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Living in the Future – June 17, 2013

This week: Songs of the Stars, NASA picks new astronauts, and Epigenetic Markers mean that your experiences may be passed on in your genes.

You may have heard of radio telescopes, which use signals generated by stars and astrological phenomena to “tune in” to new findings. X-rays are especially useful in identifying stars and black holes, and a surfeit of x-ray data has been accumulated over time. That data is now being turned into music by a clever combination of computers and humans working together. Star Songs is a project of Harvard University, where the X-ray data is turned into raw sound by a computer, and the raw sound into music by German music students.

NASA has announced their new class of astronauts, the first in nearly 4 years. This class includes four men and four women, selected from more than 6000 applications, and represents the highest percentage of women selected ever! These astronauts are expected to lead human missions to near-earth asteroids, and eventually, to Mars landings. The astronauts are Josh Cassada, Victor Glover, Tyler Hague, Christina Hammock, Nicole Mann, Anne McClain, Jessica Meir, and Andrew Morgan.

DNA has been a mystery since its discovery, but many thought that mystery had been cracked by the Human Genome Project in the late 1990s. Now, it appears that there’s another wrinkle to unlock – so-called “epigenetic markers“, which bind to the DNA molecule at certain points and turn on or off the expression of certain genes. In many ways, these epigenetic markers act like switches, and recent studies show them binding to DNA based on life experiences. These markers can be – but are not necessarily – passed on to the next generation. It therefore seems that experiences of your ancestors can affect your genetic destiny in several specific ways! Early tests have shown that the epigenetic markers can also be removed from their bindings with certain chemicals.