess super powers). While you wait for "The Wolverine" to hit theaters, with a release date set for summer 2013, why not explore some examples of super human powers and abilities in the real world?
Courtesy of University of Utah Department of
Mindreading Charles Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, has the ability to read minds. While no human has so far demonstrably proven this ability, we have developed technology that could read minds. This mind-reading device was developed by researchers at the University of Utah to help speechless patients form words. Words can be read directly from patients' minds by attaching microelectrode grids to the surface of the brain and learning which signals mean which words, a development that will ultimately help such patients talk again.
Magnetism He's no Magneto, but according to his father, Bogdan, a 7-year-old Serbian boy, has the ability to attract metal objects to him. In fact, his "magnetism" appears to extend to non-metal objects as well. Of course, Bogdan's magnetism hasn't yet been scientifically proven. In fact, it's most likely that he's just a little overweight and oils in his skin make him sticky.
Teleportation Azazel, one of the antagonists in "X-Men: First Class," has the ability to teleport himself and others from one place to another. In reality, we haven't come close to that level of transport ability. However, scientists have successfully teleported light and data over a stretch of 10 miles.
Flight Flying is certainly the ultimate superpower. But until a radioactive pigeon bites you, we'll all just have to rely on technology to get us airborne. Swiss adventurer Yves Rossy has taken solo flight to the extreme with his custom-designed wingsuit. Recently, Rossy even took his jetpack for a spin over the Grand Canyon. Reaching speeds of 190 miles per hour, this jetman could keep up with some of the fastest fictional fliers.
Muscle Mass You wouldn't want to see this dog when she gets angry. Wendy may look like a pitbull but is in fact a whippet with a rare genetic mutation that makes this dog more muscular. Although this dog is gifted with twice the muscle mass as average-sized whippets, Wendy has the same size heart, lungs and other organs.
Courtesy Raytheon Company
Iron Man OK, Tony Stark may be from a different franchise, but his Iron Man suit has become inspiration for military and tech manufacturers testing their own brands of exoskeleton suits. These real-life iron man suits have been designed for applications as mundane as climbing up a flight of stairs and as complex as protecting a soldier on a battlefield.
Echolocation Like the superhero Daredevil, Ben Underwood "sees" with his ears rather than his eyes by employing sonar. By emitting clicking noises with the back of his tongue, Kish is able to determine the distance and a rough outline of the shape of a nearby object. This allows him to navigate without the aid of a cane or seeing eye dog. Other blind people have also developed this ability, so this technique is not unique to Kish.
Soothsaying No one person can predict the future, but a recently developed software program used in Baltimore and Philadelphia is predicting which individuals on probation or parole are most likely to murder and to be murdered. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. are using or planning on using the program, and the software has already helped reduce the murder rate in some police districts.
Face shape is largely determined by genetics, yet no two faces are entirely alike. How do genes bring about faces with subtle differences while avoiding dramatic disruptions and facial malformations such as cleft lip and palate? The answer may be in the "junk DNA," a new study has found.
Noncoding DNA, sometimes called junk DNA, refers to sequences in a genome that don't produce proteins, some of which are thought to have no known biological function.
Studying mice, researchers identified more than 4,000 small regions in the genome that are likely a type of noncoding DNA called enhancers, which amplify the expression of a gene. In this case, these regions were active while the face of a mouse embryo developed, according to the study, detailed in the Oct. 25 issue of the journal Science.
Most of these enhancer sequences are found in humans as well, so it is likely that they have similar face-shaping functions in humans, the researchers said. (5 Face-Shaping Genes Identified)
"Our results suggest it is likely there are thousands of enhancers in the human genome that are somehow involved in craniofacial development," study researcher Axel Visel, a geneticist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's genomics division, said in a statement. "We don't know yet what all of these enhancers do, but we do know that they are out there and they are important for craniofacial development."
To test whether these enhancers are indeed important in shaping the face, the researchers deleted three of the enhancers in mice and compared them with normal mice at 8 weeks of age. The results showed that each enhancer deletion caused a distinct set of differences in the shape of the face -- for instance, causing an increase or decrease in facial length and an increase or decrease in the width of various parts of the face, such as the base of the skull or the palate.
In the study, to avoid the challenge of recognizing individual mouse faces, the researchers created 3D images using a process called microcomputed tomography to link changes in face shape with alterations in the function of each of the enhancers.
Identifying enhancers that regulate a gene's activity is challenging, because such enhancers aren't necessarily located next to their target gene; rather, they could be acting from "long-distance" locations in the genome.
Many of the genetic defects that cause facial flaws such as clefts of the lip or palate have been identified, but only a small number of genes have been implicated in normal variation of the face's shape, the researchers said.
Studying genes that drive normal facial variations would offer an opportunity for human geneticists to look for mutations specifically in enhancers that may play a role in birth defects, Visel said.
This article originally appeared on LiveScience.com. More from LiveScience.com:
Genetics by the Numbers: 10 Tantalizing Tales
Unraveling the Human Genome: 6 Molecular Milestones
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