Monthly Archives: October 2012

Too many sweets? Have some halloween science fun!

So it’s Halloween, and the trick and treater’s are out in force tonight. Sweets and chocolate seem to be the favourite ‘treat’ option, but when the kids trek home with a bucket full of candy, what to do with it all?!

Well, why not try out this quick and entertaining science experiment with your kids? It’s a great excuse to combine a bit of science fun with munching your way through all those sweets!

Take it in turns to try chewing a flavoured sweet while holding your nose – can you tell what flavour it is without looking at the wrapper? Let go of your nose and – voila! The flavour becomes apparent! Why not try it with different flavours to see if you can tell the difference?

This experiment neatly (and tastily!) demonstrates that smell and taste are very closely linked. Over 90% of what we think of as ‘taste’ is actually smell.

Want a healthy option to play this game? You can also try it with different fruit, although the distinctive textures can be a give away (a tip: telling the difference between apple and potato can be tricky!). We’d love to hear what other food you found this works with too!

Did you know? Our Personal DNA Portrait will reveal whether you have the gene for ‘bitter-tasting’ and as a result can taste the bitter compounds found in many green vegetables – a genetic reason for avoiding the Brussels Sprouts this Christmas. Yes, really!

Find out more about our unique DNA Art here:

Happy Hallowe’en everyone!

– Dr Sam

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PlayDNA gets a WOW for its DNA Art!

We are greatly honoured to have been chosen by the extremely glamourous and high-flying businesswoman Jacqueline Gold as one of her favourite three businesses of the week on Twitter!

Jacqueline is the Chief Executive of Ann Summers and Knickerbox and runs her Twitter #WOW competition weekly, hand-selecting the most exciting female-led businesses around. Renowned for being one of the most powerful woman in retail, we are thrilled she has recognised the potential in PlayDNA!

Jacqueline loved our concept of mixing art and science to create unique prints based on your own DNA that can be meaningfully interpreted to tell you what secrets lie in your genes. Plus, unlike some other DNA art companies our DNA Portraits are not computer-generated, they are actually digital photographs of your DNA! Find out more at

Interested? You can follow us on Twitter @PlayDNA

Jacqueline Gold announces our #WOW win for DNA Art!

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Proud to be a Neanderthal?

Did you catch the first part of the BBC2 documentary Prehistoric Autopsy last night with Professor Alice Roberts and Dr George McGavin?

It was fascinating stuff as the experts took us through the process of how they examine ancient and often incomplete skeletal remains to determine what their owners once looked like and how they might have lived. We were also treated to the unveiling of a fleshed-out model of a Neanderthal, who looked uncannily like a scruffy Chuck Norris!

Chuck or Neanderthal man?

Anatomy ace Alice is currently the Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, which is coincidentally the same institute where I completed my PhD studies and have also lectured on evolutionary genetics. While doing some research on the origins of modern humans I came across the following Neanderthal facts I thought I would share with you:

  • They were short

You would probably have towered over a Neanderthal, who were generally much shorter than modern humans, and more thick set and stocky.

  • They were redheads

Genetic research on DNA extracted from the remains of two Neanderthals has shown they carried a particular version of a gene called MC1R that leads to red hair. This is not a version that is seen in modern humans though, so no reason to believe redheads are any more Neanderthal than the rest of us!

  • They could talk like us

Genetic research has also confirmed that Neanderthals shared a gene called FOXP2 with us, a gene associated with speech and language in modern humans. Humans differ from chimpanzees at two key points in the FOXP2 gene but Neanderthals shared these same variations. “There is no reason to believe they couldn’t speak like us,” said Prof Svante Pääbo, the man behind the research.

  • We probably bred with them

Researchers have compared the DNA of modern humans with that of the Neanderthals. The results show that people of European and Asian origin have more DNA in common with Neanderthals than people from Africa do. The most likely explanation for this is that mating occurred between Neanderthals and the ancestors of present-day Eurasians. This must have taken place just as people were leaving Africa, while they were still part of one pioneering population, most likely in North Africa, the Levant or the Arabian Peninsula.

  • They so nearly made it

The Neanderthals finally died out around 28,000 years ago, just a blink of an eye in geological time. The most recent population we are aware of were found around caves near Gibraltar, perhaps driven south by the harsh glacial weather.

Thanks to popular culture, the typical view of a Neanderthal is that of the dim-witted knuckle-dragging brute. Yet Neanderthals were no doubt ‘another kind of human’ with a culture not so different to our own. They made advanced tools, prepared and wore clothing, and there is evidence to suggest they were among the first humans to bury their dead. So why did the Neanderthals die out, while we went on to conquer the earth? This is a question that may never be answered, but is likely due to a whole host of factors including climate change and increased competition from modern humans. Maybe it was just pure luck that we survived and they didn’t.

We can’t wait for episode two tonight, when the experts will be reconstructing one of the earliest humans, Homo erectus!

-Dr Sam

If you missed it, you can catch up on BBC iPlayer here:

Want to know more about Neanderthals? I’d recommend a great book by Clive Finlayson, poignantly called ‘The Humans Who Went Extinct’:


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PlayDNA at Fallowfields

Fallowfields Country House Hotel

Fallowfields Country House Hotel

The green and romantic setting of Fallowfields Country House Hotel in rural Oxfordshire made for a perfect location to capture a selection of our striking PlayDNA Portraits in situ.

DNA Art Portrait PlayDNA

The award-winning Fallowfields Restaurant

This charming independent hotel, which has won the award for “Best Small Hotel in South East England” not once, but THREE times, also holds a coveted two AA Rosette award for culinary excellence. So where best to start but their award winning restaurant!

Duo DNA Portrait in the Rose Garden

Exploring the peaceful grounds, full of bright and colourful rose bushes, we were reminded what a wonderful wedding gift a PlayDNA Portrait can be, offering newly-weds an entertaining peek into each others genetic make-up. Who has the greater sporting endurance or the better memory? Are you both night owls? Do you both carry a hidden blue eye gene? A much more exciting gift than an expensive tea set we reckon!

Thank you to James, Anthony and Peta for kindly hosting us at Fallowfields – always friendly, always smiling and sure to give you a warm welcome!

-Dr Sam

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