Do genes influence your political beliefs?
“Genetic influences account for a substantial proportion of individual differences in political traits,” wrote political scientists Peter Hatemi of Penn State University and Rose McDermott of Brown University in an article published last week in the journal Trends in Genetics.
To reach this conclusion, researchers examined studies of identical and fraternal twins, which allowed them to determine the degree to which a given trait is determined by genes – versus how much can be chalked up to environmental influence. The political scientists also reviewed studies of extended families as well as work that attempted to correlate mutations in individual genes with particular political traits.
The papers Hatemi and McDermott assembled examined a range of characteristics, including levels of political participation, liberal versus conservative ideology and attitudes about race, sex, religion and the military.
Thousands of genetic variables seem to play a role in molding political identity and behavior, the researchers wrote.
But there were limits to biology’s influence. Twin studies showed that until young adults leave the nest and escape the “powerful social pressures” of their parents’ home, the genetic influences on their politics aren’t apparent.
A gene called 5-HTT, which has a role in regulating serotonin, has been implicated in voter turnout, for example – but scientists have yet to identify a specific gene that influences whether one is a Republican or a Democrat, an activist or apathetic.
Los Angeles Times
White dwarf plus red giant equals supernova
When a white dwarf star gets too big after absorbing material from another nearby star, it explodes, sending a burst of light out into the universe in what is called a Type 1a supernova.
What scientists have not fully understood is the identity of the white dwarf’s partner. Some have suggested that mergers between white dwarfs can lead to these explosions. But according to a new paper in the journal Science, the aged, puffy stars called red giants can also feed white dwarfs and cause supernovas.
Astrophysicists first caught sight of an unusual-looking supernova in January 2011. It was approximately 675 million light-years away in the constellation Lynx.
From the behavior of gas in the area after the explosion, astrophysicist Benjamin Dilday and his colleagues were able to deduce that their supernova had originally been a white dwarf orbiting a red giant. Until its telltale flashy burst, a future supernova is indistinguishable from other stars.
“It’s really not possible to look at them before they explode,” said Dilday, the paper’s lead author, who is at Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network in California. New York Times
Teachers-only freebie at museums this month
The Discovery Place museums – Discovery Place uptown, Discovery Place KIDS in Huntersville and the Charlotte Nature Museum – are offering free admission to all educators (plus one guest) every Saturday in September. Just present your school ID. Educators will also get their parking validated and receive a packet to take home that includes the museums’ education guides, plus a chance to win a free field trip.
For museum info, visit
Details on teachers’ program: 704-372-6261, ext. 300.