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Yum, Tastes Like Base Pairs

The judges of the Google International Online Science Fair that kicked off in January — which sought entries from students aged 13 to 18 — have recently identified 60 semi-finalists and are now asking the public to choose one of them to win the People's Choice Award, says GrrlScientist at the Guardian's Punctuated Equilibrium. One such semi-finalist, the UK's Georgia Bondy, presented a project at the fair that she called "I can taste your DNA," in which she sought to determine whether humans can assess their genetic compatibility with a potential mate via taste, GrrlScientist says. The biological basis for this question is the major histocompatibility complex genes, a large family found in most vertebrates that encodes proteins for the immune system, though it also includes a large subsection of genes that have nothing to do with immunology. "There is evidence from mice and a number of fish species that the ability to assess a potential mate's MHC by odor and taste plays a role in mate choice," GrrlScientist says. "The 'compatible genes hypothesis' proposes that animals select mates whose MHC is dissimilar to their own to avoid inbreeding and to increase the genetic diversity of their offspring. There is some evidence to suggest this may also be the situation in humans," she adds. In Bondy's small-scale study, she found that taste may be useful when a male is either strongly attracted to or repulsed by a female, GrrlScientist adds. The winner of the People's Choice vote will receive a $10,000 scholarship.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.