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Dec. 20, 2012 at 6:56 PM
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Genes could explain disease susceptibility

TORONTO, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Genetic differences between humans and other vertebrates may explain why humans are susceptible to diseases not found in other species, Canadian scientists say.

Researchers at the University of Toronto have sequenced and compared of hundreds of thousands of genetic "messages" in equivalent organs such as brains, hearts and livers from 10 different vertebrate species, ranging from human to frog.

The study has revealed alternative splicing -- a process by which a single gene can give rise to multiple proteins -- has dramatically changed the structure and complexity of those messages during vertebrate evolution, they said.

Differences in the ways genetic messages are spliced have played a major role in the evolution of fundamental characteristics of species -- making them look different from one another -- but could also account for differences in disease susceptibility, they said.

"The same genetic mechanisms responsible for a species' identity could help scientists understand why humans are prone to certain diseases such as Alzheimer's and particular types of cancer that are not found in other species," computational biologists Nuno Barbosa-Morais said in a university release Thursday.

The alternative splicing process is more complex in humans and other primates compared to species such as mouse, chicken and frog, researchers said.

"Our observations provide new insight into the genetic basis of complexity of organs such as the human brain," Toronto researcher Benjamin Blencowe said.

"The fact that alternative splicing is very different even between closely related vertebrate species could ultimately help explain how we are unique."

Russia building nuclear submersible craft

SEVERODVINSK, Russia, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- A Russian shipyard is building a nuclear-powered deep-sea submersible capable of both research and rescue missions, officials said.

The construction, dubbed Project 09852, will take place at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, a port city on Russia's White Sea in the northwest of the country, RIA Novosti reported Thursday.

The shipyard's main activity is the building of ships and submarines for the Russian Navy, and it is the only shipyard in Russia producing nuclear submarines.

When completed, the submersible will be available for research and search-and-rescue operations in remote and difficult-to-access parts of the world's oceans, the shipyard said in a statement.

No estimation of a completion date for the submersible, designed by the St. Petersburg-based Rubin Central Design Bureau, was given.

Study prompts rethink of traffic tie-ups

BERKELEY, Calif., Dec. 20 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say cellphone and Global Position System data could lead to new strategies for alleviating city commuting traffic tie-ups.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, tracked traffic in Boston and San Francisco and analyzed bottlenecks, using data from cell towers and GPS.

The study suggests a solution to traffic jams should not involve asking all drivers to reduce their driving during commute hours, but rather should target specific communities whose drivers contribute most to congestion, a UC Berkeley release reported Thursday.

While asking all commuters to cut back on rush-hour driving reduces traffic congestion somewhat, asking specific groups of drivers to stay off the road may work even better, the researchers said.

Canceling or delaying the trips of 1 percent of all drivers across a road network can reduce delays caused by congestion by only about 3 percent, while canceling the trips of 1 percent of drivers from carefully selected neighborhoods would reduce the extra travel time for all other drivers in a metropolitan area by as much as 18 percent, they said.

"This is a preliminary study that demonstrates that not all drivers are contributing uniformly to congestion," researcher Alexandre Bayen of UC Berkeley said. "Reaching out to everybody to change their time or mode of commute is thus not necessarily as efficient as reaching out to those in a particular geographic area who contribute most to bottlenecks."

Centuries-old 'life map' updated

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- Danish scientists say they've completed an update of a world map that for centuries has been the backbone of our understanding of global biodiversity.

University of Copenhagen researchers say advances in modern technology and data on more than 20,000 species has allowed them to update the map first created in the 1870s by Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer along with Charles Darwin of the theory of evolution.

This new global map shows the division of nature into 11 large biogeographic realms and shows how these areas relate to each other, combining evolutionary and geographical information for all known mammals, birds and amphibians, the university reported Thursday.

International researchers contributed to the map based on the work at the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen.

"Our study is a long overdue update of one of the most fundamental maps in natural sciences," center researcher Ben Holt said. "For the first time since Wallace's attempt we are finally able to provide a broad description of the natural world based on incredibly detailed information for thousands of vertebrate species."

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