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There Are Genetic Differences Between Early Risers and Night Owls

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Whether or not you’re a morning person may be encoded in your DNA. A team of geneticists from the University of Leicester has identified almost 80 genes in flies that seem to be associated with different circadian rhythms, as they explain in a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology.

Fruit flies are often used as model organisms in genetic research because a large portion of their genetic material can also be found in humans. Flies emerge from their pupal case at different times based on their internal clock, with some types of fruit flies making the transition to adulthood at dawn (so-called "larks"), and others late at night ("owls"). Looking at the gene expression of these early risers and night owls, the geneticists were able to pinpoint significant differences in the genetic systems of the two groups, as you can see in this diagram: 

Gene expression levels during the day in fruit flies. Purple represents expression levels above the mean, green below the mean. Image Credit: University of Leicester

Most of the gene expressions that differed between the two groups of flies did not have anything to do with the clock genes that have previously been linked to circadian rhythms. Study author Eran Tauber explains the phenomenon as a kind of pinball machine. 

“Once a gene expression is delayed (in Larks), a completely different cascade of molecular events is carried, similar to the ball in a pinball machine that takes a different route in each run,” he says in a press statement. “The end point might be similar, but the different molecular routes result in a different journey time."

Identifying which genes are involved in the process of regulating the body’s internal clock could one day lead to better treatment for dysfunctional circadian systems, which not only cause sleep issues but have also been implicated in obesity, cancer, and psychiatric disorders

[h/t: Eurekalert]

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Watch a School of Humpback Whales 'Fish' Using Nets Made of Bubbles 

Just like humans, humpback whales catch many fish at once by using nets—but instead of being woven from fibers, their nets are made of bubbles.

Unique to humpbacks, the behavior known as bubble-net feeding was recently captured in a dramatic drone video that was created by GoPro and spotted by Smithsonian. The footage features a school of whales swimming off Maskelyne Island in British Columbia, Canada, in pursuit of food. The whales dive down, and a large circle of bubbles forms on the water's surface. Then, the marine mammals burst into the air, like circus animals jumping through a ring, and appear to swallow their meal.

The video offers a phenomenal aerial view of the feeding whales, but it only captures part of the underwater ritual. It begins with the group's leader, who locates schools of fish and krill and homes in on them. Then, it spirals to the water's surface while expelling air from its blowhole. This action creates the bubble ring, which works like a net to contain the prey.

Another whale emits a loud "trumpeting feeding call," which may stun and frighten the fish into forming tighter schools. Then, the rest of the whales herd the fish upwards and burst forth from the water, their mouths open wide to receive the fruits of their labor.

Watch the intricate—and beautiful—feeding process below:

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