MySci Round-Up August 18: Genghis Khan, Baby Daddy Extraordinaire


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On this date in 1227, Genghis Khan, the 60-something ruler of a Mongol empire that stretched from the east coast of China to the Aral Sea, died of causes that remain mysterious. Some believe he succumbed to infectious disease, while others believe that he died from the lingering after-effects of a fall from horseback the previous year. At the time of his demise, Khan was in the process of putting down a rebellion in the Chinese kingdom of Xi Xia, and on his deathbed, supposedly gave an order that the realm’s entire population be wiped out. Today, however, he is remembered not just for his murderous urges but for his prolific procreation. When Genghis conquered a nation, he apparently claimed many of the vanquished enemy’s women for himself. So many, in fact, that geneticists have determined that Today, about 16 million men—eight percent of the male population living within the empire’s ancient borders—carry Y-chromosomes that are nearly identical.

We should explain that while children receive DNA from both parents, geneticists use the male Y-chromosome in population studies because it doesn’t recombine, as other parts of the genome do. Instead, it is passed on as a chunk of DNA from father to son, basically unchanged through generations except for random mutations. Ergo, the proliferation of a certain chunk of DNA strongly suggests that all these men have a common ancestor. And while a sample of Genghis’ DNA is yet to be obtained and verified, it isn’t such a big leap to infer that he’s the most likely candidate for number one baby daddy of all time. If you thought that the late blues singer Screamin Jay Hawkins’ claimed record of 57 progeny was remarkable, consider that about half a percent of the world’s male population possibly may be descended from the Mongol emperor. And after you’re done imagining Genghis singing a karaoke version of “I Put A Spell on You,” here are the strange science stories of the day.

Lasers could make ghostly virtual particles real. 
Positrons are believed to exist for such an incredibly brief time that it is not possible for humans to observe them. But lasers may be able to make them linger, scientists say.

Moderate consumption of chocolate lowers risk of heart failure, according to new study. 
It may have something to do with the flavonoids in the candy, which lower blood pressure.

Strange rocks may preserve some of Earth’s oldest animals. 
They were sponge-like organisms that once lived off the coast of Australia, 550 million years ago.

Are some of chimps’ cultural behaviors actually genetically based? A new study says that some grooming behaviors may be passed on via DNA, rather than learned.

Astronauts’ muscles may wither away on interplanetary trips. Lack of gravitational resistance may cause so much atrophy that a 30-year-old spaceman may end up with the body of an 80-year-old. Got to find a solution for this, or else space explorers may be too weak to do any exploring when they get to their destination.

Lou Gehrig may not have had the disease named after him. A newly-published scientific article suggests that the baseball great may have suffered from the effects of multiple head injuries, rather than 

amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which has become known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.