Morsels For The Mind – 18/07/2014

19 July 2014 by Malcolm Campbell, posted in Malcolm's linkfest, Science

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

"I've been at the wrong end of a defecating sperm whale: it smells, it's nutrient rich, & could just save the world." Quote by Philip Hoare from a great piece on the value of whale poo, and whales generally.

Saving cetaceans. Using mathematical models to stave off ship strikes on whales, featuring Asha De Vos.

Dammed to extinction. Human manipulation of rivers spells doom for freshwater dolphins, reports Rachel Nuwer.

Drugged displays. Zoo animals on sedatives. A sad history, by Laurel Braitman.

Udderly intriguing. Rebecca Rupp shares some surprising things about milk.

Well hello there! Wild animal selfies, shared by Krithi Karanth.

A whole other dimension. Conservation guided by how animals negotiate 3D environments. Cool use of technology, expertly described by Jason Goldman.

Coy canine. Elusive short-eared wild dog. Nadia Drake shares some photo trap footage.

A puppy is a puppy. Pup personality a poor predictor of adult dog personality. Great take by Zazie Todd.

Making a friendly face. How domestication made animals docile & cute. Interesting bit of genetics, nicely explained by John Upton.

Getting a head in life Jeff Craig on how domesticated animals may have come by their facial features.

Hide and seek. Unique tiger hide patterns might help track illegal trade, reports John Platt.

Something to hide? China owns up to illegal tiger hide trade. What next? Rachel Nuwer looks at the answers.

Pet peeve. Cheetahs as "luxury pets" driving wild populations to extinction. Depressing, but well told, story by Damian Carrington.

A matter of pride. "Living walls" allow lions & herders to peacefully co-exist. Richard Schiffman perfectly describes this brilliant approach.

Bearly getting by? How pandas survive on a bamboo-only diet. Fascinating biology, nicely explained by Brenda Poppy.

More turf, less surf. Polar bear diet changes with loss of sea ice, explains Douglas Fischer.

Count on it. Enumerating polar bears...from spaaaace. Jason Goldman takes a look.

Weaseling in. Fishers, members of the weasel family, are making a big comeback. Literally, as Jason Bittel explains.

Not just a little stinker. The remarkable existence of skunks. Superb feature, by Christopher Kemp. Read of the week.

Down in the dumps? Why sloths go to ground to poop. Excellent look at the explanations, by Helen Thompson.

Spot the difference. Carrie Arnold castes her eye and great writing talents on peacock eyespot evolution.

Auk-ward ending. The demise of the Great Auk - an important cautionary tale, by Samantha Galasso.

Fierce finch. Matt Simon describes a blood slurping specialist.

In a flap. Astounding motion of hummingbird wings. Beautiful biophysics, perfectly shared by Nick Stockton. View of the week.

Double vision. Gecko skin "sees" to alter camouflage. Great bit of biology beautifully described by Ed Yong.

Island of no return? Remarkable isle has highest concentration of venomous snakes in the world, as Natasha Geiling reveals.

Gutsy move. Virginia Hughes on how pythons deal with big meals.

Snakes. On a plane. In microgravity. Jason Goldman looks at some weird weightlessness.

A breed apart? Rachel Mitchell looks at the ridiculous things we've created through selective breeding.

Go with the flow. Fish feeding physics, featuring Smarter Every Day, shared by Jason Goldman.

Deep red. Fish fluoresce stronger crimson at greater depths, explains Stephanie Pappas.

Elaborated elegance. The ribbonfish's fins. Bec Crew takes a look.

Taking a bite out of life. Helen Thompson shares some amazing things about piranhas.

Step right up? Shark Week became "The Greatest Show on Earth" by deceit. Great critique by Christie Wilcox.

The thing about Rosie. Of endangered animals, sharks, & celebrity. Excellent Q&A, by David Shiffman.

Not so Rosie. When a celebrity doesn't understand the meaning of "endangered". Great critique by Christie Wilcox. Read of the week.

Nails it! Amy McDermott on why killing a hammerhead shark is uncool.

If you can't take the heat... Live near new volcanic islands. Charles Choi explains how whale sharks deal with warming ocean.

Getting teste. Don't worry about sharks in the Great Lakes, says Gwen Pearson. Testicle-nipping fish on the other hand...

Back to school. Amazing anchovy aggregation. Wow! Shared by Scott Neuman. View of the week.

Mighty Mississippi? Engineering iconic river decimated one of the mightiest migrations. Great piece by Paul Greenberg.

Family dinner. Crab larvae on the menu only when their parents are hungry. Craig McClain takes a look.

Of prehensile penises & able semen. Mary Bates looks into how barnacles mate.

Cephalopod split surprise. One octopus species actually two. Interesting but of taxonomy, by Katherine Courage.

C'mon feel the noise? Sea squirts attracted to ship noise. They attach to boats in response, as Francie Diep explains.

Refining relations. Sorting out the complexities of sea cucumber taxonomy. Stephenie Livingston looks at where things stand.

Getting a move on. Anemones' amazing escapes. Nice explainer, by Sara Mynott.

X factors. Plants & animals in beautiful X-rays, photographed by Arie van't Riet.


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

Bees knees. Troubled insects close up. Clay Bolt has the pictures, and Pete Brook has the words.

Sex on the brain. Bethany Brookshire looks into female fruitflies' mating-decision neurons.

Songs of love and hate. Virginia Morell on what male moths sing.

Top down management? Might ants have arboreal nurseries? Great take on natural history research, by Terry McGlynn. Read of the week.

Spidey sense tingling? It's unlikely to be necrosis from spider bite. Agata Blaszczak-Boxesets the record straight.

Beating the heat. Fake spider silk could form basis of fire-resistant undies, explains Jordan Golson.

Curiously cute. Jennifer Frazer takes a look at chirping millipedes.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like

Walking dead. Jonathan Amos on how an ancient arachnid perambulated.

Arthropod ancestors. Ewen Callaway on those amazing anomalocaridids.

Stroke of genius. Amphibian swimming technique over 270M years old, as Jeff Hecht explains.

Flight of fancy? Did feathery dinosaurs take to the air? Good take, by Brian Switek.

Winging it. Charles Choi looks at a newly described  dinosaur with four wings.

There’s only one fossil that ever made me cry.” Lovely piece on the short lives of two mammoth calves by Brian Switek. Read of the week.

Inside scoop. Mammoth calf CT scans reveal much, explains Nick Stockton.


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

The tree that became wheat. Genome reveals wheat's surprising family tree, explains Jennifer Frazer.

Seeing the forest & the trees. Thinking about fibre's future. Great feature on Jerry Tuskan, by Annalee Newitz. Read of the week,

Six is better than two? Wheat's hexaploid genome reveals big surprises. Jennifer Frazer explains a tough genome sequencing effort.

Hogging space. Giant hogweed is a nasty invader, as George Dvorsky explains.

A good dusting. Flower puffs pollen onto visiting birds for cross fertilisation. Boer Deng takes a look.

Bon appétit! A little stress from the plants we eat helps us out, explains Moises Velasquez-Manoff.

Rust never sleeps. Rebecca Rupp on the rust fungus that threatens our food supply.

Root of a bad idea. A plant's appearance was once thought to signify what ailment it cured. Amazing medicinal plant history, by Matt Simon.

Best fronds for life? Could ferns help avert planetary overheating again? Interesting hypothesis, nicely shared by Jennifer Huizen.

The South will rise again? The "plant that ate the South" causes carbon release from soil. I wrote this.

Good vibrations. Make photosynthesis more efficient. Nicole Casal Moore will illuminate you.

Myths that keep cropping up. Smart debunking of claims about genetically modified crops, by Brooke Borel.

"The paper's methodology was so probably shouldn't have been published to begin with." Quote by Brooke Borel from a fresh look at Séralini's recycled "GMOs & cancer" paper.


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

Playing head games. Parasites that exert control on hosts' minds. Great feature, by Wendy Zukerman.

Gut reactions. How intestinal microbes may modify mood. Interesting feature by Sharon Oosthoek.

Life can be sweet. But some bacteria can't swallow that, as Matt Shipman explains,

What's on the menu? Salmonella is a fussy eater, explains S. E. Gould.

Culture club. Establishment of microbial communities in cheese. Excellent look at some cool biology, by Christina Agapakis.

Solid thinking. How a home cook shaped microbiology. She introduced agar. Superb story, by Christina Agapakis. Read of the week.


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)

"These children are teaching us a lot we didn't know about ourselves." Quote from a brilliant, must read piece by Seth Mnookin on rare genetic diseases. Read of the week.

It's all relative? Do friends really share the same gene variants as family? Jonathan Webb considers the possibility.

All in the family? Our friends are as related to us as our 4th cousins are. Intriguing genetics, nicely described by Carl Engelking.

Proton-passing protein. Squid skin component transfers light around. Technology potential. Kevin Mayer describes some interesting new work.

The whole tooth & nothing but the tooth? Megan Talkington shares some fascinating things about teeth.

A bloody conundrum. Despite knowing about blood types for >100 years, they remain mysterious. A real tour de force feature, by Carl Zimmer. Read of the week.

Pregnant pause. Take some time to consider the placenta. Excellent feature, by Denise Grady. Read of the week.

Jet lagged? Maybe some strategic snacking is in order, as Ben Thomas explains.


Forces of nature – big-ticket items – ecology, evolution & extinction

Heads up! How your brain ended up where it did. Super explainer by Brain Craft & Joe Hanson. View of the week.

Time for a change? How well will species cope with changing climate? Superb feature, by Sarah Zielinski. Read of the week.

Cloudy with a chance of speciation. The science of forecasting evolution. Spectacular, must read feature, by Carl Zimmer. Read of the week.

A sorry tail. Did life on the "long tail" of niches doom ammonites to extinction? Becky Oskin considers the possibility.

Nothing but the tooth. Tells much about monkey evolution, as Mo Costandi explains.

Ship shape. Virtual library now loaded with texts Darwin had on The Beagle. Anna Simmonds on a virtual book nook.

Child's play. Making evolution accessible to kids...through song! Great stuff, by Tania Lombrozo.

It's not easy being green. Could we engineer humans to be environmentally benign? Frank Swain conducts a cool thought experiment.

Matters of life & death. Sean McCann takes a stroll in nature.


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

Heat of the moment. Of hot potatoes & Earth's molten core. Awesome! Super explainer by Emily Elert & Henry Reich. View of the week.

Current affairs. Sid Perkins explains why the Amazon runs "backwards".

Deep drain. Rainwater found 8km underground. Becky Oskin dives into the story.

In the hot seat. Biodiversity hotspots to see elevated temperatures. Not cool. Mark Fischetti shares the evidence.

All's swell that begins swell. Waves crash on a beach. Where did that swell originate? Superb piece, by Robert Krulwich. Read of the week.

Surf's up! Catching a wave for art & science. Awesome blending of art, nature and science, featuring the photography Clark Little, by Barbara King.

Glad tidings. Making huge waves indoors to test tides' turbulence. Eliza Strickland looks at how it is done.

Depth defying. A critique of The Ocean Cleanup feasibility study, by Kim Martini & Miriam Goldstein.

The future is in plastic. And it's in our oceans. Kim Martini considers how to reduce that problem.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Cosmic collisions beget brilliant beauty. The making of stars. Nice piece by Amos Zeeberg.

Brilliant youth. Ethan Siegel perfectly describes a sparkly, young galactic cluster.

A real bright spot. Spectacular celestial explosion.

Beautiful bridge. String of young stars links old galaxies.

Tumultuous births. Stars arise in a rough nursery. Nadia Drake describes it wonderfully.

Celestial swirl. A cloud where stars are born.

It's full of stars. A globular cluster. Ethan Siegel looks into it.

Sunrise. Sunrise. Exoplanet has mini-sun duo, explains Emily Chung.

Rare appearance. Pics of Pluto, shared by Elizabeth Howell.

A shepherd no more. Saturn's moon Pandora gets demoted, as Irene Klotz explains.

The long goodbye. Has Voyager still not entered interstellar space…again? Andrew Grant considers where things are at.

Ironing things out. Stuart Clark reports on a large iron meteorite...on Mars.

Fantastically frosty. Dry ice gullies on Mars.


Getting physical – physical sciences – cosmology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computing, engineering, and technology

Bursting with excitement. Interstellar radio burst.

Slower pulse. Dark matter may take the beat out of pulsars. Fascinating discovery, nicely explained by Marcus Woo.

Heavy on the light. Universe seems to have more UV than can be accounted for. What's its source?

Is there anybody out there? On the nature of multiverses. Great explainer, by Ethan Siegel.

Blackest is the new black. One snake has known this for a long time. Excellent blending of materials science and biology, by Kyle Hill. Read of the week.

Getting into the swing of things. How do swinging arms impact running energy efficiency? Alex Hutchinson considers the latest evidence.

Moving with the swingers. Paradoxically, runners save energy by swinging their arms, explains Charles Choi.

Having a ball. Boron-based buckyball built. Has surprising structure. Intriguing discovery, nicely explained by Elizabeth Gibney.

In a tight spot? Squishy octopus-mimicking robotic muscles might help, explains Megan Gannon.

The hole picture. The Pigeonhole Principle can allow you to make powerful inferences, explains Esther Inglis-Arkell.

Sine of the times. How Fourier transform finds undulating waves amongst complexity. Superb explainer, by Alok Jha. Read of the week.

The social network. Of Old Norse sagas. Mathematics meets mythology. Cool application of network analysis, nicely investigated by Veronique Greenwood.

Paint it black. Really black. Blacker than any material before. Freaky discovery, nicely shared by Ian Johnston.

Fiction factory. How sci-fi can inform business. Chris Baraniuk makes a compelling case.

Well read? How digital reading is changing (hurting) comprehension. Great eye-opener by Maria Konnikova.


A dose of medicine – science in practice in a medical setting, and health-, nutrition-, and exercise-related stories

Tic toc. Tick talk. What's taking a Lyme disease vaccine so long? Superb article, by Cassandra Willyward.

It takes guts. Mechanisms underlying effect of weight-loss surgery. Fascinating research, beautifully explained in this feature by Virginia Hughes. Read of the week.

Finding the sweet spot. How do we actually determine if someone is "pre-diabetic"? Important consideration, by Tania Browne.

How do you mend a broken heart? Gene therapy. Creates biological pacemaker. Sara Reardon looks at a potentially huge health breakthrough.

Get a move on. Sitting is bad for your health. It's easy to change. Greg Wells offers his perspective in this piece by Jenny Hall.

Long distance relationship? Link between running marathons & heart problems. Thought-provoking read by Lisa Rosenbaum.

Staying flexible. Aerobic exercise might give your arteries healthy flexibility as you age. Alex Hutchinson looks at the evidence.

Stretching belief. Does stretching before exercise really have a benefit? Alex Hutchinson considers the controversy.

What happens in the lab stays in the lab? Could it be the source of the next pandemic? Helen Branswell considers the possibilities.

Oh nothing. Just anthrax & H5N1 being shipped about improperly. That is all. Sara Reardon looks at some worrying missteps.

'Til death do us part. Loss of a partner & the likelihood of death. Poignant & fascinating piece, by Kirsten Weir. Read of the week.

Breathtaking. Frank Swain looks at the remarkable capacity of some to hold their breath.


Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it – neuroscience, mental health, psychology, sociology & human interest stories

Forget me not? If we can help trauma victims forget, is something important lost? Superb piece, by Emily Anthes. Read of the week.

“Biogenetic explanations for mental health problems can have troubling implications for the people who suffer them." Quote by Nick Haslam on the unintended impact of knowing more about mental illness.

Getting inside your head. Brain imaging moves to read your mind. Rose Eveleth takes a look.

We only use 10% of our brain? Um, noJordan Gaines debunks a persistent myth.

This is your brain on fatherhood. Being a dad changes one's mind. Literally, as Christian Jarrett explains.

The future is in plastic? Examining the basis of neuroplasticity, to shape the adult mind. Gary Stix considers the recent advances.

A link between compulsive porn viewing & drug addiction? Um, not so much. Chris Chambers takes a look at "a master class on how to tackle a controversial topic with confident transparency."

Love is the drug? Jillian Rose Lim on the link between drug addiction & hypersexuality.

Drunk and stoned? Impact of being cross-faded is not additive, explains Gabe Bergado.

"There are many reasons to love cats & dogs. Perhaps we should be most troubled by those who love neither." Quote by Nick Haslam from a thought-provoking post on why we love dogs & cats.

The chase is better than the catch? Having a rival improves running performance. Bethany Brookshire shares her personal experience, and the science.

About Face. A different view of that FB study. Thought provoking consideration, by Michelle Meyer.

Facing facts. Why we love selfies. And, well, faces in general. Cool explainer, by Annalee Newitz.

This is your brain on quantum physics. Thoughts may be guided by same principles, explains Tom Siegfried.

"Autism isn't just a boy thing." Powerful message from powerful piece, by Virginia Hughes. Read of the week.

A flip of the coin. Sometimes the best decision is random choice. Wonderful read, by Michael Schulson. Read of the week.


Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education

Norman Borlaug. Kim Kardashian. You need only know one of these names. Great stuff, by Mark Martin.

"I hope that people read my story and want to do something positive with their lives too." Quote by Lisa Milella from an inspiring piece on terminal illness & a bucket list to help endangered animals. Read of the week.

This happens. Sexual harassment in fieldwork. This incredibly important study by Kate Clancy, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, and Katie Hinde is essential reading for all principle investigators - read "fieldwork" broadly. Read of the week.

"It is unacceptable to commit the metaphoric violence of beheading for the purpose of staging." Quote by Anaiis Flox from an important piece on the problems with this week's Science magazine cover. Read of the week.

"Only by understanding our scientific giants as full human beings can we do them justice." Quote by Matthew Francis from a thoughtful piece on Feynman & hero worship. Read of the week.

Heroic blunders. Does hero worship really have a place in science outreach? Important look at a science communication conundrum, by Janet Stemwedel. Read of the week.

Tricksy hobbitses. On the female Bilbo, & reinventing literature. Wonderful, must read by Michelle Nijhuis. Read of the week.

Getting the point. Galileo gave the world his middle finger, & much more. Great reflection on a relic, by Richard Panek.

Clearing the air? How flatulence cures all. (In someone's wildest imaginings.) Good fun, by Dean Burnett.

If there is a path forward for us, one that leads beyond the mentality of divide-and-conquer, this is it.” Quote in last tweet by Corey Powell from a thoughtful, thought-provoking piece on "cosmic thinking". Read of the week.


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