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September 17, 2007
Volume 85, Number 38
p. 64

Genetic Tall Tales

Measuring up: Tallness gene adds 1 cm to stature.

Genetic research is reaching new heights-literally. After surveying 34,000 people, scientists have identified the first gene known to have a direct effect on how TALL people are (Nat. Genet., DOI: 10.1038/ng2121).

The gene, HMGA2, comes in two versions that vary by just one base pair. People who carry the two copies of the tall version of the gene—one from each parent—are on average 1 cm taller than people who inherit two copies of the shortness gene.

Okay, so it's not a big difference in height, but it is the first time researchers have been able to suss out one of the scads of genes that determine a person's height.

"Many genes contribute toward making us taller or shorter," says Timothy Frayling, a scientist at the Peninsula Medical School, in Exeter, England, who led the study. "Clearly, our results do not explain why one person will be 6 feet 5 inches and another only 4 feet 10 inches. This is just the first of many [genes] that will be found—possibly as many as several hundred."

New Nobel Prize

GÖsta Florman
Alfred Nobel: What's in a name? A lot when that name is Nobel.

When it comes to accolades, nothing piques the interest of the scientific community like the word "Nobel." So there was something of a buzz last month over a mysterious press release announcing the upcoming announcement of a new prize that would bear the NOBEL moniker.

The Nobel Charitable Trust and the organizers of nanoTX'07, a nanotechnology conference and exhibition taking place in early October, revealed that during the conference, Michael Nobel—the great-grand nephew of Alfred Nobel—will announce "the establishment of the first new award associated with the Nobel family name since the Nobel Prize in Economics was established in 1968."

This announcement came as a surprise to the Nobel Foundation, according to Jonna Petterson, public relations manager for the Stockholm-based organization that administers the coveted Nobel Prizes.

"The Nobel Prizes, as designated in 1895 in the will of Alfred Nobel, are awarded in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace," Petterson told C&EN. "Only once during these years has a prize been added—a memorial prize—the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, donated by the Bank of Sweden to celebrate its tercentenary in 1968.

"The Board of Directors later decided to keep the original five prizes intact and not to give permission to any additions," Petterson noted. "No new categories or prizes will be added."

Kicking it up a notch: How much caffeine is in your cola of choice?

As a clarification, the press release has since been amended to say that Michael Nobel will announce "the establishment of a new award that bears his name."

The announcement did not specify what the Dr. Michael Nobel Award would be for, only that it is "intended to raise global awareness and promote remedies to the most pressing challenge of the 21st century." The May Report, an Internet newsletter for the software and IT community, claims—without mentioning its sources—that the prize will be awarded for energy.

Counting Caffeine

To keep keen during late nights in the lab, chemists have been known to consume copious amounts of CAFFEINE. Those who eschew coffee and tea usually turn to carbonated beverages for a quick pick-me-up. Now, thanks to a study by Leonard Bell and Ken-Hong Chou of Auburn University, cola drinkers can find out just how much caffeine is in their fizzy fix.

Using high-performance liquid chromatography, Bell and Chou analyzed the caffeine content of more than 125 national and private-label store brand sodas (J. Food Sci. 2007, 72, C337). The caffeine contents in a 12-oz can of pop ranged from 4.9 mg for IGA Cola to 74.0 mg for the diet energy drink Vault Zero.

Perennial favorites Coca-Cola weighed in at 33.9 mg; Diet Coke, 46.3 mg; Pepsi, 38.9 mg; Dr. Pepper, 44.1 mg; and Mountain Dew, 54.8 mg.

This week's column was written by Bethany Halford. Please send comments and suggestions to