The silk road to epigenetics

The silk road to epigenetics: the driving forces behind silkworm domestication

Silkworms are under the spotlight after the publication of a study where epigenetic modifications are compared between wild and domesticated varieties. This work unravels the mechanisms that led to the domestication of silkworms and the improvements in silk production about 5000 years ago in China.


The domesticated silkworm, Bombyx mori, was the focus of the study by Xiang and colleagues, published online on the 23rd of September 2013 in the journal BMC Genomics. Photo: Wikipedia

The domesticated silkworm has been artificially selected to produce more and better silk, the luxurious product that is so valued worldwide. It has been estimated that silk production has increased up to tenfold with sericulture (the breeding of silkworms for the harvesting of silk, also known as silk farming). For example, the domesticated variety shows nowadays a series of human-preferred traits such as faster growth, bigger cocoons and increased resistance to disease than the wild variety. Silk production is of great economical importance, especially in rural areas of the main producing countries, China and India, and research in these animals is expected to lead to an important increase in revenues. In addition, these are good model organisms for studies in invertebrates, as they easy to breed and have fast growth. Now, a team comprising scientists from various Institutes in China has asked the question: which are the main differences found in domesticated silkworms, apart from genetic divergences, that contribute to their particular characteristics?

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With a little help from my friends – Scientists tool up via Facebook

Do you want to read an article from a journal that you don’t subscribe? Your University’s library does not give you institutional access to the journals you need?

IMG_2506It seems that you need a little help from your friends… at facebook! There is a well-kept gem of social networking that you will find worth discovering: a facebook group that can send you the papers you have asked for, right to your email, in as little as a few minutes!


There are so many journals out there and most papers do not come in the now fashionable open-access format. So, scientists have to be lucky to work in a University or Institute that subscribes a wide variety of journals and makes those available to their employees. Otherwise, you may be left with the abstracts only, and we all know how abstracts can be VERY different from the actual content of a paper.

Also, you want to see the figures and decide about the results yourself, as well as check the methods section to maybe use some of the techniques in your future work. If you can’t access the full version of that paper you really need, don’t feel desperate because there is a very simple way to get the article delivered to your email in minutes or hours. It’s not illegal, don’t worry, it’s based on sharing resources with your friends, which, I believe we all agree, it’s how science should work. The Facebook group is called “Bájame este paper por fa !!” (yes, in Spanish/Castilian, which means something like “download this paper for me plea”) and although it is a closed group, you will have no difficulty in joining once you ask for permission. Being part of the group means that you can start asking for – and getting – papers.

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Optogenetics – the new promise today

Nature Magazine has again provided us with plenty of food for thought.

One particular article from the admirable list of advanced online publications caught my attention not only because of the groundbreaking research, but because it reminded me that the way to applicable technology starts with basic research. This time, the focus is on optogenetics, which combines techniques as diverse as genetic manipulation and the use of light.



More than genetic engineering, what optogenetics does is to control live organisms in real time make with the use of light-sensitive proteins. This is science fiction happening now.

Check here the original article at Nature’s site. And to better understand optogenetics, read our colleagues’ post at the Brain Bank, one of our favorites at

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New Orleans – New Science

The end of the month will mark 8 years post hurricane Katrina. 

We take a look at the science that is being done in New Orleans. And how this city can teach us that music and science are very similar!

This summer marks the 8th year post hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It all happened during the last days of august 2005 and it was a tragedy that will not be forgotten for many years to come. I was recently in New Orleans and more than searching for the signs of the hurricane’s devastation, I decided to concentrate on the good side of this great city. It was easy because New Orleans has a lot for you – especially if you enjoy music. But to me, New Orleans has more to offer and it’s something that is not that different form good music: it’ good science.

NO-cópia NOII-cópia

My photos don’t do justice to the superb French Quarter Festival. You really have to be there and sing and dance. credits: Ana Costa

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What to expect: Science 2013



Unstoppable Machine

How much do we care about science?

It is a truth not difficult to prove that science is an important part of our lives. We don’t have to look too far to detect its clear influence. But how much do we care about it?
We are surrounded by science and its products in our houses, working places and even when we go on holidays. It is part of the simplest things we do everyday, from ourpersonal hygiene to the food we eat. Without science, our routines would be unrecognizable. So we must be dedicating a good share of our attention to science. Are we?

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