Friday, February 19, 2016

Decoding the Dark Matter of the Human Genome

Three genetically identical mice that do not look the same. Why? Photo credit: Nature Publishing.

In 1994, researchers from Harvard and Stanford published a paper in which they described three mice: one was yellow and fat, one mottled and fat, and the last one was brown and lean. An ordinary image, except for one thing: despite being so different, all three mice were genetically identical.

At the time, Karissa Sanbonmatsu--staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory--was working on plasma physics, and she had no idea that one day she would tap into this mystery. Even though she started from a completely different field, from the very beginning she was obsessed by one question: What distinguishes life from matter? (Full story)

Los Alamos scientist helps date gorilla-like fossils, shedding new light on human evolution

An analysis of these 8 million-year-old Chororapithecus abyssinicus teeth fossils provided insights into the human-gorilla evolutionary split. Courtesy Gen Suwa.

As research into human evolution has accelerated in recent years, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory contributed to a fossil study that found humans may have split off from other primates earlier than previously thought — and that a common ancestor of apes and humans likely evolved in Africa, not Eurasia.

According to an article on the research, published this month in the journal Nature, humans went their separate ways from gorillas about 10 million years ago and from chimpanzees about 8 million years ago. “That’s at least 2 million years earlier than previous estimates, which were based on genetic science that lacked fossil evidence,” LANL geologist and senior team leader Giday WoldeGabriel said in a news release. (Full story)

Ice sheet modeling of Greenland, Antarctica helps predict sea-level rise

Irina Tezaur and Ray Tuminaro analyze a model of Antarctica. They are part of a Sandia National Laboratories team working to improve the reliability and efficiency of computational models that describe ice sheet behavior and dynamics. Image courtesy Dino Vournas, Sandia National Laboratories.

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will make a dominant contribution to 21st century sea-level rise if current climate trends continue. However, predicting the expected loss of ice sheet mass is difficult due to the complexity of modeling ice sheet behavior.

This research is part of a five-year project called Predicting Ice Sheet and Climate Evolution at Extreme Scales (PISCEES), funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) program. PISCEES is a multi-lab, multi-university endeavor that includes researchers from Sandia, Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley and Oak Ridge national laboratories. (Full story)

LANL scientist takes time off from Mars mission to hunt meteorites in Antarctica

Nina Lanza from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Ellen Crapster-Pregont were part of the Antarctic Search for Meteorites team that recently completed a search for space rocks. (Courtesy of Nina Lanza)

Nina Lanza’s regular job at Los Alamos National Laboratory is shooting a laser at rocks on Mars from the Curiosity Rover.

When she takes a break from that, she goes looking for meteorites in Antarctica. (Full story)

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