T H E   N I H    C A T A L Y S T     N O V E M B E R  –D E C E M B E R   2004


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In Future Issues...

On the Roadmap: Nanotechnology

IRP Roundup

Women's Task Force Update


Kids' Catalyst


When someone tells you that you look just like your mom or dad or sister, they're not just being mean (just kidding!). People to whom you are the most closely linked genetically  are your immediate family, but we all share genetic links even if we can't quickly trace back to a common ancestor.

Genetics is, to me, one of the most fascinating and important branches of science because it's seen everywhere, all of the time, and the discoveries made now may change our quality of life forever. It can explain why a flower is purple, why your hair isn't (one day), and maybe—again, one day—how to change from brown to purple. Of course, curing genetic diseases is right up there with the color of your hair . . . . it's all linked, and so are we.

There are a few genetic differences that are easy to see and track within your families and classes. The websites given below are springboards for additional research, but for these experiments all you really need is a piece of paper and willing participants.

Keep in mind that entire sections of libraries are devoted to genetics, and you could study it for the rest of your life—starting right here with your toes.

Second-Toe Woe

Have all your subjects take off their socks and shoes (you can do this outside if it's not too cold) and tell you whether their second toe is longer than their big toe. The longer toe is genetic and is called a Roman Toe, not after the Romans, but after a scientist who studied it.

Two-Tooth Twang

My all-time favorite, since I know someone very well who is missing her lateral incisors. Only 1.5 percent of us are missing those particular teeth, but an even higher percentage are missing other teeth (because they were born that way, and not because of an older brother). If you don't have all of your adult teeth yet, you may not know, but keep this one in mind. If you do run into a "two-tooth" (slang for having two front teeth instead of the usual four, since the two incisor sidekicks are missing), ask them whether their siblings or parents have the same thing. I have only ever met five two-tooths, and I've been asking for a long time.

Twirling Tongues

Can you roll your tongue so it looks like an O when you're looking in the mirror? Yep, this is genetic, too. Find out how many people in your class can, and how many can't. Figure out what percent of people can, and see how that number changes based on how many people you ask. (Hint: This will be a lesson in the importance of adequate sampling—and while you’re at it, you might also do an ear count of attached vs. unattached ear lobes.)


Jennifer White, NIGMS

The NIH Catalyst is published bi-monthly for and by the intramural scientists at NIH. Address correspondence to Building 2, Room 2E26, NIH, Bethesda, MD 20892. Ph: (301) 402-1449; fax: (301) 402-4303; e-mail: <catalyst@nih.gov>.

Michael Gottesman
Deputy Director for Intramural Research, OD

John I. Gallin
Director, Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center,
and Associate Director for Clinical Research

Lance Liotta
Chief, Laboratory of Pathology, NCI


Celia Hooper

Fran Pollner

Shauna Roberts

Jennifer White
Aarthi Ashok
Karen Ross



Jorge Carrasquillo, CC
David Davies, NIDDK
Dale Graham, CIT
Hynda Kleinman, NIDCR
Elise Kohn, NCI
Susan Leitman, CC
Bernard Moss, NIAID
Michael Rogawski, NINDS
Joan Schwartz, NINDS
Gisela Storz, NICHD


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