Morsels For The Mind – 09/05/2014
Every day we provide you with Six Incredible Things Before Breakfast to nibble away at. Here you can fill your brain with the most intellectually stimulating “amuse bouches” from the past week – a veritable smorgasbord for the cranium. They’re all here for you to load up your plate – this week’s “Morsels for the mind”. Enjoy!
If you do nothing else, make sure to check out the “Reads / views / listens of the week”.
Feather, fur & fin – birds, beasts, fishes, and the things they do
The penis monologues? “People forgot..the story of duck penises is really the story of duck vaginas.” Quote by Ed Yong from an outstanding piece on biases in animal research. Read of the week.
Bad relations. How “civil war” erupted within a family of chimpanzees. Fascinating analysis of Jane Goodall's original data reveals family conflict. Perfectly explained by Colin Barras.
“Perhaps exploding whales force us to confront something profound about ourselves.” Superb consideration of our approach to a whale's death and how it relates to the history of the internet, by Andrew David Thaler. Read of the week.
No fluke. Careful analysis of African dolphin population reveals species in peril, as John Platt explains.
Get ready to rumble. Christy Ullrich Barcus provides some great audio of elephants’ distinct vocalisations. Listen of the week.
Sealing their fate? Nadia Drake finds that multiple factors make for sea lion pup strandings, but sardine stocks key.
Cat got your tongue? For some reason, lynx ended evolved a pathetic mew. Robert Krulwich listens in.
Seeing eye to eye. Humans, dogs, & squid stare across an evolutionary divide. I wrote this.
Smart in vestment. Matt Shipman looks at new canine vest technology that enhances work of disaster response dogs.
Bone to pick. Chipmunk hybrids more common than penis bones suggest, as Sarah Hird explains.
Sound the alarm! That’s what crafty bird does to thieve food. Excellent read, by Christopher Templeton.
No direction home? Jessica Morrison finds that human-made electromagnetic fields disrupt bird compass.
Bearing it in mind. Our electromagnetic noise causes birds to lose bearings, as Ed Yong explains.
Sunnier future? Solar energy powers tracking transmitters for endangered petrels. John Platt on how technology is helping conservation.
Feeling no pain? Migratory bird survival linked to stress insensitivity, explains Laura Nielsen for Frontier Scientists.
Material assistance. Henry Nicholls looks at how pesticide-infused cotton helps Darwin’s finches fight deadly maggot.
A nested development. Jessica Morrison explains that Darwin’s finches can clear nests of pests with insecticide-treated cotton balls.
“I know many people think that they are ugly; that just makes me love them more.” Quote from a great piece by David Shiffman on a recently caught goblin shark. Super stuff.
Fishy finds. Remarkable (& surprising) sculpin species netted through DNA tests, explains Matthew Frank.
Thievery incorporation. Sea slugs steal anemone defence & make it their weapon. Fascinating biology, beautifully explained by Sara Mynott.
Anemone mine? An anemone species, isn’t. It's a novel creature.
A big deal. Is sexual selection making Godzilla bigger? And increasing urine output? Craig McClain has the answers.
Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight – the arthropods
Beautiful bilateralism. Gorgeous gynandromorphs.
“Field studies &..reports from experts are piling up. They don’t paint a pretty picture.” Pollinator decline. Dire. Quote by Brandon Keim from an excellent, if grim, look at the status of pollinating insects.
Spidey sense is tingling? Agata Blaszczak-Boxe on the weird things that can occur after spider bites (which are rare).
Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like
A small advantage. George Dvorsky on dinosaurs that avoided the whole extinction thing by getting tinier.
Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants
These roots weren't made for walkin'. But they were made to sense & react to salty soil. I wrote this.
Taking a bite out of the cold. Leaves with teeth contend better with cooler climes, explains Mary Wilson.
Wildest dreams. Efforts to conserve wild ancestors of fruit & nut trees. Excellent feature, by Josie Glausiusz.
No respect. Of neeps & tatties, this is the one that gets maligned. And it's undeserved, explains Rebecca Rupp.
Phenomenal flora. Fantastic flowers, photographed by Lucie van Dongen.
Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses
Hot stuff. Tommy Leung looks at the microbe that parasitises worms at hydrothermal vents.
The lone danger. When microbes go it alone, antibiotic resistance more likely to emerge, as Jason Anthony Tetro explains.
Only the lonely. Mutate this fast. (If they’re microbes.) Elizabeth Preston looks at the evidence.
Easy to resist? Soil microbes readily evolve antibiotic resistance. Excellent look at the evidence, by Carl Zimmer.
Resistance is futile? Not for microbes. They’re beating our antibiotics. And it’s dire, as Maryn McKenna makes clear.
Home alone? Nope, potentially harmful microbes live with us. But that’s normal. Excellent look at our household companions, by Maggie Koerth-Baker.
Grounding flu’s flight. Penguins have novel avian flu, explains Richard Harris.
Molecular machinery – the toils of the macromolecules of life – nucleic acids and proteins (and others) – from molecules to cells to organs to organisms (including genetics, genomics & epigenetics)
Letter perfect? Microbe engineered to use DNA code with 2 novel letters. Ewen Callaway has a great explanation of the feat of the week. Read of the week.
It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it. Ian Sample describes a microbe engineered to survive using DNA with novel chemistry.
You are what you eat? Diet correlated with genome’s retrovirus composition. Fascinating discovery, explained by Sedeer el-Showk.
United we stand. Y chromosome study actually underscores similarity of sexes. Excellent consideration of the way the science was originally presented, by Sarah Richardson.
A matter of size. Flies provide insights into mechanisms controlling growth. Viviane Callier looks at the evidence.
Forces of nature – big-ticket items – ecology, evolution & extinction
The ghost of Tom Joad. Steinbeck’s ecological legacy. Love this piece, by Bil Gilbert. Read of the week.
You might think you have nothing in common with a squid. You do. And it’s amazing. I wrote this.
“We are not alone in our cities, & that can be a wonderful thing.” On urban biodiversity. Superb piece, by Seth Magle. Read of the week.
Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate
Hot stuff. Gorgeous geysers, beautifully photographed by Owen Perry.
Star attractions – the final frontier, space
Stellar performance? Cloud headed for black hole may be holding hidden star. Intriguing possibility, considered by Seth Fletcher.
Mature for their age. Young galaxies with “mature” rotation.
The killing moon? Akshat Rathi reveals that exomoons could hinder our capacity to detect life on exoplanets.
Here comes the sun. Like a great big orange.
A flare for the dramatic. Our sun.
Lucid in the sky with diamonds? Maggie McKee finds that on Saturn, glittery carbon rain may fall.
Getting physical – physical sciences – cosmology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computing, engineering, and technology
Not so black & white. Just because “white holes” could exist doesn’t mean they do. Superb look at what physics does and doesn't say about reality, by Matthew Francis. Read of the week.
Attractive picture. Magnetic snapshot of our galaxy.
Celestial power? Katia Moskvitch finds that northern lights could provide insights into nuclear fusion energy.
Packing a punch. How the mantis shrimp’s wallop is inspiring new materials. Cool biomimicry materials science, nicely explained by Meeri Kim.
Suspending disbelief. How must Spiderman’s web be structured to suspend what it does? Matt Shipman looks at the material science side of our favourite web slinger.
How it all plays out. Challenges of developing a game to understand species invasions. Interesting interview, by Matt Shipman.
A dose of medicine – science in practice in a medical setting, and health-related stories
Rebirth of the cool. Advances based on hibernation could help us beat maladies. Excellent feature, by Frank Swain. Read of the week.
A womb with a view? Matt Simon looks into the spectacular wrongness of classical perspectives of the womb.
Can’t beat beet? Alex Hutchinson explains how beet juice (or other veg) boosts muscle contraction.
“It is a cute concept. And an important one. It just happens to be wrong.” Read this piece by Jonathan Eisen. That is all.
Mind over matter? Could behavioural training short circuit inflammation? Fascinating possibility, nicely covered by Heidi Ledford.
Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it – neuroscience, mental health, psychology, sociology & human interest stories
Getting inside our heads. The challenges of brain scanning - not yet reading minds. Melissa Hogenboom on the state-of-the-art.
Running on empty? Running helps mice clear memories. Because neurogenesis. Amazing research, brilliantly described by Ruth Williams.
Drawing on experience? Erika Engelhaupt finds that we tend to locate features incorrectly when we draw faces.
Exercise your thoughts. Virginia Hughes explains that even a mild physical workout seems to boost brain activity.
Game changer? Need new mindset when considering impact of video games on violence. Pete Etchells & Chris Chambers make a strong, and compelling case.
Keep it to yourself? How academics deal with mental health problems. As Kim Thomas reveals, this is not good.
You are what you reap? Debora MacKenzie finds that there are differences in cognition between rice growers & wheat growers. Great coverage of some beautifully conducted research.
Facing facts. Seeing faces where there are none? The moon, toast, etc? It’s just face pareidolia.
Sight unseen? Why your brain makes it impossible to unsee some things. Superb look at how the mind is boggled, by Alexis Madrigal. View of the week.
The hole story. Sam Kean's amazing look at Phineas Gage, whose brain was pierced by a tamping rod. Wonderful read. Read of the week.
“He is an n of one, an anecdote in the context of science, our beloved, happy, hilarious, precious anecdote.” Quote by Emily Willingham, from a beautiful piece on her autistic son, & where science must go for him. Read of the week.
Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education
“Small in stature, but a giant when it came to courage & the big issues.” Remembering Farley Mowat who passed away this week, at 92. Farley Mowat shaped so much of my early life. Safe to say that his writing nurtured my passion for nature. Sad he’s gone.
“Inspirational & never-failing in his drive to promote planetary sciences.” Colin Pillinger gone. Stuart Clark provides a perfect tribute.
“Peer-reviewed scientific literature provides a veritable buffet of bad science.” Quote by Aled Edwards from a no-holds-barred critique of the science literature & its communication. Make sure to read Jim Woodgett’s thoughtful comment on Al Edwards’s critique. Excellent points.
This piece, which criticises criticism of open access, is nearly perfect. It just need to delete words “junior” & “senior”.
Bust the move. Some gifs shouldn’t be used to communicate science. Thought provoking critique, by Andrew Bissette.
The next three morsels are beautiful counterpoints. All are thought provoking, and should be read together in this order. Reads of the week.
Intelligent designs? Today’s scientific instruments lack the style of those of past. Philip Ball asks whether this is a good thing. Read of the week.
Instrumental behaviour. Modern scientific instruments still have the right “feel” to them, says Stephen Curry. A wonderful reply to Philip Ball. Read of the week.
Instrumental behaviour. Could modern scientific instruments have a more inspiring aesthetic? A superb reply to Stephen Curry, by Philip Ball. Read of the week.