Some interesting book reviews: Lee Smolin reviews Roger Penrose’s Cycles of Time, in which Penrose speculates about how the universe got its start. The mind-bender is that there might be no such official beginning, at least for our universe. Shame on me, although I am aware of Roger Penrose’s work, I had no idea how significant an impact he has had in physics. As Smolin writes in Nature,
We should pay attention because Penrose has repeatedly been far ahead of his time. The most influential person to develop the general theory of relativity since Einstein, Penrose established the generalized behaviour of space-time geometry, pushing that theory beyond special cases. Our current understanding of black holes, singularities and gravitational radiation is built with his tools.
An interesting paper in Nature: a comparison of unique human genomes. The 1000 Genomes Project Consortium sequenced 882 people, with varying degrees of coverage (i.e. total nucleotides sequenced.) This has to do with time and costs. There were 2 mother-father-daughter trios who were sequenced with high-coverage, 178 individuals sequenced with low-coverage, and 697 individuals had only coding sequences within their genome sequenced. This type of research will enable researchers to categorize the genetic differences between closely and distantly related individuals. Further development of individual genome sequencing may enable both disease likelihood calculations as well as possibly tailoring drug treatments for disease, finer scale look at population migrations, and genetic correlates of phenotypic variation. Finally, the identification of the single nucleotide changes (polymorphisms) between individuals will also help researchers expand on the number of markers that are linked to a disease (and in fact have already guided researchers in expanding the probes in microarray chips that detect these new markers.)
A second interesting paper, this one published in Science. Workers were able to identify a specific neural circuit, in zebrafish, that processes visual information. Specifically, this circuit is tuned to small objects, perhaps used in the capture of the zebrafish’s prey.