Surprise Me With A Fact

By Richard Hollis (aka Ritchie)

I thought I’d do a something a little different in this post.

Sometimes, when I read a science book explaining something new, I get a feeling when a piece of fascinating trivia just ‘clicks’ into place. I’m not sure I can better describe it, though I’m sure I’m not doing a good job of it. Like a minor epiphany where something previously unknown or unclear suddenly comes into sharp focus.

So I thought I’d throw the ball out there and ask everyone to share their favourite science facts. What incredibly cool facts do you know that make you proud to be a geek?

I myself have two I particularly love, so I’ll just share them both.

Firstly, I have type B blood, which I got from my mother. My father is type A. Now, every specific gene in my body I inherited from only one of my parents, who inherited it from one one of theirs, and one of theirs, etc. So though I am an amalgamation of genes from two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc, each specific gene derives from only one person per generation as I trace it back. Now, bearing in mind all life has a common ancestor way back yonder, there must logically have been a time when blood types A and B were one, and simply diverged. We may not know how far back that time was, but we do know it was further back than the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees. So, to conclude, in terms of this one specific gene – my blood type – I am more closely related to a chimpanzee with blood type B than I am to all humans with blood type A, which includes my own father!

(I am choosing to ignore the fact that I inherited my RECESSIVE blood type gene from my father, since it was O – also his recessive gene).

The second fact concerns ants and bees (and wasps, I think, though not termites). Every hive/nest is mostly made up of females – the workers, soldiers, nurses, queen, etc, are all female. Males make up a small percentage of the hive. They just sit in a chamber doing nothing at all useful until the day they fly out, mate with the young, soon-to-be queens and drop down dead.

When a queen lays an egg (which she does pretty much constantly) she may or may not mix it with the sperm she collected when she mated – if she does, the egg will be female. If not, it will be male. This means that males have only half the number of chromosomes that the females do. Consequently, each sperm from the male will be a genetic copy of him – it will contain all the genes he has and no others (baring mutations, of course).

Now, your relatedness to either of your parents is 50%. You share 50% of your genes with each parent. Your relatedness to any full sibling is 50% too – since any gene you have has a 50% chance of being passed down to your sibling also. But that is because both of your parents had two sets of chromosomes. If, as is the case with ants and bees, the father only has one set which he passes on in full to any child, the relatedness you would have to any sibling would be 75%. In other words, any gene you have could have come from your mother or father. If it came from your mother, there is a 50% chance your sibling has it too. But if it came from your father, there will be a 100% chance your sibling has it.

In short, female ants and bees (ie, the majority of the nest/hive) are more closely related to their sisters than they are to their own mother – and the queens are more closely related to their sisters than to their own children.

I know this doesn’t work exactly since the queen mates with many males, so the store of sperm she has will be from several males. So each daugther will have half-sisters, who will only be 25% related to each her. But others will be full sisters, and with them they will share a genetic bond closer than that between parent and child. Only identical twins are more closely related.

Both those facts made me take a mental step back and think ‘wow’ when I first thought them through. I hope I’ve done them justice in relaying them here.

So yes, I want to hear more fun science geeky facts! Something trivial, or something deeply profound. Something funny or something astonishing. Anything at all really. Go mad, show off! Let’s all just throw our favourite science snippets into the mix and see what comes to the boil.

I eagerly await seeing what everyone comes out with.

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