Personal genetics kits; Persister cells; Earthquake mapping; Scorpions


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For a couple of hundred quid, one of many companies will send you a kit for sampling your own genome, and most will tell you your genetic risk for some diseases. In December the US Food and Drug Administration imposed a ban on one of these companies, 23andme. The reasoning was that if the organisation is offering medical advice, it needs to be medically regulated. Geneticist Professor Robert Green from Harvard Medical School argues that people can cope responsibly with their genetic information and that the FDA is being over-cautious.

Most people are familiar with recurrent infections caused by bacteria such as tonsillitis and bladder infections, where you pick up an infection, get treated with antibiotics and then after a few weeks or months the infection reappears and you need another course of antibiotics; this is a problem that can go on for many years, and is a major healthcare burden world-wide. Marnie Chesterton met a team from Imperial College studying the elusive persister cells responsible for these relapses.

Earthquakes usually occur in subduction zones, where one tectonic plate plunges beneath another. Now a team at University of Aberdeen has analysed a large earthquake database and developed a global map giving clues to which areas could be capable of causing giant earthquakes. Professor Nicholas Rawlinson explains the difficulties of predicting.

The venom of scorpions contains neurotoxins, which attack the nervous system of animals - it's one of the reasons why it's not a good idea to be stung by a scorpion. The structure of these toxins very closely resembles the structure of a group of proteins with a completely different purpose, called defensins. Professor Jan Tytgat from KU Leauven suggests that venom evolved from these defensins.