Top stories: A new history of dog domestication, microbe-linked solar panels, and a project to build the human genome from scratch

Wayland Smith/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0); Courtesy of Chong Liu; Darko Vrcan/Alamy Stock Photo

Top stories: A new history of dog domestication, microbe-linked solar panels, and a project to build the human genome from scratch

Dogs may have been domesticated more than once

For years, scientists have debated where dogs came from. Did wolves first forge their special relationship with humans in Europe or in Asia? The answer, according to a new study, is yes. This week in Science, researchers report that genetic analysis of hundreds of canines reveals that dogs may have been domesticated twice, once in Asia and once in Europe or the Near East, although European ancestry has mostly vanished from today’s dogs. The findings could resolve a rift that has roiled the canine origins community—but the case isn’t closed yet.

Scientists reveal proposal to build human genome from scratch

Last year, researchers working to synthesize the genome of a strain of yeast began to eye a much bigger prize: assembling from scratch the 3 billion base pairs of DNA that drive a human cell. The idea caught the attention of other prominent scientists, and inspired a proposal published online in Science this week. The so-called Human Genome Project–Write aims to synthesize entire genomes from their chemical components and get them to function in living cells.

Microbe-linked solar panels are better than plants at converting sunlight to energy

Plants are exceptional sunlight sponges. But they store only about 1% of the energy they soak up, locking it into the sugars and other organic molecules they use to build their cells. Scientists have boosted that number by a few percentage points. But now, researchers have taken a more sizable jump with solar panels, creating a hybrid device that uses a combination of catalysts and microbes to convert 10% of the captured solar energy into liquid fuels and other commodity chemicals.

U.K. government isn’t tracking policy-related research

Government agencies in the United Kingdom do a poor job of keeping tabs on the research they fund to set policies, according to a report released this week by Sense About Science, a London-based group that advocates for the use of scientific evidence in policymaking. The report also described examples of delays in releasing the results of what it called “politically awkward” studies.

‘Landmark study’ solves mystery behind classic evolution story

The story of the peppered moth is a classic example of evolution in action: As coal soot and smoke blackened the trees of industrial England in the late 1800s, a rare, dark variant of the peppered moth flourished, quickly supplanting its white peers by blending in with the newly darkened tree bark. But despite decades of research, scientists didn’t know the exact mutation responsible for the once-unusual dark wings. Now, two studies pinpoint the location and identity of the gene mutation—and reveal that the same gene also controls the colorful patterns in some butterfly wings.

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