Inquiring Minds

November/December 2000

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GENES, SCHMENES: In his new book, Human Natures: Genes, Cultures and the Human Prospect (Shearwater Books/Island Press), biologist and Bing Professor of Population Studies Paul Ehrlich argues that cultural evolution has influenced human behavior much more than has genetic evolution. Ehrlich says he's concerned about the resurgence of genetic determinism--the belief that human dna contains instructions that govern behavior, including so-called "gay genes" or "criminal genes." To talk about genes being self-replicating, Ehrlich adds, is misleading: "Genes cannot be reproduced except by being embedded in a complex cellular mechanism--they're about as self-replicating as a printed page lying in a copying machine."

BEYOND 3-D GLASSES: Stanford's Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory has received a $6 million, five-year grant to help determine the three-dimensional structure of about 2,000 proteins encoded by human DNA. Now that scientists have nearly completed a map of the human genome, Stanford researchers are using a powerful technique called X-ray crystallography to obtain detailed, 3-D images of proteins at the molecular level.

COULD YOU REPEAT THAT? Thirty-five Stanford students, supervised by communication professor Clifford Nass, last summer tested how 1,000 computer-generated voices in computer applications affected responses by computer users. The students who looked at the new technology known as VUI--voice user interface--found that they could manipulate people's attitudes toward the content of commercial messages by changing the emotional tone, pitch and speed of a "virtual" voice.

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