What We’re Reading: Superbugs, Second Thumbs and Potato Genomes

BY Jenny Marder  July 13, 2011 at 11:54 AM EDT

Worries About a Gonorrhea ‘Superbug’

New York Times.jpgGonorrhea is becoming increasingly resistant to the only drugs used to treat it. Resistant strains of the common sexually transmitted disease have failed antibiotic treatment in two cases now — one in Japan, one in Norway — and scientists are dubbing it a possible “superbug.” Lab studies in the United States are also showing more signs of resistance. This is especially concerning given its history, laid out in this piece. Since the 1940s, the disease has become resistant to penicillin, tetracycline, and a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. Cephalosporin drugs may be the last line of defense. (Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times)

Closing the ‘Three Metre Gap’

BBC News.jpgScientists working in the Hell’s Creek formation in the Montana badlands have found a brow horn fossil from what they believe is a triceratops. The fossil discovery, the authors say, gives more credence to the hypothesis that dinosaurs were wiped out by a massive asteroid. This article explains the scientific dispute over what caused the dinosaurs’ extinction and this latest evidence. Is it enough to resolve the question? (Tom Feilden, BBC News)

The Mole Loses Its Mysterious Second Thumb

Science News.jpgHere’s an interesting story on the mole’s sixth digit, a solid piece of wrist bone on the outside of the hand that “can wiggle but not bend,” an evolutionary curiosity, reports Science News. This story looks at where it may have originated, other creatures with more than five fingers and what may have caused it. (Daniel Strain, Science NOW)

All Eyes on the Potato Genome

Nature News.jpgScientists have cracked the genome of the potato, which is vital for global food security and the world’s fourth most important food crop, according to this Nature News story. Potatoes are genetically complex — they have four sets of chromosomes, compared to the two sets that humans carry. For that reason, sequencing them required five years of work by a group comprised of 26 research institutions called the Potato Genome Sequencing Consortium. Also notable, the group identified more than 800 disease-resistance genes, which could play a role in fighting devastating diseases, such as the potato blight pathogen and the potato cyst nematode. (Chloe McIvor, Nature News)