SciTech Briefs

Flower fragrance genes isolated

The past 50 years have seen flower breeders selectively cultivating only those flowers that are large and considered pretty, in an effort to improve quality. While they succeeded in this goal, these “better” flowers lost much of their scent because they lost the appropriate fragrance genes. Scientists at the University of Florida have found these missing genes and believe that they will be able to do more than just restore scent to flowers; they will be able to change their scent at will.

The researchers were studying the genome of petunias when they noticed that a certain block of 12 or 13 genes was missing. After re-inserting the genes one at a time to figure out their function, the scientists found that they regulated the release of chemicals that give petunias their scent. They hope that this discovery will extend to other flowers and fruits and bring about major improvements in their taste and smell.

Source: Discovery News

Companies profit from censorship

As some countries continue to restrict access to the Internet, more and more people are finding ways around these restrictions so they can access the sites they want to. Companies that sell products allowing them to do this are seeing significant growth. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are one of the most effective ways to avoid restrictions by allowing users to access the Internet through servers in other countries while preventing their own country’s censors from tracking them.

Companies such as AnchorFree provide free help in finding a way through firewalls. Others, such as the creators of the application Puff, provide a free basic program, or one with more features for a fee. Over the last year, AnchorFree has seen 500 percent growth. While providing and selling such methods is often illegal in the countries where they are used, most of the sellers live in other countries and are thus immune from prosecution.

Source: CNN

Malaria may have killed Tutankhamen

A study on Tuesday reported that radiation and genetic testing of several Egyptian mummies, including that of King Tutankhamen, has revealed new information about a segment of the ancient Egyptian royal family. Most notably, researchers have found that Tutankhamen, the well-known boy king, is likely to have died of a particularly virulent and harmful strain of malaria called malaria tropica. This marks the oldest confirmed case of malaria ever discovered.

The study also notes that he suffered from a disorder of the bones that may have caused a fracture that he is seen to have, and a condition where blood supply is decreased to tissues in the body, weakening them. The genetic testing reveals the relationships between five generations of pharaohs and their immediate families, many of which had previously been based upon speculation alone.

Source: The New York Times