Morsels for the mind – 21/6/2013

21 June 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

The naked truth. Naked mole rats provided the big story this week. They live long and prosper by beating cancer, using a sweetened version of the molecule, hyaluronan. Amazing story covered by Ewen Callaway, Ed Yong, Bethany Brookshire (scicurious), Carl Zimmer, Akshat Rathi, & Rowan Hooper. The naked mole rat is a great model to study cancer, and also has a great rap song – Naked Mole Rap!

Completely batty! The Batman theme done using sounds made only by, you guessed it, bats. Awesome.

“Dogs help us, and we help them.” Canine genetics helps sniff out cause of rare human disease.

Ruff times. A dog fight breaks out of the origins of canine domestication.

Thar she blows! Of whales, golfballs, hole-in-ones, and…er…George Costanza. Great read by Kyle Hill.

Right place, right time, right whale. Spotting a rare cetacean. Superb.

Think dolphins are healers? Think again.

Tie your kangaroo down. If you really want to know what species it is, a little poo may help.

Bloody hell. Vampire bats’ venomous cocktail. Yum.

Pointed arguments. The contentious issue of what to do with confiscated elephant tusks.

“A species is a blurry, speckled thing.” The incomparable Carl Zimmer on frogs, poison, camouflage and evolution. Beautiful.

Freaky frog. That is all.

How low can you go? Comparing seals with human divers.

Shrewed operators. The intriguing elephant shrews.

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Not elk. Reintroduced wolves don’t seem to heighten fear.

SOME PIG. Far from stupid, pigs have a lot on their minds.

Off the clock. Some arctic birds don’t heed the time.

Northern neighbours. Amazing arctic birds.

No way to die. Incredible story on the loss of songbirds. Bird extinctions globally are on the rise, and the value of conservation can’t be overstated.

Darwin’s discovery, dead? A beautiful little frog, extinct?

Escape claws. Hairy ”Hoff” crabs traverse the ocean by going with the flow. It’s a current affair.

Recipe for success. When conservation biology serves up today’s special.

Deep beauty. Eye-catching ocean creatures.

Youthful appearance. In the case of some sea critters, it’s just like an alien. Blame it on their youth.

Faster than a snails pace. Snail genetics reveals human migration around Europe.

Holy crap! Castle still holds parasites from crusaders’ faeces.


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

What’s toxic, spiky, and wear’s its old heads like a hat? One whack caterpillar.

Land ho! Insects may have been able to take to terrestrial living due to waterproof shell layer.

Le petit mort. Male spiders are dying for sex. Literally.

Magnificent moths. Simply stunning.

Finding the sweet spot. How bees make honey.

Warning signs. Bee hives do “the wave” to indicate danger ahead.

Able semen? Folks banking on sperm repository to aid bee survival. It’s because there’s strength in diversity in bee hives.

Father knowns best? It may be, when it is an older burying beetle.

Preying on their minds. Tapping into dragonfly brains as they hunt. It’s done with tiny backpacks!

Bad buzz. Bees, bugs, and biological warfare of biblical proportions.

Every label tells a story. Wonderful post on the discoveries one can make looking at museum specimens of spiders. A web of intrigue.


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

Resistance is futile? Actually, it is hoped the ash genome might shed light on resistance to fungal foe.

By the numbers. How plants do mathematics.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Blasts from the past. Why palaeontology is awesome. Andy Farke digs up some great stuff.

Walking with Daleks…er…dinosaurs. When palaeoart wanders.

If you found 1 billion-year-old water would you drink it? Of course, you would! Spoiler: But it would taste awful.

Lost & found. Ancient megacity identified using lasers.

Dig this! TrowelBlazers aims to uncover female archaeologists.

Nice pickings. Two great pieces by Brian Switek on field work in palaeontology, here and here.


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

The up side of the down low. Healthy soil, healthy microbes, healthy people.

Cold comfort. The psychrophiles love frigid temperatures.

Nothing to sniff at? Might it be possible to develop a universal flu vaccine? Ed Yong takes a critical look.

The current flu vaccine program already likely prevent 13M illnesses between 2005-2011. So we need to push back against anti-vaccine sorts, particularly in light of other instances of effectiveness.

“I’m the most privileged TB sufferer in my acquaintance.” Incredible story of reporter who looks into antibiotic resistant TB, and contracts it herself.

Where danger lurks. In your dishwasher. Yes, really. It’s like an incubator for fungal foes.

Hi Ho silver! Precious metal proves to be a silver bullet, literally, when it comes to boosting antibiotic effectiveness – increases it thousand of times.


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

Deep secrets. One protein shows how mammals dive deep. It’s myoglobin, and it created lot of breathless excitement.

And so it glows. First fluorescent protein found in a vertebrate – an eel – and the protein is called UnaG (so that it sounds like Japanese for eel!)

Take two aspirin, and stop cancer’s evolution? Not as strange as it may sound.


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

On the rocks. The mountainous land that lies beneath the Antarctic ice sheet.

Getting to the bottom of things. Antarctic ice melts from the ocean below.

A moving story. How stones “sail” across the desert.

“It’s like putting Pulp Fiction in New York instead of LA.” Conveying the impact of climate change, and just how messed up the situation is.

Glow with the flow. Using fluorescence to track water currents. Beautiful.

Hot stuff. Amazing volcanic activity. Gorgeous.

Not so hot. It’s possible, but not advised, to run on lava.

Reef or madness. Why coral reefs are so darn important.

The tip of the iceberg. Literally. Icebergs provide clues to larger climate questions.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Big secret. Our galaxy’s 250 trillion km surprise. [Spoiler: it’s a supernova!]

Liquidy layer? Saturn’s moon Dion may have some water hiding under its surface.

Stuck on transit. Not what you might be thinking. It’s about planets in motion. And it’s amazing.

Can’t get there from here? Navigating the local universe with amazing maps. Warning: it might make you feel insignificant.

Building on success. The universe constructs an exoplanet.

Troubled times. Our solar system’s turbulent past as revealed by comet dust.

Seeing things in a different light. The large Magallenic cloud seen in the ultraviolet.

Colour my worlds. What are the hues of the universe?

In the black. Andromeda galaxy is loaded with black holes.

You are most definitely not here. The galactic centre.

The legend of a sleepy hollow. A black hole takes a nap.

Fifty years ago this week, the first woman flew into space. Her story is remarkable.

So long and thanks for all the pics. Herschel probe has snapped great photos, and has now been turned off, but analysis of those pics will continue


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

Think that physics can’t save your life? Think again. Amazing story.

“Everything is because of what came before.” Excellent reflection on evolution.

Way out there. Extremes on a universal scale. Literally.

Quirky quartet. New subatomic particle with 4 quarks points to whole new matter altogether.

Walking the Planck. Another constant may apply to large systems. So says cosmic plasmas. Amazing.

Out for a spin. The physics of a curveball. So cool.


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

Caffeine for creativity? Yeah, not so much.

Getting the clap. Applause is a social contagion.

Facing facts. Will LEGO faces hurt your kids? No, no they won’t, but they will elicit bad journalism. Great piece.

Thanks for the memories. Sometimes memories come out of nowhere and hit you hard. Why? And how did learning get converted into some of those memories?

Same old song? Not if we listen to the music animals make, and take inspiration from it.

Mild-mannered trickery. Why don’t folks recognise that Clark Kent is Superman?

Brushing up on the brain. When artists bring their interpretation to the human mind.

Now that’s cool. There may actually be something physical to “getting cold feet”. It may have a scientific footing.

Things that go bump in the night. What the sleeping brain hears.

Foreign affairs. Avoid thoughts of home when learning another language.

The not-so-great imposter. Grappling with imposter syndrome syndrome as a scientist.


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

Geek or nerd? The data are in!

Hot fun in the summertime! Wondering what to do this summer? Wonder no longer. Citizen science!

“Be part of the knowledge marketplace.” Why scientists should tweet.

“Cities can fill a stadium for a sports event; not so much for a scientist.” Looking for new venues for science outreach. Useful stuff.

Can we all get along? The challenges of wring papers collaboratively – great insights and pointers.

“My PhD goes far beyond teaching my field to others.” Paige Brown considers the options in science communication.

“Once scientists have weighed in, you have to be willing to listen.” Indeed. Great piece by Christie Wilcox.

Timing is everything. Learning to live with publication embargoes. Matt Shipman tells us how he did it.

Glowing pains. Crowdfunded bioluminescent plants create controversy.

“Write to make a difference.” Great interview with a person who makes a big difference, Khalil A. Cassimally.


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