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TRIVIA ARCHIVE: 2012 - 2013 - 2014


What is the only remaining wonder of the ancient world that is still standing?

The Great Pyramid at Giza

Unlike the list of natural wonders, the seven wonders of the ancient world are man-made structures that serve as a testament to the ingenuity, imagination, and hard work of which human beings are capable. At its inception, the sites were not “wonders” but “theamata” or “things to be seen”. The collection was more like a Greek travel guide’s idea of places not to be missed. The definitive set of wonders is believed to have been finalized during the Middle Ages.

Of the seven, just one remains to this day: the Great Pyramid at Giza. The last wonder of the ancient world in existence was also the first one built. The pyramid was built as a tomb for Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu around 2560 B.C. It took 20 years to construct. When finished, it stood 480 feet high and remained the tallest building in the world for the next four thousand years.

The Great Pyramid at Giza and the others standing with it have stood for four and a half thousand years and counting.

What wonder of the ancient world stood the least amount of time?

The Colossus at Rhodes

The Colossus at Rhodes was an enormous looming 100-foot bronze statue that was built on the island of Rhodes around 280 B.C. It depicts the island’s patron god, Greek sun god Helios.

No drawings of the statue survive but it has been described as an upright figure with face mostly likely modeled after Alexander the Great, holding a torch not unlike the Statue of Liberty.

It was long believed that the statue straddled the harbor entrance with ships passing in and out between its legs. Modern archeologists say this would have not been possible with the bronze casting techniques available at the time.

The statue was destroyed in 226 B.C., after a mere 54 years.

How was the Colossus of Rhodes destroyed?

An earthquake

The Colossus was built between 292 and 280 B.C. and was placed at the entrance to the harbor of the Greek Island of Rhodes. The statue stood 98 feet tall and was erected to honor their patron god, Helios.

Rhodes experienced an earthquake in 224 B.C. that broke the Colossus at the knees and toppled the top portion to the ground. People believed Helios was angered by the statue and did not rebuild it.

Even broken, the pieces were impressive. For the next 900 years, the ruins lay on the ground attracting visitors from all over the world. Few people could wrap their arms around the fallen thumb and each of its fingers was larger than most statues.

In 654 A.D., Arabs conquered Rhodes, transported the remains to Syria, and most likely melted them down and sold them for scrap metal.

What wonder of the ancient world may never have existed at all?

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The Hanging Gardens were said to have been built ~600 B.C. in the Babylon province of Iraq, south of Bagdad. There is no existing Babylonian text that mentions the gardens and no definitive archeological evidence has been found for them.

According to the legend, King Nebuchadnezzar built the gardens for his wife because she missed the green hills and valleys of her homeland. He built a man-made mountain with lush vegetation and cascading waterfalls. Plants high above the ground on multi-stone terraces gave the appearance of hanging. Stone pillars supported high walkways.

The Hanging Gardens would certainly have been a marvel of engineering and construction, but did they exist?

A researcher at Oxford University says yes! Dr. Stephanie Dalley believes that we had the location wrong. The Hanging Gardens may never have been in Babylon but instead 300 miles to the north outside the city of Nineveh. Ancient texts describe the life of the great Assyrian ruler, Sennacherib, with detailed descriptions of his palace and his garden with trees hanging in air.

The location proposed by Dr. Dalley as the correct site of the Hanging Gardens is near Mosul in Iraq. Because it is at this time the site of continuing violence, it is unsafe for archeological work. The destruction during the current wars and the pillaging over the years may erase any trace of an ancient hanging garden.

What ancient wonder was built in honor of the Olympic games?

The Statue of Zeus

A massive gold statue honoring the king of all Greek gods, Zeus, was built around 432 BC in Olympia, the site of the first Olympic games. The figure sat on a jewel-encrusted throne inside a temple overlooking the city.

In 391 AD, the Olympics were banned as a pagan practice and the temple was closed after Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire.

The statue was eventually destroyed but historians debate whether it perished with the temple or was moved to Constantinople and burned in a fire.

The complete list of ancient wonders is: The Great Pyramid at Giza, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Colossus of Rhodes, Lighthouse at Alexandra, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and the Hanging Gardens at Babylon

What is an organism’s complete set of DNA called?


A genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA including all its genes. Each genome contains all the information needed to build and maintain that organism.

In humans, a copy of the entire genome is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.

The typical human body has an estimated 25,000 genes and has an enormous amount of DNA that does not code for RNA or protein. Managing so much DNA requires that the genome be elaborately organized and compact.

DNA wraps around proteins called histones, and together they make chromatin.

Why doesn’t chromatin fall apart?

Electrostatic interactions

The attraction between the negatively-charged DNA and the positively-charged histones binds them tightly together.

Every cell in a human body has the exact same DNA and yet they make different organs. The protein coding part of the genome, called genes, do not make proteins all the time in all of the cells. Sections of DNA are marked, signaling which genes to ignore and which to use.

Chromatin can open and close. If a region is open, that area is turned “on” and protein can be made. If a region is closed, that area is being prevented from being turned on.

What do we call the collection of chemical compounds that modify, or mark, the genome that tells it what to do, where to do it, and when to do it?

The epigenome

Our genome is something we are born with and cannot modify. Our epigenome contains "instructions" on how to use the genome. “Epi” comes from the Greek word “above”.

These are small chemical modifications on histones or DNA that give instructions on how to "read" and "use" our genes. Like traffic lights.

A gene that is turned "on" is producing protein so we call it an “active gene". One that is turned "off" is not producing protein and is called a "silent gene".

Some genes are always active (housekeeping genes), some genes are active only at certain times in the development of an organism (developmental genes), some genes are active only in certain tissues like the heart or eye (tissue-specific genes), while some genes are being turned on and off many times.

The pattern of activity of certain genes (the epigenome) is inherited from your parents (just like the genome), but it is also very susceptible to influences from the environment.

Who proposed the Law of Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics?

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Throughout the years, the French naturalist Lamarck has gone in and out of favor. Lamarck understood that all species are descended from a common ancestor and he was the first person to propose a cohesive evolutionary theory of how a species mutated over time, a theory that paralleled Charles Darwin’s.

He believed that an organism could pass on characteristics that it acquired during its lifetime to its offspring.
During Lamarck’s life (1744-1829), his ideas were not respected. He died in obscurity and poverty.

In the mid-19th century, his Law of Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics was rediscovered but fell out of favor in the early 20th century when Mendel’s work with genes was finally understood.

Interest in Lamarck’s ideas has resurfaced as studies in the epigenetic field have highlighted the possible inheritance of behavioral traits acquired by the previous generation.

What is that part of the cell cycle when the nucleus divides?


The continuity of life is based on cell division. After an organism is completely grown, cell division continues to function in renewal and repair.

In preparation for cell division, DNA duplicates itself. After duplication, the chromatin fibers coil, fold, and are packed into chromosomes. Each chromosome has two sister chromatids.

During mitosis, the cytoskeleton disappears and the nuclear envelope breaks down. Chromosomes move to the equator and line up. Proteins holding the chromosomes together break down and each chromosome is pulled to opposite ends of the cell.

The chromosomes disassemble and the nuclear envelope reforms. The division of the cytoplasm usually follows immediately after mitosis, and cell division is complete.

In its condensed form, a chromosome has a narrow “waist” where the sister chromatids are closely attached.  What is this area called?


The centromere is a constricted area to which specialized molecules called spindle fibers attach and help pull daughter cells apart during cell division.

Investigators have known for many years that cell division is controlled by epigenetic processes rather than encoded in the DNA itself. Epigenetics mark the place where spindle fibers attach to the chromosome independent of the underlying DNA sequence. Researchers have suspected the crucial epigenetic marker protein is the CENP-A molecule, which defines part of the centromere.

Ben Black and his lab have described the structure of CENP-A. The Black lab gave the first high-resolution view of the CENP-A molecule and described the structural features that confer the CENP-A the ability to mark centromere location.

The understanding of CENP-A and the epigenetics associated with cell division help advance the science of human inheritance.

How many chromosomes are in a single cell in the human body?


Each somatic cell in the human body has 22 pairs of chromosomes plus a pair of so-called sex chromosomes: two Xs for a female and an X and a Y for a male.

When chromosomes condense, they are visible under a light microscope. They are easily distinguished from one another because they differ in size, centromere location, and patterns produced when stained.

What is the name given to the mutation of chromosome 22 when it has swapped parts with chromosome 9?

Philadelphia chromosome

The relationship between chromosome alterations and cancer had been debated for many years until 1960. That year, the first direct link between chromosomal abnormalities to any malignancy came with the discovery of the Philadelphia chromosome.

Pieces of chromosome 9 were shown to have transferred to chromosome 22 and vice versa. 9 becomes exceptionally long and 22 is truncated. 

Peter Nowell in the School of Medicine here at Penn, along with his collaborator David Hungerford at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, established that certain forms of leukemia had cells with an abnormally small chromosome. This mutation of chromosome 22 was named after the city in which both researchers worked.

This discovery of the Philadelphia chromosome established that cancers can indeed be caused by genetic mutation.

Discoveries may be named after the cities in which they are identified. So can disease outbreaks. How did the Ebola virus disease get its name?

From the Ebola River

The first appearance of Ebola virus disease in humans occurred in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in Africa. One happened in southern Sudan and the other in northern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).

The outbreak in Zaire occurred in a village called Yambuku. When doctors and scientists realized this virus was unlike any they had seen before, it needed a name. They ruled out the name Yambuku so as not to stigmatize the village. They chose instead a landmark close by, the Ebola River.

Ebola is one of the deadliest viruses known to medical science with no specific cure and mortality rates of up to 90%.

The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads through human-to-human transmission.

The Ebola virus lives in:

  1. a) air
  2. b) bodily fluids
  3. c) water
  4. d) all of the above

b) bodily fluids

Ebola is a virus and a virus needs a host. Viruses are ribonucleic acid wrapped in a protein shell. They find a host cell, inject their genes into it, and hijack its replication machinery to produce more viruses. The Ebola virus is filament-like in structure, with large surface area giving the potential to  attack a number of cells.

Ebola cannot survive for long in air or water. Bodily fluids, on the other hand, make perfect hosts for viruses.

To catch Ebola, one would need to have direct physical contact with an infected person or animal, their body fluids, or with something they have touched.

It has been said that Ebola is highly infectious but not very contagious.

This week's answer:

What type of animal is thought to be responsible for infecting humans in Africa?

The bat

It is thought that the fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are the natural Ebola virus host, but the recent epidemic may have originated from an insectivorous bat. The clearcutting of forests in Africa have forced bats and other wildlife from their habitat and closer to people. The first outbreaks occurred in remote villages near tropical rainforests. Bats, particularly fruit bats, are often hunted and eaten.

Ebola is introduced to the human population through close contact with blood, secretions, organs, or other bodily fluids of infected animals.

It is believed that the current outbreak started when a child, not yet two years old, came in contact with an infected insectiverous bat. He then passed it on to his family. Eventually it spread throughout the village and then the region.

Monkeys and apes are also known to harbor the Ebola virus.

Next week's question:

True or False: Once the host is dead, the virus is dead too.


Past questions and answers are in the trivia archives: 2012 / 2013 / 2014

Questions? Comments? Corrections? Contact Mary Leonard,

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