Solstice Science: DNA Edition

Today marks the Winter Solstice. To celebrate here are five of our favorite winter themed and genetic themed reads. Cozy up with something warm to drink and discover DNA’s role in the cold weather adaptations of humans, squirrels, fishes, rabbits, foxes and even flowers.

  • Sleeping through the winter isn’t as simple as it sounds. It requires a host of metabolic, respiratory, and pulmonary changes. Read this Nature article that investigates the genetic changes that enable hibernation in ground squirrels or check out this post summarizing the study’s findings.
  • Hibernating animals are not the only ones that undergo a host of gene expression changes comes winter. We do too! In fact, scientists have found that over 5,000 genes in our blood cells that downregulate or upregulate with the seasons. Check out this great Wired article reporting on the research.
  • Ready to delve even deeper? This review article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science looks at the history of a single antifreeze glycoprotein gene. This gene codes for a protein that stops ice formation in cells of cold-water fish. The article is fascinating, advanced, and ideal for a class familiar with molecular evolution terms and concepts.
  • Animals that stay active during the winter also have some important changes to make. Some of the most dramatic and noticeable are the change in fur color from brown to white in many northern species.  Two recent studies looked at the genetics behind this change – a 2020 study in hares and a 2021 study in foxes.
  • You may think that flowering plants aren’t active in winter. However, one group of researchers decided to see if the famed plant Arabidopsis thaliana had any genetic responses to winter’s shorter days and discovered a host of gene expression changes. Read about their discoveries here or in this great summary post.

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