Morsels For The Mind – 21/02/2014
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
A trunkful of tenderness. Time to accept that elephants are empathic like us. Virginia Morell makes an extremely compelling and timely case.
Sit. Stay. Have your brain scanned. fMRI revealing remarkable things inside canine heads. Virginia Morell takes a look.
The eyes have it? Dogs & cats may see UV light wavelengths. Amazing discovery, nicely explained by Jennifer Viegas. On Twitter, Ed Yong raised a great point about this study: "Only shows lens doesn’t filter UV! No behaviour." That is, does mere capacity for UV detection qualify as UV vision? Need more research to test that hypothesis.
“Madagascar—& the world—will be much poorer without them." We really need to protect lemurs, as Jeremy Hance explains.
Love connection. Emily Chung on how overpasses enable bears to hook up on both sides of the highway.
Music to lactate to. Might cow milk yield be tuneable by musical choice? Anna O'Brien listens in.
Rhythm method. Jane Jae Lee on how the study of animals keeping beat gives insights into evolution of music.
Getting a lift in life. Denise Chow on how bats alter wing shape in flight to maximise flying efficiency.
A whale for the killing. All to frequently, stranded whales should be euthanised. How to do it humanely? Jason Goldman on a sad, but important, research effort.
“The Hawaiian hawk’s protected status has outlasted the organization that sought to remove it.” Quote by John Platt from a super read on the saga of the Hawaiian hawk. Amazing story. Read of the week.
Shake your tail feather? How about shake your tail plunger?! It might make you move like a dinosaur! Bethany Brookshire on a funky experiment.
On the move. Amazing animal migrations.
“Even if they look a bit ugly — a bit like a monster — at a certain point they seem pretty beautiful.” Quote from a great piece by Alexa Keefe, on researching Komodo dragons.
Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight
Friendly freeloaders. Laasya Samhita describes how squatters bring benefits.
The future is in plastics! Unfortunately, that is the case for some urban bee nests. Elizabeth Preston on a remarkable instance of the impacts of urban life.
Bad buzz. Honeybee trade could transmit disease to wild pollinators. Fred Pearce on some decidedly worrying developments.
Tick talk. Diagnosis of persistent Lyme disease in humans may be aided by…ticks. Rachael Rettner explains how this is the case.
“The legacy of taxonomists, and our struggles to make those legacies last.” Beautiful, must read piece by David Maddison. Read of the week.
“Here I was, surrounded by a remarkable entomological discovery, but with no way to collect, preserve, or record it.” Quote by Piotr Naskrecki from a fantastic post on finding an entomological wonder. Super read. Read of the week.
Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like
Getting a head in life. Palaeontologists find “gargantuan” pachyrhinosaur skull. Great discovery, featuring Darla Zelenitsky.
A bone to pick. A critical look at evolution of tissue mineralisation. Excellent post, by Anne Buchanan.
Where’d everybody go? Understanding the most severe extinction. It happened 252M yrs ago. Helen Thompson on how folks are looking back.
Facing facts. How the face evolved.
Shady business. How different coat hues emerged in animal evolution. Excellent look at some recent research, by Travis Park.
Turning over an old leaf. Fossil leaves flesh out forest existence of ancient apes. This piece by Holly Dunsworth is an example of research blogging at its best. Cool context plus new insights! Read of the week.
The dating game. Analysing the migration of hominins out of Africa. Intriguing find, nicely described by Robin Wylie.
Udderly smitten? Mary Beth Griggs on how, 6000 yrs ago, Britons preferred dairy over seafood.
2000 years after Song of Songs, 700 years before Stephen Tintin Duffy, the Norse said “Kiss Me” in runes. Megan Gannon reports on a love note. Potentially obscure Stephen "Tintin" Duffy reference in this morsel relates to this. [Earworm warning!]
The Neanderthal man. Ancient genome scientist Svante Pääbo takes us back to our roots. Robin McKie profiles a great scientist.
Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants
Resistance is futile? Sarah Shailes on how wheat can resist rust fungus if the temperature shifts upward.
Phenomenal flora. Exceptional illustrations by Noel Badges Pugh.
Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses
“Imagine a microscale machine that can make electricity one moment & produce fuel the next.” As Jeffrey Marlow reports, it's none other than a microbe.
Two sides to every story. Cat Adams on the death cap mushroom - good for trees, bad for humans.
They came from Joe’s garage? Microbes named after Frank Zappa leap from zits to grapes. Yep. Laura Poppick on a funky find.
Minding the gut? Could your gastro-intestinal microbes be hacked to boost your brain? Cool idea, nicely explained by Frank Swain.
“No companies interested in commercializing these sausages." They’re made with baby poo. But that’s not bad, as Charles Choi explains.
Monkey temples: sanctified sites for worship, interspecies interaction, & virus swapping. Rebecca Kreston weaves a wonderful story here. 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)
Editorial experience. From genome editing to manuscript editing. Chase Beisel describes moving an idea to publication.
Cool thinking. Add super-bitter compound to antifreeze to deter poisoning. Deborah Blum on new efforts to reduce poison cases.
What does naming babies have to do with naming genes? Sometime the meaning of the name gets lost in translation. I wrote this.
Acid tripped up? The acid-bath method for creating stem cells could get burned. Jalees Rehman on current questions on a remarkable find.
Too good to be true? Remember that simple method to produce stem cells? Well… David Cyranoski looks at the concerns that have been raised.
“She is living proof that extremes can cure as well as kill." Recovery from being frozen. Remarkable story by Kevin Fong.
Up in the air? How does oxygen uptake impact athletic performance? Alex Hutchinson on a breathtaking subject.
Strong finish. Why are athletes able to speed up at the end of a race? Alex Hutchinson takes a look.
Read all about it! Lex Nederbragt describes how Oxford Nanopore has long-read DNA sequencer, but it’s not error free.
Holey baloney? New nanopore DNA sequencing device works, but not up to expectations, as Erika Check Hayden reports.
Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate
Invisible touch. Before an earthquake, there are unseen, but detectable, warnings, as Robin Wylie reports.
A moving story. How do plants keep up when climate moves >1 metre a day? Excellent post, by Robert Krulwich.
Rockin’ the house. All Olympic curling stones hail from the same place. In Scotland, of course. Michael Easter looks into it.
“It isn’t their ghostly beauty that attracts researchers. It is their alarming vulnerability.” Quote by Peter Brannen from a brilliant Aeon Magazine piece on plankton & the future of oceans. Read of the week.
This rocks. Geological “organ pipes”, photographed by Marco Erman.
Star attractions – the final frontier, space
A real bright spot. One brilliant galaxy.
Tiny treasures. Gorgeous galaxies made small, by Haari Tesla.
Same old story? Is the “oldest star in the universe” really the oldest? Excellent explanation, by Geraint Lewis.
“We live in Carl Sagan’s universe - awesomely vast, deeply humbling.” Superb profile by Joel Achenbach. Read of the week.
“Yet still it moves.” Why Galileo’s words still resonate 450 years after his birth. Dan Vergano makes a great case.
Forces of nature – big-ticket items – cosmology, mathematics, computing, chemistry, physics, ecology & evolution
“No matter how elegant a theory may be, it must match the observational evidence.” Quote by Matthew Francis from a superb piece on the nature of dark energy. Lots of great stuff in here. Read of the week.
Cosmic cauldron. Lindsay Brownell explains how chemical building blocks for life could be cooked up by cosmic rays.
Compound interest. Chemistry that may have predated “molecules of life”. Excellent feature, by Emily Singer.
Everything in turn. Figure skaters are able to do some remarkable moves. Because physics! Deborah King explains beautifully.
Cough please. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man may have had a hernia. Because evolution! Superb story by Laura Crothers. Read of the week.
Living for the city. Miles Becker on how bringing nature to urban environments brings benefits.
In a heartbeat. Things that happen with every beat of your heart. Astonishing. Must view post by xkcd. 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
“The genetic you & the neural you aren’t alternatives to the conscious you. They are its foundations.” Quote by Paul Bloom from a thought-provoking post on our existence as “biochemical puppets”. Read of the week.
“We cannot reduce the life of a human being to a single number.” Quote from an excellent article by Sara Reardon on fraught issue of IQ & application of death penalty. Read of the week.
Hearing things. Musical hallucination creates orchestras when there are none. Intriguing story by Carl Zimmer, featuring Oliver Sacks.
The mile high club. The trials, tribulations, & rewards of running a mile. Great read by Svati Kirsten Narula.
Of two minds? Neuroscience inspires kids, but they’re not more convinced about neuroplasticity, as Neuro Skeptic reports.
The parent trap? Language acquisition is not as simple as listening to your parents. Superb look at a timely topic, by Dorothy Bishop.
High way danger? What does science tell us about driving while stoned? Interesting look at an emerging concern, by Maggie Koerth-Baker.
“Thinking Fast and Slow hasn’t changed the way I think — yet. But it has changed the way I think about how I think.” Quote by Stephen Curry from a great reflection upon reading Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast & Slow”. Now that you have Stephen Curry’s perspective, here’s what a bunch of other folks think about Daniel Kahneman.
“Hungry for meaning, I heightened every ripple of insight into a wave.” Quote by Shara Yurkiewicz from a beautiful, poignant piece on diagnosing a brain lesion. Must read. Read of the week.
Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education
“An advanced degree doesn’t mean you have only one career path, & anything else involves ‘quitting’ or ‘failure’.” Quote by Melonie Fullick from an excellent post on making choices in life. Great read. Read of the week.
“When did you decide you wanted to be a scientist, & why?" A great look at the answers we provide, by Jon Butterworth.
Prime time? Your big breakthrough awaits, or has passed, in your late-30s. Hmm. Olga Khazan on a finding that may be either good news or bad news, depending on how old you are.
“'Renaissance scientists'..will be best equipped to bridge the gap between science & society.” Quote by Sheril Kirshenbaum from a thought-provoking piece on the challenges for “science literacy”.
“Higgs would struggle to hang on to his academic post today.” Excellent look at modern academia, by Jim Al-Khalili.
“How does anyone remember something that is boring?" The real problem for science. Sylvia McLain makes a great case here.
Blundering into brilliance? Ideas with biggest impact may arise by making errors. Ken Weiss makes a compelling case about why that’s a problem.
Risky business? Is doing interdisciplinary academic research a “safe” career route? Sarah Byrne addresses the question.
Good chemistry. Pairs of scientist that are also couples. Interesting stories by Katie Worth.