Morsels For The Mind – 24/01/2014
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!
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
Dogged determination. How a persistent cancer has clung to dogs for 11000 years. Superb piece by Carl Zimmer. Read of the week.
A new breed? Transmissible canine cancer has 1.9 million mutations. Absolutely amazing story of the "oldest dog" and what its genome reveals, by Ed Yong. Read of the week.
The dog that lived forever. Andy Coghlan on the transmissible canine cancer that has been around for 11000 years!
Bad catch. The incredible biology of a transmissible canine cancer, explained by Brendan Borrell.
Guilty as charged? Think twice before interpreting a dog’s “guilty” look. Excellent piece by Julie Hecht.
See Spot. See Spot run. See Spot engage in social networks. Abigail Beall describes how GPS is revealing how Fido "friends".
When friends meat. Early dog domestication may have been over shared diet with hunter gatherers.
“We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.” Quote from a great history of canine cosmonauts by Duncan Geere.
Inner beauty. X-rays reveal important things about our companion animals. Katie McKissick looks into it.
Touchy subject. Cat not hostile to plate of musical peas, just feeling them out. Dan Nosowitz explains a viral video.
Rocky romance. Monkeys throw stones to attract mates.
Completely floored. We need to take another look at why sloths poop on the forest floor. Becky Cliffe makes a great case.
The elephant in the room. 2000 years on, nature of Ptolemy’s iconic beasts of war known. Nice look at some science and history, by Sarah Zielinski.
Good news, bad news. New river dolphin species discovered. Already highly endangered. Matt McGrath shares the information. It's worth noting that Alistair Dove took to Twitter in response to this news, providing some excellent insights, and showing the value of social media in scientific discourse: "This description of a new River Dolphin species is troubling me. Primary morphological difference from closest species is skull bone width in females, but holotype is male (& incomplete). Genetic difference clear, but need suite of morphological & meristic differences to make formal "diagnosis" for new species. Would have like to have seen a PCA or DA of meristic & morphometric data. It seems possible that new Dolphin is a genetic variant of the Boto, but without more (& complete) specimens hard to say. Majority of distinction based on genetic differences, but such differences are common between River basins WITHIN many species." Excellent.
Mammoth absence. There's and ecosystem that retains the mix of ice-age mammals, with some notable exceptions, as Colin Barras explains.
A matter of pride? Super look at Asiatic lions, & how they are caught in political turmoil, by Khalil Cassimally
No park is an island? Jason Goldman shows that urban parks may provide greater connectivity for wildlife than thought.
Welcome to the neighbourhood? Jason Bittel on the curious history of squirrels in urban settings.
Squirrel appreciation day occurred this week! Shouldn’t that be every day?! Here’s my contribution to the love of scurrying critters.
Even in the dead of winter, death can be a beginning, not an end. Finding solace from corpses.
Deadly gaze. Sandrine Ceurstemont describes how hunting falcons track their prey.
Preying on their minds. How falcons track their prey, determined using falconcam. Ian Sample looks into it.
From such great heights. Tracking birds by satellite promises to reveal much. Cool use of technology, shared by John Vidal.
“Two ravens tussle, Above the snow-heaped forest, A feather drifts down” Lovely ode to corvids by Dez Huber.
Soar. Like birds. Gorgeous.
All shook up. Animals were the original twerkers. Many shake for mates. Erika Engelhaupt has gathered a bunch together for you.
Colourful characters. Multiple pigment cell types of male guppies.
Deep understanding. We’re learning a lot more about the complex lives of deep sea squid. Bec Crew tells just how much.
Mollusc monstrosities. Giant, & I do mean *giant*, land snails that came & would not leave. Matt Simon continues his curious critters series.
Who needs friends when you have amazing anemones? Astounding creatures living beneath Antarctic ice shelf.
Hearing is believing. Recordings of ocean-dwelling creatures. Awesome sounds, brought to you by Sonia Harmon. Listen of the week.
We live here. Life on our amazing planet, beautifully rendered in black and white by Sebastião Salgado.
Inside scoop. The bones & organs of Mickey, Barbie, Mario & more revealed. Great stuff shared by Joseph Stromberg. View of the week.
Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight
Smells like queen spirit. Matthew Cobb considers the ancient origins of queen-derived fertility pheromone in ants, bees & wasps.
“This is not science fiction: this is life, on a small, arachnological scale.” Fascinating entomology by Chris Buddle.
Going viral? No, plant-to-bee transmitted virus doesn’t explain colony collapse disorder. Great take by Anne Buchanan.
Bonkers for conkers. Horse-chestnut leaf-miner invades. Citizen science comes to the rescue! Bug Girl tells the story.
Field of bad dreams. Maize & soybeans are depriving monarch butterflies of crucial habitat. Alex Wild has the map to prove it.
Buzz kill? Paul Bisceglio takes an interesting look at colony collapse disorder, with Smithsonian’s “bee man”.
Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like
Battle scars. Fractured tails & other signs of wounds point to dinosaur combat. Brian Switek continues his exploration of duelling dines.
In the flesh. Fossilised soft tissue suggests Edmontosaurus had a “cocks’ comb”. Cool find, explained by Jon Tennant.
Jurassic park. Had some pretty cool spiders.
Birds of a feather? Super, historical take on Archaeopteryx’s avian (or not) status, by Mark Carnall.
Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants
Spicing it up. Razib Khan on how the pepper genome suggests that gene duplication played a role in bringing the heat.
Light makes scents. UV cues plant to produce insect-attracting perfume.
Message received. Plant receptor for multiple stresses.
A breed apart. Conventional crop breeding brings new traits to the table without GM. Superb read, by Ferris Jabr. Read of the week.
The good old-fashioned way? Monsanto brings new fruit & veg to market, created by…cross-breeding. An excellent feature by Ben Paynter, containing choice quote “Monsanto is still Monsanto”.
Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses
It’s all about change. Microbiome shifts related to butterfly metamorphosis. Cool paper.
Ladybug, ladybug fly away home. With 3 cool fungi. Megan Daniels looks at the trio.
Life after death? Yes. Much.
What’s in a name? Deadly 1918 global “Spanish” flu epidemic actually started in China via Canada. Dan Vergano on the misnomer.
A shore thing. Bioluminescence at the ocean’s edge.
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)
3 for 1. How a protein got a trio of DNA targets.
“So, maybe ASPM’s fast evolution in primates is more a story about nuts than noggins.” Quote by Ed Yong from a masterful piece on the value of thoroughly testing seductive hypotheses. Read of the week.
A taste for science. Bethany Brookshire describes how citizen science is investigating our ability to taste fatty acids.
What’s that smell? It might be illness. It has an odour we can perceive.
Good vibrations. Determining protein structures from the way they vibrate. Nice.
A look sea. Bioprospectors are scouring the oceans for new drugs. A good thing? Tom Yulsman takes a look.
Known unknowns. The toxicity of the chemical spill in West Virginia. Great take on an incredible accident, by Deborah Blum.
Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate
Phew. Puneet Kollipara finds that the Earth has at least another 1.5B year capacity to support life. Carry on, then.
Down to earth. Rocks convert to soil surprisingly quickly.
Finding fault. Becky Oskin describes how remnants of cooked organic matter help identify earthquake potential.
Reef or madness. Megan Gannon describes how seaweed transplants aim to restore reefs made bald by pollution.
In the heat of the moment? Did volcanic activity forge the evolution of first animals? Interesting hypothesis, nicely explained by Catherine Brahic.
Star attractions – the final frontier, space
This week's big news in astronomy was the newly spotted supernova, first espied by undergrad students:
“One minute we’re eating pizza then 5 minutes later we’ve helped to discover a supernova.” Undergrads spot supernova!
Watch this space. Supernova should be visible by binoculars in 2 weeks, as Lucas Laursen explains.
The other big astronomy news was about steamy Ceres:
Hot stuff. Intriguing questions remain about the origins of asteroid Ceres’s steamy plumes, as Sid Perkins explains.
Gamma gamma hey! Gamma-rays seen through gravitational lens.
Not so special? Are some planets even better suited for life than Earth? Sarah Fecht looks at the answers.
Rock star. Mystery stone photobombs pics from Mars, gets lots of attention. Ian O'Neill explains how this might have occurred. Related: Didn’t know Mars rover, Opportunity, has a wonky wheel that jitters like one on a bad grocery cart.
Far out man! Music composed by Voyagers 1 & 2 is outta this world. Magnificent music, shared by Samuel Gibbs. Listen of the week.
Forces of nature – big-ticket items – cosmology, mathematics, computing, chemistry, physics, ecology & evolution
Holes in the theory? Hawking suggests “there are no black holes”. Great story by Zeeya Merali. Read of the week.
The long & short of it. How physicists use supernovae to measure distances in space. Jonas Helsen explains.
Hidden in plain sight? Might “missing matter” be swirling in celestial gas clouds? Gabriel Popkin takes a look.
Give it up. Stunning new theory explaining physics of life based on energy dissipation. Expertly explained by Natalie Wolchover.
Is this real life, or is this just fantasy? Do we live in a computer simulation? The intriguing possibilities are explored by Matthew Francis: “The difficulty with probing into the cosmos-as-simulation is finding the right scientific questions to ask.”
Most interesting thought path of the week starts with: “The most mindbending math you’ll ever see.” Phil Plait explores unbelievable addition. But it doesn’t add up: Mark Chu-Carroll sums up problems with Phil Plait’s math. Finding the positive in the negative, Phil Plait owns his error, but learns (& shares) much from it. These posts involving Phil Plait show the huge value of twitter / social media - a grand environment for sharing & learning. Excellent. Reads of the week.
Divided attention. A close look at our universe reveals the beauty of mathematics at work. Max Tegmark explains.
Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it – neuroscience, mental health, psychology, sociology & human interest stories
“Not many psychologists are even good at the maths & statistics you have to do as a psychologist.” Quote by Nick Brown from a superb piece by Andrew Anthony on a fab amateur debunking of bad science. Read of the week.
Rethinking things. Important changes occurring in the field of psychology. Excellent synopsis by Chris Chambers.
“When it comes to psychotherapy, it seems the dodo was wrong.” Quote refers to “Dodo Bird Effect”, which hypothesises that all psychotherapy has a benefit. Daniel Freeman & Jason Freeman look at the validity of the hypothesis.
“I lost my appetite for a while. Now I’m ready to open the recipe book and start cooking.” Quote by Tania Browne from a brilliant, must read post on breaking down & recovering. Read of the week.
We can do better. Universities & student mental health - just a passing grade. Melonie Fullick discusses current efforts, and how much further they need to go - beyond puppies and yoga.
Clear thinking. Traumatic memories removed by clearing epigenetic marks. Sara Reardon on one of the most amazing finds this week. Read of the week.
Clear thoughts. Chromosome modifying drug clears fearful memories in mice. Virginia Hughes on an amazing find. Read of the week.
“Before..revving up your grey matter with extra electricity..bear in mind the following caveats & warnings.” Quote by Christian Jarrett from an excellent piece on zapping your brain for extra smarts.
Too soon? What is the lag time needed to transform tragedy to comedy? Christian Jarrett explores.
Sleep on it? Maybe not. Daytime slumber messes with circadian gene expression, as Jef Akst explains.
The time of our lives. We mentally manipulate time to make sense of things. Fascinating, by Matthew Hutson.
Music to our ears? On dissonance, musical snobbery, & inexplicable fondness for nickleback. Great insights provided by Tauriq Moosa.
“Epic analyses. Veronique Greenwood on how network analysis of Norse sagas reveals social networks.
Northern exposure. A phenomenal, epic look at what life is really like in the arctic, by Ian Brown.
Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education
Dynamic duo. Arts & science aren’t “two cultures”, but work well together. Super, compelling case made by Christina Agapakis. Read of the week.
“The problem of “the two cultures” is not, in fact, a problem at all.” Quote by William Deresiewicz from a superb piece that embraces distinctiveness of science & humanities. Read of the week.
When awesomeness collides. Using art to enhance science. Love everything about this engaging student activity, run by Mark Martin. This rather counters the William Deresiewicz piece above. Shows the value of art & science coming together. View of the week.
Deep beauty. Laser scanning gets beneath the surface of art. Philip Ball shows how.
“History, Wheeler discovered—the kind that brews guilt, that lies dormant in foxholes—is never set in stone.” Quote by Amanda Gefter from a brilliant long read on J.A. Wheeler & the physics of time. Read of the week.
“No longer acceptable for scientists to stand on the sidelines.” Compelling, must read piece by Michael Mann. Read of the week.
“The thing I love most is going out and doing the field work.” Quote by pika researcher Johanna Varner, from a super interview by Bethany Brookshire. Great insights. Johanna Varner is not alone in her love of fieldwork. For many others, it’s also the best part of science.
Phoenix rising? Can disgraced stem cell researcher Woo Suk Hwang resurrect his career? Hmm. Great profile feature by David Cyranoski.
"The bottom line is for men thinking about their behaviour.” YES. Important piece on harassment by Athene Donald.
Hold the press! Sharing science through traditional media can benefit scientists. Matt Shipman describes how.
Get the word out! Great discourse on science communication / outreach in this Storify compiled by Paige Brown.
Round it goes. NASA has made a film that is viewed only on a sphere. Why? As Rebecca Rosen explains, the reason is very cool.
This week, the Twitter hashtag #SixWordPeerReview provided some of the best laughs. Oh, and insights into the how the scientific peer review process really works.