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Sept. 12 2005 9:37 AM

Heather Has Two Genetic Mommies

And other news from science and technology.

(For the latest Human Nature columns on Hurricane Katrina, fetal pain, and animal rights, click here.)

Britain authorized creation of embryos with three parents. The third parent, a woman, contributes a small amount of DNA found in mitochondria, cellular components outside the nucleus. The idea is to protect children who might get disease-causing mitochondrial DNA from their mothers.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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Fetuses can show "crying behavior" at 28 weeks. After a noise in the mother's abdomen, ultrasound shows a "startle" response, deep breathing, and chin "quivering." Researchers say this implies brain development sufficient to recognize the sound as bad. (For Human Nature's take on fetal pain, click here.)

Gene research suggests that our brains are rapidly evolving. Two alleles (gene variants) that promote brain size have been spreading, arguably in correlation with agriculture, civilization, and writing. Critics say the alleles may be spreading for non-brain-related reasons. They fear that  the research might be used to support racism, since in one gene, "About 70 percent of people in most European and East Asian populations carry this allele ... but it is much rarer in most sub-Saharan Africans."

Leon Kass, the chairman of President Bush's bioethics council, is resigning. Some liberals accused him of steering the council to suit Republican politics during its debates over stem cells and cloning. The council divided on both issues. The new chairman will be the 85-year-old ex-president of Catholic University. (For Human Nature's take, click here.)

Filthy water is beginning to kill people in New Orleans. Tests of floodwater show "fecal bacteria and lead in concentrations considered unsafe by the EPA," and rescue workers are getting lesions. (For Human Nature's take on Hurricane Katrina, click here.)

An inventor is marketing a female condom that tortures rapists. According to Reuters, "The device, made of latex and held firm by shafts of sharp barbs, can only be removed from the man by surgery." The inventor "said women had tried it for comfort and it had been tested on a plastic male model but not yet on a live man."

Parasites turn insects into zombies. A worm grows inside a grasshopper, eats nearly all of its organs, then injects proteins into the brain to make the grasshopper jump into water, where the grasshopper dies and the worm can propagate. A wasp larva similarly commandeers spiders to make them build larva homes before the larva kills the spider.

Coastal overbuilding and overpopulation are worsening hurricane disasters. More than 1,000 people settle in U.S. coastal counties every day; the coastal population of Florida has multiplied by 65. Necessary evacuation time has doubled along the Mississippi coast and tripled on North Carolina's Outer Banks.

People are using cell phone cameras to catch flashers. The cameras have caught three New York subway flashers this year; 500 million people may have them by the end of the year. Proponents hail the trend as public shaming and citizen journalism; critics fear online "vigilantes" and "lynching."

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