On this 'Did You Know?' page, we post every other day so check this space often! 

Here, you will find short blog posts on quirky, weird or wonderful things on just about anything that relates to humans that you probably didn't know before! 

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18/8/2020

Did you know that if you were lost in the middle of a desert in Australia without a map or compass, you could still find your way? That's if you've got Amitermes meridionalis (or more commonly known as compass termites) around! 

These eusocial insects build meter high mounds of mud as a shelter. The mounds are wedge-shaped with its points running north and south. This may sound slightly strange but is just an example of a behavioral adaptation based on the environment they live in- the scorching desert. The unique mound structure means the eastern and western sides will heat up in the morning then cool at midday as less surface is exposed to sunlight by that time, preventing the shelter from overheating. 

 

So if you ever end up lost in an Australian desert, just remember to look around for large tombstone-like mud structures and you'll be on your way!

15/8/2020

 

Did you know that there is an emerging field of science named something you would never expect?...Memetics! Pioneered by the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, this is a theory based on Darwinian evolution where ‘memes’ are defined as units of cultural transmission that get passed on between individuals via imitation. Memes include anything from a popular tune to even religious ideas. Proponents use memetics to explain human cultural evolution in our society, just as how genetics in biological evolution. And like genes, memes get propagated too, albeit in ways such as through conversations or teaching others, rather than through having offspring. Nevertheless, this field has generated tense debates over the years of its value as a true science versus a mere pseudoscience. 

 

So next time you see a meme, just remember that the origins of its name is in fact biology and evolution! 

 

Check out this website to explore this further: 

https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/people/richard-dawkins#:~:text=Clinton%20Richard%20Dawkins%20is%20an%20evolutionary%20biologist%2C%20ethologist,design%20religious%20beliefs%20surrounding%20the%20origins%20of%20life.

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9/8/2020

Did you know that we share 50% of our DNA with a full sibling? But also, we share 98% of our DNA with chimps. How does this make sense? Since surely, a sibling is a much closer relative than an animal! Firstly, we inherit half our genes from each parent and this is the same for every sibling in a family. However, each sibling will inherit a slightly different 50% from each parent meaning their DNA is different from each other despite having the same parents, which is also why siblings do not look identical. We share 98% of our DNA with chimps because ultimately, genes code for proteins which build up to form structures like fins, legs or wings. So when some groups of species share certain characteristics, like birds having wings, it means the different bird species share genes all coding for wings. Thus, the 98% of DNA we share with chimps code for similar things found in both species like having 2 legs and certain types of communication! So, the question to ask is not if both you and your sibling have a gene for hair. It is in fact the type of/variant of a gene that codes for, say, a hair colour that is important.

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5/8/2020

 

Did you know that all living humans have a common maternal ancestor? Or you could say, the ‘mother’ of all humans! Geneticists call her Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in Africa 200,000 years ago. In all our cells, we have large numbers of an organelle called mitochondria which is involved in providing energy for cell processes; the ‘powerhouse’ of the cell, and it contains genetic material of its own, separate from yours. However, this is only passed down from the mother, not the father, meaning that all mitochondria of any sons or daughters were inherited matrilineally. Thus, it follows that all humans have ultimately descended directly through their mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and so on, until arriving at one woman- Mitochondrial Eve. Almost analogously, geneticists also identified a man- Y-chromosome Adam, who all living males are descended from. Because males possess one X and one Y chromosome whilst females have two Xs, this means Y chromosomes can only be passed via males, hence the name Y-chromosome Adam. Nevertheless, the titles of Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosome Adam change as lineages eventually become extinct over time. 

 

To learn more about this fascinating topic, check out:

https://evolutionnews.org/2018/02/mitochondrial-eve-and-y-chromosome-adam-and-adam-and-the-genome/

https://www.livescience.com/mitochondrial-eve-first-human-homeland.html

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3/8/2020

Did you know that modern birth control originated as a form of negative eugenics? In 1916, Margaret Sanger, opened the first birth control clinic in the USA. She was a women’s reproductive rights activist, sex educator, writer, nurse... and a firm eugenicist. Her quote “Birth control must lead ultimately to a cleaner race.”, blatantly spells it out. 

Fundamentally, eugenics, coined by eugenicist Francis Galton, is the belief that people of certain races, ethnic groups or those with disabilities, mental illnesses or diseases should not breed and have children since their so-called undesirable characteristics would spread throughout the population. The idea is derived from social Darwinism where the phrase 'survival of the fittest' was applied to human societies and that those who became powerful and wealthy in society owed their superiority to traits passed from the parents. This resulted in devastating consequences such as the forced sterilization of 70,000 people in the USA, predominantly the poor, mentally ill and many immigrant populations, and the Nazi eugenics movement of world war 2. 

 

Check out these websites to learn more about the fascinating and grim history of birth control:

https://time.com/4081760/margaret-sanger-history-eugenics/

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/margaret-sanger-eugenics-birth-control-planned-parenthood_n_5f1f2a40c5b638cfec4893a8 

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