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Genetic mutation in van Gogh’s sunflower

Apart from being among his most vibrant and celebrated works, Vincent van Gogh’s series of sunflower paintings also depict a mutation whose genetic basis has, so far, been a bit of a mystery.

However, a team of University of Georgia scientists reveal the mutation behind the distinctive, thick bands of yellow “double flowers” that the post-Impressionist artist painted more than 100 years ago.

The double-flowered mutants that van Gogh depicted in many of his paintings, on the other hand, have multiple bands of yellow florets and a much smaller proportion of internal disc florets.

The scientists crossed the common, or wild type, variety of sunflower with the double-flowered variety, and their initial findings suggested that a single, dominant gene was responsible for creating the double-flowered mutation.

Subsequent crosses of the offspring revealed that a second mutation, which is recessive to both the double-flowered mutation and the wild-type version of the gene, results in a third flower type that is intermediate in form, being elongated and yellow, but tubular and containing the reproductive structures of the interior florets.

The scientists identified the gene and sequenced it to show that in the double-flowered mutation, the portion of the gene that functions as an on/off switch is disrupted so that the instructions for making the outer rays are turned on in portions of the plant that would normally produce the internal disc florets.

Earth could be moon’s sole parent

Researchers have cast doubts over moon’s origin, challenging the widely held theory that a giant collision between Earth and a Mars-sized object gave birth to the moon 4.5 billion years ago.

In the giant-collision scenario, computer simulations suggest that the moon had two parents: Earth and a hypothetical planetary body that scientists call “Theia.” But a comparative analysis of titanium from the moon, Earth and meteorites, published by Junjun Zhang, graduate student in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago, and four co-authors indicates the moon’s material came from Earth alone.

If two objects had given rise to the moon, “Just like in humans, the moon would have inherited some of the material from the Earth and some of the material from the impactor, approximately half and half,” said Nicolas Dauphas, associate professor in geophysical sciences at UChicago, and co-author of the study.

“What we found is that the child does not look any different compared to the Earth,” Dauphas said. “It’s a child with only one parent, as far as we can tell.” The research team based their analysis on titanium isotopes — forms of titanium that contain only slight subatomic variations.

First genetic brain atlas revealed

Researchers have produced the first atlas of the surface of the human brain based upon genetic information. The atlas reveals that the cerebral cortex – the sheet of neural tissue enveloping the brain – is roughly divided into genetic divisions that differ from other brain maps based on physiology or function.

The genetic atlas provides scientists with a new tool for studying and explaining how the brain works, particularly the involvement of genes.

 “Genetics are important to understanding all kinds of biological phenomena,” said William S. Kremen, co-senior author with Anders M. Dale.

“If we can understand the genetic underpinnings of the brain, we can get a better idea of how it develops and works, information we can then use to ultimately improve treatments for diseases and disorders,” said Chi-Hua Chen, first author.

Kremen said the genetic brain atlas may be especially useful for scientists who employ genome-wide association studies, a relatively new tool that looks for common genetic variants in people that may be associated with a particular trait, condition or disease.

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