Morsels for the mind – 19/4/2013

19 April 2013 by Malcolm Campbell, posted in Malcolm's linkfest

Just as it’s important to nourish your body, you’ve got to make sure to nourish your mind. Every day, #SixIncredibleThingsBeforeBreakfast are served up as a delectable assortment of “amuse-bouche” for your brain.

Here we’ve collated some of the tastiest morsels from the past week, creating 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

Are botanists needed when chimpanzees are around? Maybe not. Chimps know their plants. And they, like other non-human animals, can use them to self medicate.

When monkeys get lippy, we learn something about the origins of language.

Hard to beat. That beat-keeping seal is back, and there’s a compelling tale to be told.

How to stay off the menu. Monkeys are able to identify the features of humans on the hunt for bushmeat and know to keep quiet.

Puking porcupines? Ralphing rats? Nope. Rodents don’t vomit. Now we know why.

Education never ends. Pigeons never stop learning new ways to get home.

Down in the dumps? Some sloths are literally there. Looking for the square poop, apparently. Not for the faint hearted.

Hare today, gone tomorrow? With climate change, Arctic hare’s once camouflaging coat may turn out to be a liability.

It’s a shore thing. Tumbling waves at the ocean’s edge tell sea urchins when to settle down.

It’s another shore thing. For wading birds, whether you roost or whether you wander is all about sex ratios.

If you want to go with the flow, you need a water flow detector. This fish uses tooth-like structure on its skin to do just that.

Walk this way. The coelacanth genome points to the evolution of tetrapod limbs. This induced the call of “Living fossil, living fossil, living fossil!” Unfortunately, there are good reasons why the term “living fossil” must go extinct. REALLY good reasons.

Charting lives ups and downs. The surprising factors that influence how deep sharks dive.


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

Shake your tail feather! Just like a peacock spider. An amazing dancer if ever there was one.

No direction home? Monarch butterflies definitely have one, but precisely how they find it is still a matter of some debate.

Talk about a brain drain. Having kids leads to cognitive decline. Well, at least in bees it does.

Beetle mania! Meet the beetles.

Nature abhors a vacuum? Not when you’ve got your super-protective nano-suit on. It allows bugs to be filmed by electron microscopy, under a vacuum, while being bombarded with electrons, while STILL ALIVE!


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

Don’t leave bedbugs alone. They are impaled by bean leaves. And that is a good thing.

Do you ever pine for pollen? Then head to North Carolina. They have plenty to spare: 30kg of pine pollen per resident!

This is how plants get ‘round. How succulent leaves got their nice fat shape.

Cracking discovery! The call of a tree undergoing drought stress.

Tiptoeing through the tulip tree genome – reveals a very slow mutation rate.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

All in the family? Australopithecus sediba shakes the hominid family tree. It’s because it is a mosaic.

Ironing out the past. Remarkable fossil find suggests microbes trapped radioactive iron released from a supernova. Too much awesome in one story!

Dented dentition. Why was a dinosaur walking around with an empty tooth socket?

Why is everyone in a flap? Over dinosaur feathers, of course.

Embrace the change. The growing understanding of dinosaurs is wonderful. Fortunately, there’s someone who can convey that to us.


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

The little things we share. We swap microbes with our housemates, including our canine ones.

‘Cause that’s how they roll. Microbes make their way from one roller derby player to another.

Get around on the town. That’s what epidemics do. And that’s why we need to map them.

Here’s a deep, dark secret. There’s lots of life to be found in the Mariana Trench.


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

This will turn you on. A really powerful genetic switch.

Phenomenally fascinating: Placenta has one strange epigenome.

Life 2.0. Building new life using a molecular toolkit. Like Lego for biologists, it’s synthetic biology. Great possibilities but need to be wary of pitfalls.


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

Around we go. Our beautiful planet in action. From space.

Now this is hot stuff. How we get our deserts.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Truly a blast from the past. What the Big Bang would have sounded like. Now this is HIGH FI!

No place like home? Actually, even distant stars look like our neighbours.

A star is born. Actually, many are being churned out in a theory-busting star factory.

It’s an icy autumn. At Titan’s southern hemisphere.

The incredible bulk. Bursty Bulk Flows power gorgeous auroras.

Like peas in a pod. A really big pod. Green Pea Galaxies provide clues of the early universe.

There’s lots of space. In space. For more planets. Thank goodness, because exoplanets are awesome.


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

Embrace the chaos! The beauty of chaos theory’s fractals.

It’s not strange magic, but quantum paradox does look that way.

A love-hate relationship. A morphing material that either attracts or repels liquids.

Still in the dark. We still haven’t illuminated dark matter yet, but new approaches might get us there.


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

Some things are music to our ears. And our brains. The music we like rewards the brain.

Just when you think you have firm political convictions, a magician comes along and makes you completely flip flop.

This is your brain on CLARITY. Well, not exactly your brain, but somebody’s, and it’s gorgeous.

Ever wanted an invisible touch? Well first you need an invisible hand. Here’s how to get one.

Given ‘em a hand! Kids can be convinced they have a rubber hand.

Keep this in mind. How to think about the brain to mind continuum. Excellent.

Wondering about the day’s events? Here’s how you’re keeping them sorted.


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

Small things can have big impact. The butterfly effect in action, literally and figuratively.

There are good and bad ways to write about the relationship between epigenetics and human behaviour. Here’s a good way. And here’s a good retort to the bad way.

Who to trust? How can scientists and media work together to build public trust around science?

Wanting to write about science? Focus on writing well first. And then write about the unexpected.

Hold the hype! How to separate hyperbole from science, in 5 easy steps.

To blog or not to blog? If you are a grad student, the answer is definitelty, “blog”.

Think you can’t make a difference? Scientists documented a dire situation regarding harassment & abuse in the field. And it made this happen. You can make a difference.

The best way to finish: Carl Sagan still has lessons for all of us.


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