2014 SWA Science Fair Extravaganza!

What a fantastic way to end off the year with a Science Fair Extravaganza that included Grades 6-10 and also include G4 (grade 11’s) project! The day was filled with inquiring minds communicating their knowledge of science. We then had a Science Fair Awards Ceremony to celebrate out best: Communicators, Inquires, Risk-Takers and most Knowledgable. And let’s not forget about that delicious cake!

Of course it took a small village to make this event successful and to all those who contributed we say THANK-YOU! Here is a video that Tricia Friedman made of our students.


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Science In The News: Blonde Hair Caused By DNA Mutation (A to G)

Photo of a young boy with curly blond hair.

A new study that found blond hair is the result of a small genetic “tweak” could provide clues for how to genetically treat illnesses.


Karen Weintraub

for National Geographic News


For thousands of years, people have both prized and mocked blond hair. Now, a new study shows that many can thank a tiny genetic mutationa single letter change from an A to a G among the 3 billion letters in the book ofhuman DNAfor their golden locks.

The mutation “is the biological mechanism that helps create that [blond] color naturally,” said David Kingsley, a professor of developmental biology at Stanford University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, who led the research. “This is a great biological example of how traits can be controlled, and what a superficial difference blond hair color really is.”

Kingsley, a brunet, said the study, published today in Nature Genetics, also offers a powerful insight into the workings of the human genome. The mutation doesn’t alter the protein production of any of the 20,000 genes in the human genome, he said. Instead, in people of European ancestry, it causes blond hair through a 20 percent “turn of the thermostat dial” that regulates a signaling gene in the hair follicles of the skin.

Elsewhere in the body, that signaling gene is involved in the formation of blood, egg, sperm, and stem cells. Turning such a gene entirely on or off could be devastating. But a tiny mutation that tweaks the gene’s activity in only one area—in this case the skin—allows for harmless changes, he said.

Pardis Sabeti, a computational biologist at Harvard University and Broad Institute who was not involved in the research, said the study is a “beautiful demonstration” of this kind of tweaking, which has previously been poorly understood. To find a single letter change and prove that it is a big driver of blond hair is a major scientific accomplishment, she said.

Photo of a young girl with blond hair.

Blond hair, like this young girl’s, is caused by a single DNA base pair change.

A Subtle Change With Big Results

To find the blond-hair gene mutation, Kingsley and his team looked at an area of the genome previously linked to blondness in people fromIceland and the Netherlands. They painstakingly identified the exact letter change that gives a person blond hair.

The researchers tested what that letter change did in human skin cells grown in a petri dish. The cells showed a reduction in activity in the switch that controls the signaling gene. Then Kingley’s group bred lines of mice that either had the mutation or didn’t have it. The single-letter change didn’t create blond mice, but those with the mutation had coats of a lighter color than those without.

Learning the mechanism behind something as common—and as universally recognizable—as hair color, can help explain how genes work in other contexts, such as illnesses, where the stakes are higher, Kingsley said. “Understanding these principles will help people … trying to find drugs for diseases.”

Hopi Hoekstra, a professor of genetics at Harvard who was not involved in the research, said the new finding confirms what researchers had long suspected: that small changes in gene expression caused by only a single DNA base pair change can lead to major changes in traits.

Hair color “is a great starting point to do this type of molecular dissection” because it’s simple to see whether the mutation results in a change in appearance, she said. “But it highlights how difficult this is going to be for more complex human traits, like mental illness, which we’ve never been very good at measuring.”

The blond hair mutation—or variant—is not genetically linked to any other traits, even eye color, Kingsley said, showing that none of our stereotypes about blonds are true. In contrast, many other human variants, such as some that cause red hair, are known to affect the protein structure of genes, and therefore trigger changes everywhere in the body the gene is expressed. Red hair, fair skin, and lighter eyes tend to travel as a package, he said, and may even be genetically paired with greater sensitivity to pain and temperature changes—though probably not fiery temper


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Science in the News: One-Way Voyage to Mars -Would you go?

One-Way Mars Trip: 1,058 PrivateMartian Colony Volunteers Pass 1st Cut

By Megan Gannon, News Editor   |   December 31, 2013 12:52pm ET

Mars One 2025 settlementMars One announced Monday (Dec. 30) that it has picked 1,058 aspiring spaceflyers to move on to the next round in its search for the first humans to live and die on the Red Planet.

The Netherlands-based nonprofit wants to start launching groups of four on one-way trips to Mars by 2023, with the long-term goal of creating the first permanent settlement on Mars. More than 200,000 people applied for a spot on Mars One’s list of future colonists by the time the initial application window closed on Aug. 31. The only requirement to apply was to be over age 18. Those who get to move on to the next, more rigorous selection phase were notified by email.

The group’s co-founder Bas Lansdorp said in a statement it was challenging to separate “those who we feel are physically and mentally adept to become human ambassadors on Mars from those who are obviously taking the mission much less seriously,” adding that some even appeared nude their application videos. [Images of Mars One’s Red Planet Colony Project

 Of those who made the first cut, 297 are from the United States. Canada is the second best represented country with 75 candidates, followed by India with 62 and Russia with 52. All told, Mars One is looking at applicants from 107 different countries, according to figures released by the group.

Nearly 77 percent of the people who made the first cut are employed, while about 15 percent are still in school. About 55 percent of the applicants are male and most are quite young: 357 are under 25 and 415 are under 35, while just 26 are over 56. The oldest person to make it to the next round is 81.

“The next several selection phases in 2014 and 2015 will include rigorous simulations, many in team settings, with focus on testing the physical and emotional capabilities of our remaining candidates,” Norbert Kraft, Mars One’s Chief Medical Officer, said in a statement.

Mars One officials have said in the past that they plan to broadcast a reality TV show to track the astronauts’ selection and training process (and raise funds for the missions). Lansdorp said Monday that the group is still in negotiations with media companies over the rights to televise Mars One’s activities.

“We fully anticipate our remaining candidates to become celebrities in their towns, cities, and in many cases, countries,” Lansdorp. “It’s about to get very interesting.”

Earlier this month, Mars One unveiled plans for the first private unmanned mission to the Red Planet. With expertise from Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, Mars One hopes to send a robotic lander and satellite to the Red Planet in 2018 as a precursor to their manned missions.

To help get the robotic mission off the ground, the group also launched their first crowd-funding campaign through the website Indiegogo, which you can learn about here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mars-one-first-private-mars-mission-in-2018

Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us@SPACEdotcomFacebook or Google+. Originally published on SPACE.com.

Would go on a one-way voyage to Mars? Why or Why not?