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Top Story

How turning down the heat makes a baby turtle male

Boy or girl? For those who want to influence their baby's sex, superstition and folk wisdom offer no shortage of advice whose effectiveness is questionable at best -- from what to eat to when to make love. But some animals have a technique backed by scientific proof: In turtles and other reptiles, whether an egg hatches male or female depends on the temperature of its nest. The phenomenon was first discovered in reptiles more than 50 years ago, but until now the molecular details were a mystery. In a study published May 11, researchers say they have finally identified a critical part of the biological "thermometer" that turns a developing turtle male or female. According to the research team, the explanation lies not in the DNA sequence itself -- the A's, T's, C's and G's -- but in a molecule that affects how genes are expressed without altering the underlying genetic code.

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