Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Genealogy Gives Birth to Incest Alert App

By Magdeline Lum

Icelanders can check if a potential mate is a relative, and bees lose electrons as they fly.

Imagine living on an island and one day you fall in love with a special person. However, there is a small disquiet in the back of your mind because you know that you are part of a small population and are related in some way to everyone else on the island.

The good news is that the population is large enough that not everyone knows one another. Everyone in a relationship on the island is in one with a relative but, for the most part, the relatives involved are distant so the statistics are on your side.

Love is a beautiful and rare thing. Would you take the plunge or would you not take the risk?

This is the situation in Iceland. An online registry, Íslendingabók (The Book of Icelanders), has information about 720,000 individuals who were born in Iceland. Currently the population is around 320,000. Everyone registered on the database has free access to it.

There are some perks to the genealogical information. Icelanders can see how closely related they are to Icelandic celebrities and politicians.

Getting back to the important matters of how closely related one is to a potential love interest, the answer is also on the database. However, accessing a database during a party or while out on the town is not the easiest of tasks so three engineers from Sad Engineer Studios have designed an app (currently only Android-based) that allows people to check how closely related two people are. All that needs to be done is to have the app downloaded on both phones and bumped. An incest alarm is activated if the potential love interests are too closely related.

The engineers’ slogan is: “Bump the app before you bump in bed”.

Bees Become Positive

The honeybee is an impossible insect. Its shape does not lend itself to flying and yet it flies through the air to collect nectar from flowers. Then, upon landing in the hive, the honeybee traces a path in a figure of eight with timed body waggles to let its hive mates know where the nearest flowers are.

What is not so well-known is that when bees fly through the air they collide with charged particles like dust and molecules. These collisions strip electrons away from the surface of their outer shell so that, by the end of its flight, the bee has a slightly positive charge.

Scientists from the Free University of Berlin have shown that the antennae of bees can detect the difference in electrical fields, which suggests that there is another method of communication within the hive. The outer shell of the bee is quite waxy and acts as an electrical insulator, and the charge is not easily dissipated.

Experiments conducted on bees in small chambers with conductive walls isolated from electrical fields showed that the antennae of bees can detect small electric charges brought nearby via a charged wand. The electrical deflections are transferred to sensory cells found at the base of the antennae.

The bee dance usually occurs in a dark area of the hive. The dance is a communication method between bees but there are many explanations as to how the message is passed on. Explanations include direct contact between bees, vibrations transmitted through the honeycomb, odours, and air currents generated by the buzzing of wings.

The Berlin team have also found that the antennae deflections from an electrically charged wing are ten times stronger than the deflections caused by airflow generated by vibrating wings. This is further evidence that the electrical fields are an important signal, allowing communication between bees without the need for touching.