Awesome Science Stuff That Happened Today [Sep 6]

It was a good day for science-loving geeks everywhere. Today’s big science haps, in no particular order:

A new look at DNA says there’s no such thing as junk in the trunk


Assuming you call the human genome “the trunk.” ENCODE – the Encyclopedia Of DNA Elements – is a project that starts where the Human Genome Project ended: we know what the genome looks like, now what does it do? Over the last decade, 442 scientists have put 147 different types of cells through 24 different varieties of experiments. What they’ve found is that while only about 1.5% of our genetic info carries instructions for protein-building (or, making us living, breathing creatures), the rest is far from being what we’ve affectionately called “junk DNA”: 80% of the genome has “biochemical function.” “Almost every nucleotide is associated with a function of some sort or another, and we now know where they are, what binds to them, what their associations are, and more,” says Tom Gingeras, one of the ENCODE’s senior scientists. For an in-depth (and easy-to-parse) explanation, check out Not Exactly Rocket Science’s feature. [Discover Magazine]

A pair of mathematicians throws a wrench in Einstein’s theory of gravity

While an incomplete understanding how gravity works doesn’t put us in danger of floating off of our pale blue dot, it does help us understand how the rest of life, the universe and everything works, and that’s awesome. Today a couple of professors (one from Indiana University and the other from Sichuan University in China) announced that they’ve worked out a unified theory of dark matter and dark energy that alters Einstein’s calculations, asserting that “the law of energy and momentum conservation in spacetime is valid only when normal matter, dark matter and dark energy are all taken into account.” In other words, “we filled in the blanks, and now we know what’s up.” Previously, the accepted gravitational model only accounted for normal spacetime and matter, which preserved the conservation of mass and energy. No longer, they say, as 95% of the universe is composed of dark matter and energy, and must be accounted for. [Indiana University]

So… what are the odds of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the Milky Way?

Few topics have held the human imagination longer than the possibility of life somewhere beyond the exosphere. While the last couple of decades have brought us closer to understanding how that life might survive and evolve over there, we’re still woefully short of any indication that it actually exists. While we’re looking (or waiting for it to invade the planet to steal our women and dihydrogen monoxide), we can speculate about the likelihood that aliens live next door. [TED Blog]

And now a purely scientific look at orgasms

Put away your “I’m 12 and what is this.” DNews has announced a new miniseries of informative videos on the science of human orgasms. Will it make you more awesome in bed? Probably not. But at least you’ll have a fairly clinical understanding of what’s going on. Here’s Part I to get the party started. [Discovery News]

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