Morsels for the mind – 17/5/2013

17 May 2013 by Malcolm Campbell, posted in Malcolm's linkfest

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!


Feather, fur & fin – birds, beasts, fishes, and the things they do

Best friends forever. Genome sequences suggest that dogs diverged from wolves 32K years ago. Genes that were selected in dog domestication seem selected in human "domestication".

Now hear this! Noisy rat pups attract mom’s care.

A little revealing. Creatures that are remarkably transparent.

Sole survivors. Tree frogs keep their pads sticky with amazing self-cleaning feet.

There was a time when horsepower meant what it said. Equine engines built cities.

Subterranean slumber. Some lemurs do their hibernation buried beneath the soil.

Now that’s cool. Octopus has more suckers on its legs when water is cold.

Getting short changed. Migratory water fowl are cutting trip short due to climate.

Alpha shmalpha. Concepts surrounding wolf pack hierarchy are almost certainly wrong.

Not just crying wolf. There are multiple canine species that are at extinction risk.

No flight from danger for the flightless little spotted kiwi. Like tigers, the trouble all comes down to inbreeding.

Too much sharing. The roundworm that gets transmitted by sex.

If you’re feeling sluggish, it could be because our nervous system is like a snail’s.


Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight

No more Mister Nice-Guy! Well behaved spiders finish last.

Some male spiders have turned the tables. They eat females.

In search of good scents. How male spiders avoid being dinner after sex.

The shape they’re in. Why bees make hexagonal cells in honeycombs. Wonderful.

You make take a shining to this. Beautiful iridescence of stinkbugs.

No restrain, no gain? Ants succeed by exercising restraint.

A malicious monarch.  Some ant queens are nasty pieces of work.

On a roll. The moving story of dung beetles. Their life is not crap, it just falls between stools.

Fatal attraction. Malaria infected mosquitoes like the smell of humans more than non-infected mosquitoes. They really like stinky feet.

Painted Ladies and a bottle of time. The multigenerational migration of an amazing butterfly.

Up close and person. Some critters are just so darn cute. Not.


Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants

No junk in the trunk. The flesh-eating bladderwort has a minimalist genome.

A two for one deal. How mosses switch between two developmental fates using a single gene.

A touching tale. How mimosa plants respond to being touched.

These roots were made for talkin’. Plants communicate herbivore attack to other plants using a subterranean root-fungus network.

In the right vein. The implications of leaf venation.

A walk on the wild side. The world’s most beautiful forests.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Branching out. New fossils provide evidence for early divergence of lineages for apes versus old world monkeys.

It was a small world after all. Tinier dinosaurs make themselves known in the fossil record.

What’s in a name? Why do we tend to think of dinosaurs as lizards and not birds?

Have you heard? The middle ear may have been evolved early in hominins.

They took a big bite out of life. The gigantic jaws of Plesiosaurs.


Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses

The weigh they work. Obesity busting bacteria. They create a good gut reaction.

How do bacteria stay current? By conducting electrons of course.

Art imitating life. The true story upon which the movie “Contagion” was based.


Molecular machinery – the toils of the macromolecules of life – nucleic acids and proteins (and others)

Out of Africa? Ancient DNA suggests Minoans came from continental Europe, not Egypt.


Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography & the climate

What lies beneath? Well, it just might be 1.5B year old water. Amazing.

Buried treasure! The geology of diamonds.

Bloody hell. When a glacier bleeds, it irons things out.

Straight from the same source. Moon and Earth shared a common origin for their water.

Beautiful stick handling. Nice explainer of the infamous hockey stick climate graph.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street? Two neutrinos have travelled to Earth from outside the solar system. Their names are Ernie & Bert. Yes, really.

It’s full of stars. Wonderful interactive map of the cosmos, linking to images by Herschel mission.

It’s a small world after all. The greater our understanding of the universe, the tinier we appear.

Tracing grandeur in the sand. A beautifully poetic description of how a supernova’s signature is captured in 4.5B year old sand grains.

When the sky’s on fire. Orion’s fiery belt.

Glow with the flow. The aurora has a very wave-like fluid nature.

It’s all relative. Finding exoplanets a la Einstein, using theory of relativity.

Finding exoplanets is amazing. But took a major hit this week.

Saturn’s circular seismographs. Rings tell when there’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.

A planet with a peel? Mercury is like an orange. Juicy news.

Getting the word out. The distance popular culture memes have travelled in the universe. Cool.


Forces of nature – big ticket items – cosmology, ecology, evolution, physics, chemistry

The rainbow connection. The physics of…well, you guessed it.

Metal as anything. Explaining Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle using heavy metal music. Yes, really.

Why are red barns red? Dying stars made them that way. Because physics. Awesome.

Looking for the right reaction? The reactions, including crystallisation, in this video are beautiful.

Engage! Warp speed makes the leap from Star Trek to reality.

Back to the future. Electrons show the directionality of time.


Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it

Mothers always make good scents. There’s really nothing like the smell of mom and apple pie.

Making sense without scents. Incredible personal story of grappling with anosmia.

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The attractiveness of the voice.

It’s possible to overdose on cute. Too many puppies will make you indifferent to human babies.

There is such a thing as animal magnetism. Kids prefer animals over toys.

Talk is peep. Using chickens to understand developmental psychology.

It’s all in your head. How your brain compensates to maintain colour perception constancy throughout your life.

No Fi hurts like WiFi. It’s surprisingly easy to get a nocebo effect from folks thinking WiFi is hurting them.

“Nothing in human behaviour makes sense except in the light of Systems 1 & 2.” Redefining our perception of ourselves.

When Iron breaks. Amazing piece on whether Tony Stark suffers from PTSD.

Stroke of insight. Andrew Revkin’s personal account of contending with a stroke.


Behind the scenes – the workings of the museum – discovery and communication

This week’s science communication was dominated by an astronaut. For good reason. Commander Chris Hadfield’s contribution to science communication was phenomenal. His trip is beautifully documented, in multiple locations. On his last day aboard the ISS, before his rough ride to Earth, he won the internet.

Meanwhile, in Hadfield’s home country, science was getting a rough ride.

Angelina Jolie raised important questions about health, risk, and personal medical decisions. There was excellent consideration of the implications here, here and here.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics? Actually, need to understand statistics for make good health decisions.

Putting academics to work in the newsroom. The ConversationUK launches. Here’s how they’re doing the science & technology piece.

Get rid of the crystal ball. You can predict the future with Twitter.

We’re all sitting on a mountain of unpublished data. What to do?

Word up! There can be immeasurable beauty in scientific words.

All this will change. The impermanence of the laboratory life.

Imagine you’re a boob. Should you go bra-less? Great treatment of sometimes pointed arguments.

We are stardust. This has important implications for the search for life elsewhere.


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