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.

Dog gone it? The common ancestor of wolves & dogs went extinct. Interesting find, perfectly explained by Stephanie Pappas.

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.

Handy advice. Chimps use hand gestures to provide guidance. Mary Bates gets to the point.

Speed kills? Primates have remarkably slow metabolic rates. Why? Anne-Marie Hodge provides insights.

Down in the dumps. Sloths descend to ground to poop. Why? Ed Yong looks at the latest hypoothesis.

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.

Hybrid vehicle. Charles Choi explains that two dolphin species mated to make one.

Fast flukes. Susan Millius describes how dolphins generate thrust.

Got milk? Holsteins give up more for heifers, not steers. Amazing study by Katie Hinde, expertly explained by Ed Yong.

Mammoth absence. There's and ecosystem that retains the mix of ice-age mammals, with some notable exceptions, as Colin Barras explains.

Unbearable? Lauren Morello on how iconic bears losing their protected status is creating a grizzly argument.

Down for the count? How many tigers are there in the wild? The number may surprise you. Sharon Guynup begins a series exploring the situation for today's tigers.

Bad medicine. Christine Dell'Amore describes how TCM led to record rhino slaughter last year. Ridiculous.

A matter of pride? Super look at Asiatic lions, & how they are caught in political turmoil, by Khalil Cassimally

The mane event. Lions are amazing. And amazingly threatened. Khalil Cassimally shares both via BuzzFeed.

Living for the city. Madhusudan Katti on how biodiversity can flourish in urban environments.

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.

Boom is busted? Lemming population cycles have flatlined. That’s bad news for predators reports Joe Smith.

Out in the cold. Sarah Zielinski on how animals survive the frigid temperatures.

Even in the dead of winter, death can be a beginning, not an end. Finding solace from corpses.

A view to a kill. Bec Crew on how falcons spy their prey.

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.

A nested development? Where birds really sleep may surprise you. Nicholas Lund reveals why.

Two ravens tussle, Above the snow-heaped forest, A feather drifts down” Lovely ode to corvids by Dez Huber.

Soar. Like birds. Gorgeous.

Best laid plans. Spy-cam disguised as egg provides remarkable footage of penguins & birds of prey.

Silly love songs. Joseph Stromberg on how frog’s mating call attracts hungry bats.

All shook up. Animals were the original twerkers. Many shake for mates. Erika Engelhaupt has gathered a bunch together for you.

Leapin’ lizards! Amazing agamids, beautifully detailed by Darren Naish.

Cartilage loss. 30% of sharks & rays at risk of extinction. Yow. John Platt on the shocking stats.

Colourful characters. Multiple pigment cell types of male guppies.

A moving story. Fish cells chase each other to make stripes. Ed Yong expertly explains some awesome cell biology.

It’s a start. The beginning of a fish embryo. Astounding. Gorgeous. Trust Joe Hanson to share the most amazing stuff!

Can’t see hue. Mantis shrimp’s funky vision. Ed Yong looks at the satellite vision of an amazing creature.

The eyes have it. The mantis shrimp’s funky vision. Jessica Morrison on some surprising sight.

It was all a blur. Andy Coghlan on how blurry vision helps squid grow up fast.

Battle at sea. Squid vs owl fish. Becky Oskin follows the fight.

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 leaveMatt Simon continues his curious critters series.

Who needs friends when you have amazing anemones? Astounding creatures living beneath Antarctic ice shelf.

Shaping up. Ian Randall on how jellyfish get a new shape.

Filter feeders fight fiendish frog fungus. Yao Hua Law finds that Daphnia may help rein in chytrid disease.

Hearing is believing. Recordings of ocean-dwelling creatures. Awesome sounds, brought to you by Sonia Harmon. Listen of the week.

Everybody gets the blues. Load of blue critters, collected for your viewing pleasure by Joseph Jameson-Gould.

Marine marvels. Gorgeous invertebrates. Christopher Mah collects the most beautiful pictures of fascinating creatures.

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.

Faking it. Why does a spider make decoy spiders? Intriguing discovery, explored by Nadia Drake.

Sexy stalkings. Susan Millius reveals how springtails leave sperm bouquets on stalks.

Getting in shape. Alex Wild describes how ant queen form evolves with function.

Good vibrations. Spiders discern mates from meals on web. Catherine Scott provides an excellent explainer of a recent paper from her superb graduate research. Read of the week.

“I’d be hesitant to proclaim that this virus is the cause of colony collapse.” Of bees & a virus by Jef Akst.

Going viral? No, plant-to-bee transmitted virus doesn’t explain colony collapse disorder. Great take by Anne Buchanan.

Not so sweet. Adding sugar turns a caterpillar into a zombie. Jack Scanlan explains the impact of some amazing biochemistry.

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

Family feuds. The evidence that dinosaurs duelled. Fascinating exploration of ancient ethology by Brian Switek.

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

Green goodness. Fabulous facts about plant cells, nicely bundled for your enjoyment by Tim Havenith.

Rooting around for intelligence. Plants’ “cognitive” powers. Thought provoking exploration by Anne Buchanan.

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 spine of the times. Why do cholla cacti make wicked spines? Intriguing hypotheses explored by Anne Buchanan.

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”.

Death & diversity. Plant killers promote biodiversity. Heidi Ledford explains the paradox.

If a tree falls in a city, does anyone hear? Super piece on impact of ice storm on urban trees, by Tiffy Thompson.


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.

Hair raising ride. Sloth fur carries 74 amazing fungal species. Kayla Graham gets into it.

Hate each other’s guts. Gut bacteria make locusts solitary. Francie Diep explains how.

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.

Fabulous fungal finds. On the hunt from truffles. Interesting story by John Vidal.

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)

X marks the spot. Stunning patterns of X chromosome inactivation, wonderfully explained by Carl Zimmer.

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.

This makes scents. We’re able to detect the odour of fats. Annalee Newtiz makes sense of it.

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.

A trick of the light. Magical illuminated pillars that are not. Excellent explainer by Alan Shapiro.

Turning over a new reef. Coral timelapse. A nice video by Victoria Gill & Damian Fasolo.

Reef or madness. Megan Gannon describes how seaweed transplants aim to restore reefs made bald by pollution.

Sedimental journey. Impact crater sediment cores reveal past climate. Aamzing discoveries, shared by Frontier Scientists.

Hot stuff. How magma builds a super-volcano. Amazing & terrifying, nicely described by Simon Redfern.

In the heat of the moment? Did volcanic activity forge the evolution of first animals? Interesting hypothesis, nicely explained by Catherine Brahic.

Frozen in time. Alok Jha's nice reflection on the changes Antarctic ice, over the year, over centuries.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Everything’s connected. Literally. There is a web of filaments between galaxies. Astounding find, beautifully explained by Lisa Grossman. Read of the week.

Web of intrigue. Quasar reveals intergalactic mesh. Ron Cowen weaves a great story around it.

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!

It’s a blast! Super supernova makes appearance. Ethan Siegel explains why this should excite you.

Blast from the past. We’ve just caught a glimpse of a new supernova. And it’s amazing. Phil Plait explains why.

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.

Completely steamed? What does asteroid Ceres’s plume of steam tell us? Adam Mann takes a look.

Ceres get serious. Big asteroid shoots a steamy plume into space. Bill Andrews has a nice description.

Blowing off steam. Asteroid Ceres shoots steamy plume. Shared by Ian Sample.

Gamma gamma hey!  Gamma-rays seen through gravitational lens.

All we are is dust in the wind? There may be truth in that. Fascinating finds in the cosmos, by Akshat Rathi.

Water, water, everywhere. Stardust is wet, as Catherine Brahic explains.

Holey cow! Black hole blasts gigantic gaps in space. Jason Major on a major find.

Not so special? Are some planets even better suited for life than Earth? Sarah Fecht looks at the answers.

Hardly wet behind its ears. Old Mars Rover finds really old Martian water. Alex Witze has the story.

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.

Martian mysteries. Mysterious schmutz, & other weirdness, on Mars. Dan Vergano takes a look.

There’s no place like home. As a look at Mars shows. Fascinating look at the red planet by James Lewis.

Far out man! Music composed by Voyagers 1 & 2 is outta this world. Magnificent music, shared by Samuel Gibbs. Listen of the week.

4:53PM, Feb 5th, 1883. When Monet’s ‘Sunset’ was painted. Because astronomy. Amar Toor on how the stars align with art.


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.

A big deal. The universe is ridiculously large. Great explainer by Ethan Siegel.

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.

Name of the game. Brain training games make you better at games. Higher IQ? Not so much. Great critical look by Jordan Gaines.

Erasing memories. Roberta Kwok describe how Losing species removes indigenous knowledge.

The time of our lives. We mentally manipulate time to make sense of things. Fascinating, by Matthew Hutson.

A matter of taste. Stephanie Pappas asks "Might love really make life sweeter?"

Music to our ears? On dissonance, musical snobbery, & inexplicable fondness for nickleback. Great insights provided by Tauriq Moosa.

An eye for artistry. Claude Monet’s remarkable changing vision. Brilliant exploration of science, art and the merger of the two, by Joe Hanson. View of the week.

The C word. From zodiac to biology. Fascinating etymology, explained by Alex Brown.

“Epic analyses. Veronique Greenwood on how network analysis of Norse sagas reveals social networks.

Pass it on. Maria Konnikova has the goods on what makes a story highly shared…

Runaway popularity. How crowds make the popular more popular. Fascinating study, explained by Lou Woodley.

Which is better for humanity? Urban life or back to nature? The answer may surprise you. Excellent examination, by Annalee Newitz.

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

Neuro Skeptic describes how to spot plagiarism. Neuro Skeptic describes how to spot plagiarism.

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.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Elizabeth Preston joins Discover Magazine blog network. Brilliant writer, brilliant venue!

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.

“I’ve always had science in my heart.” Fantastic reflection. And Kepler! Must read post by Ethan Siegel. Read of the week.

There’s a kind of hush. Silence has its place in science as well. Thought provoking ideas, by Felicity Mellor.

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.

What’s in a name? A lot. Excellent take on anonymity by Dr. Isis here  and Michael Eisen here.

Hold the press! Sharing science through traditional media can benefit scientists. Matt Shipman describes how.

Hold the hype. Paige Brown Dissects a bad press release on dangers of a protein-supplemented diet.

Write on! The challenges of PhD thesis writing. Great insights based on personal experience, from Sarah Shailes.

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.

The NSA collects 200 million *random texts a day. So everything’s cool if your texts are nonrandom. Right? Colin Lecher looks into it.

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.


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