Morsels For The Mind – 17/01/2014
Every day we provide you with #SixIncredibleThingsBeforeBreakfast 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
“Everyone is lesser than or greater than the capybara.” Sandra Beasley has written a simply spectacular, delightful must read poem that uses capybaras as a unit of measure. Read of the week.
“It’s quite the feat to fuel a body the size of a school bus — on kelp no less.” Quote by Matt Simon from a wonderful piece on the Stellers sea cow. Love everything about this post. Read of the week.
Stroke of genius. When dog paddling in water, dogs step up their standard trot. Susan Milius looks into it.
Peed off. Medieval monk leaves lasting curse on cat that whizzed on his manuscript. Lauren Davis shares the text.
Not so black & white. The red panda is the original panda, and it's amazing. Jason Goldman will convince you.
The scale of change. Wolverines take up coastal residence, start eating fish.
Deer me! There's a greater risk of death by deer than by cougars or wolves. Astonishing fact, shared by John Laundré.
Super swift sengis. What’s a sengi, you ask? Well, check out these little speed demons. Ella Davies shares a curious critter.
The mane event. Top predators, like lions, are linchpins in ecosystems. We need them, as Veronique Greenwood reports.
A better shot at survival? Might vaccination of great apes against *human* diseases aid conservation? John Platt explores these questions.
The high life? Living at the top of the forest canopy holds big risks for baby macaws. Nadia Drake on some fascinating birds.
From billions to nothing. End of the passenger pigeon - testimony to human’s destructive power. Henry Nicholls shares a poignant story.
Oh nothing, just a fish catching a bird in flight & eating it. Ella Davies on some incredible natural history.
No swallowing problem. Fish catches swallows on the fly, eats ‘em.
Eyes on the prise. When crabs grapple with limpets they ensure there is no escape claws. Sara Mynott not only wrote but also illustrated this cool post.
Nothing to sniff at. Sponges also sneeze. Karl Gruber on some surprising biology.
All a board! Craig McClain’s branch of research is wood falls. He’s rooted around for the best puns & pics to show it.
Thinking that’s dead in the water. No, sea floors are not littered with dead animals due to radiation. Craig McClain does some super debunking.
Raise a glass. That’s the amount of water needed to conduct a fish census. Douglas Main looks into it.
Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight
Smells like queen spirit. Ed Yong describes how ant, wasp, & bee queens use similar chemicals to sterilise workers.
This’ll grab ya. Electromagnetism in spider’s web.
Would bees? Tracking the bee “internet” using tiny wearable sensors. Important work, nicely explained by Todd Woody.
Stop or go? Weevils attracted to red in one location, green in another. Sometimes biology is just so amazing, as Bethany Brookshire proves.
Catching a buzz. Tracking hive decline using bees fitted with tiny sensors. Oliver Milman on some important research.
Chilled out? Might incredibly frigid temperatures put a halt to tree-destroying insects? Lisa Foderaro looks at the evidence.
Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like
Old hippies. Ancient fish’s pelvis provides clues in evolution of hips. Ian Sample describes how.
Hard evidence? Are fossils needed to confirm genetics-based time-of-origin for mammals? Ewen Callaway takes a look at the argument.
Palaeo diet? Fix yourself a meal of bulbs, fruit, insects & worms. Jia You explains why this would be the case.
Just one of the guys? “Stonehenge Man” looks, well, like he could be hanging out anywhere right now. Sandrine Ceurstemont provides a pic with the story that makes the case.
Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants
This rocks. Plants disguised as stones avoid herbivores.
Human beans. How our species has used & is shaping the coffee bush. Sarah Shailes on many people's favourite cuppa.
“The anti-GMO movement is an anti-empirical movement.” On Nathanael Johnson & GMO stakes. Thought provoking piece by Michael Eisen.
Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses
Share & share alike. Ocean microbes pass packets of nutrients around. Brian Doctrow plumbs the depths of this story.
What lies beneath. Symbiotic fungi inhabiting plant roots are big carbon sinks.
Caught in the act. Wendy Gibson describes her discovery of troublesome trypanosome sex.
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)
Interesting sequence of events. Mick Watson looks into Illumina's new $1000 human-genome-sequencing technology.
“Even after he was bitten, Budden seemed more concerned for the snake’s safety than his own.” Quote by Ed Yong from an awesome story about collection of snake venom & its remarkable shelf life. Read of the week.
Everything old is new again? Decades-old venom still active, pointing to new drug source. Christie Wilcox on the shelf-life of deadly venom, and the value it holds. Read of the week.
“Anything that looks cute: panda, polar bear, penguin, you should really sequence it.” Quote by Wang Jun, BGI Director, on cloning & genomics of non-human animals, from an interview with David Shukman. Yow.
Nicked Taq dough. Taq polymerase garnered loads of money, but its source, Yellowstone Park, saw none. Eva Amsen on some intriguing history.
Getting the job done. How catalysts, particularly enzymes, encourage reactions, nicely explained by S.E. Gould.
Hit me with your best shot. Maryn McKenna shows that a single immunisation for all flus may be within sight.
Fit bits. How various kinds of exercise can improve your fitness. Excellent overview by Catherine de Lange.
Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate
Plight of the Concord. How climate has changed the observations Thoreau made in his hometown.
Shocking shaper. Lightning sculpts mountains. Don Boroughs on a flashy find.
Silence is golden. Rachel Nuwer goes in search of a true treasure: A place free of human noise, here on Earth. Read of the week.
Whole lotta shakin’ going on. Shifting ground may enable GPS prediction of volcanic eruptions, as Alex Witze reports.
Star attractions – the final frontier, space
Sometimes things that are down to Earth are out of this world. From icy branches to solar systems.
The hole story. Light is being cast on our knowledge of black holes. Super feature by Ron Cowen.
Getting outta here. Speedy rogue stars accelerate out of our galaxy by a mystery force. Jia You describes a freaky find.
A real bright spot. Galaxy works like a lens to magnify intensity of distant supernova. Andrew Grant looks at it.
Topsy turvy. Sun’s magnetic poles flip.
Venus waves back. Waves of clouds on gassy planet.
The view from there. Wonderful collection of images from Mars. We live in the future.
Forces of nature – big-ticket items – cosmology, mathematics, computing, chemistry, physics, ecology & evolution
“You’re a braid in spacetime—indeed, one of the most elaborate braids known.” Quote by Max Tegmark from a brilliant piece on the way life is woven in spacetime. Read of the week.
Theoretically speaking. Great reflection on the difficulties of deriving new theories, by Matthew Francis.
A weighty matter. Nice consideration of the speed, that’s right, the speed, of gravity. Ethan Siegel explains it perfectly.
It all adds up. A “tuple” of number theorists & other collective nouns for mathematics, by Evelyn Lamb.
Fascinating flyer. Jellyfish-like ornithopter is one curious contraption. Philip Ball describes it perfectly.
What does the future hold? This infographic will carry you 100 quintillion years from now. Hmm. View of the week.
Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it – neuroscience, mental health, psychology, sociology & human interest stories
“If the spread of toast is a social contagion, then Carrelli was its perfect vector.” Quote by John Gravois from a wonderful piece on artisanal toast, mental health & the ties between us. Read of the week.
Branching out. Neurons do it the right way.
Everything’s relative. Well, insofar as how the brain maps numbers is concerned. Emily Reas explains.
On the same wavelength? The challenges of scanning 2 (or more) brains at once. Neuro Skeptic describes why this is a problem.
High praise? Actually, rewarding with praise can have a serious downside. Maria Konnikova provides superb insights into a surprising find.
Walking the talk. Toddlers’ vocabulary takes off when they get a move on. Laura Sanders explains.
Not getting over it. Behaviour thresholds can prevent groups from acting together. Lou Woodley describes how this occurs.
A matter of choice. Philip Ball describes how sometime things that seem irrationally chosen are actually rational.
Buy the numbers? Could a higher CBD:THC ratio make cannabis a better drug? Thought-provoking post by Dana Smith.
Darwin knew homeopathy was bunk. Why does this pseudoscience still have hold on some? Nick Allum considers why.
Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education
“I have little sense of being the finished article. What I am & what I know is incomplete.” Quote by Stephen Curry from a genius, must read reflection on being a middle-aged scientist. As a scientist of the same vintage, I share everything Stephen Curry has expressed so perfectly & eloquently: The sense of incompletion. The sense of still being an impostor. The sense of the fleeting nature of any contribution. The desire to make a contribution of significance. Very grateful to Stephen Curry for capturing current thoughts & feelings so perfectly. Read of the week.
“If you are critical of scientists for choosing to communicate with the public, you are part of the funding problem.” Get the word out. Science communication benefits public support of science funding. Important piece by Matt Shipman. Read of the week.
Can we talk? Moving fraught discourse on science topics in a positive direction. Excellent perspective by Alistair Dove.
“The core of academic freedom is the ability to publish ideas at all.” Thoughtful and thought-provoking piece by Steven Hill.
“Working in…the rainforest requires an adventurous spirit, patience, & the ability to improvise.” Quote by Nadia Drake from amazing notes on fieldwork in the Amazon. Must read, cliffhanger. Read of the week.
“I worry that she’s been fed a false image of what “success” in science looks like.” Quote by Dr. Isis from a brilliant, must read reply to Bethany Brookshire, on science, ideas & happiness. Read of the week.
“An inclusive, humane workplace…will lead to the most rigorous, world-changing scientific discoveries.” Quote by Kate Clancy from an excellent critique of the way science is done, & how it must change.
Instrumental behaviour. Images of female scientists w/ scientific equipment has struck a chord. Rebekah Higgitt on how her awesome Pinterest board of women using scientific instruments brought pleasure to many.
Feeling your pain. Amy Savage provides fascinating insights into the life of a "standardised patient": someone who acts out medical conditions for med students.
Taking heat. Epidemiologists stumble across heat maps, rename them “quilt plots”, & get paper out of it. Yes really. Sheesh.