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Messages in mouse urine

18 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 13 December 2012

Setbacks for Nuclear Fusion
The US National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been promising success for their nuclear fusion experiments for six years now. But, they have now redrawn their plans. The experiment involves firing hundreds of lasers at a pellet of hydrogen to make the atoms fuse into helium has failed to show even a tiny net gain in power and achieve the much anticipated nuclear ignition. This week, they put forward alternative, scaled-back alternatives.

Adaptations to High Altitude living
Living at high altitudes means coping with reduced oxygen. Short term visitors, such as mountaineers, adapt physiologically to the thin air. They produce more haemoglobin (red blood cells) to act like a sponge to soak up the oxygen. But populations in the Himalayas and Tibet, have genetic adaptations. They don't have thick blood, they breathe more quickly and it's thought that they may have more and more efficient blood vessels. So scientists checked out the people living high up in Ethiopia, to see if they had the same genetic adaptation – but they don't. The Amhara people, who have lived at altitude in Ethiopian Highlands for thousands of years, have a different genetic variation. So could this be parallel evolution by natural selection?

Messages in mouse urine
Mice are social animals with a highly developed sense of smell. It's been known for a while that volatile compounds, like pheromones, in their wee, serve to communicate sexual fitness etc. But a new study in the journal Science this week, shows that a protein named 'Darcin', after Mr Darcy in the Jane Austin novel Pride and Prejudice, in male mouse urine triggers the female mouse's memory – so one sniff of a super sexy male mouse's wee and she remembers him forever!
(Photo - wood mice / credit: Fiona Roberts)

This week's programme presented by Roland Pease


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