Morsels for the mind – 24/5/2013

24 May 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

Dogs complete us. They bring us useful microbes. From the great outdoors.

Fear smells of kittens? It does if you’re a mouse.

Don’t deride cats for their curiosity. Emulate it.

Remarkable resilience. Chimpanzees are adaptive apes.

Prairie home companionship. Prairie dogs communicate by a unique language.

This gets the seal of approval. Seal pup’s brains are already almost 70% of adult size.

Now this is hair raising! Circadian clock controls mouse hair growth rate. Could have implications for timing of radiation therapy for cancer.

Going around the bends. Do deep diving whales get the bends? The answer may leave you breathless.

One bamboo bonanza. When pandas are around bamboo is big business.

Well hello, grizzly bear tongue! He’s got it licked.

With due caws, rooks are captivating corvids.

Penguins aren’t in a flap about it. When they took on swimming, they jumped in with both wings, and gave up on the whole flying thing.

Here’s a project that really hums along. Investigating hummingbird health & distribution with citizen scientists. A merger of awesomeness.

When things spring ahead, some birds are now being caught off guard.

The viper wants us to leaf it alone. It uses ultrablack-dellineated camouflage to hide amongst the leafy litter.

Location! Location! Location! For female poison frogs, that’s all that matters when choosing a mate.

Now this is one bad test result. Human pregnancy test spread the devastating amphibian-killing fungus. And it’s now found in all amphibians.

Baby guppies have it all sussed. They are remarkable with numbers.

These guys are discriminating diners. They remember bad eats. And they are little more than sacks of goo – sea slugs.

The eyes still have it. Even cave dwellers retain visual pigments.

Don’t make a stink about. On average each person produces 0.5L of gas a day. Wait ‘til you find out how we know this. Spoiler: Science!


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

Hightailing it out of there. Springtails make remarkable leaps.

Came. Went. Coming. Nice interactive timetable/map of cicadas brood hatchings.

When cicadas get out and about, here’s how they do it.

Crime does not pay. Not, at least, if you get caught by this plant-protecting ant, and you were stealing nutrients.

The key to ladybird success? Their attractive appearance? Nope. Invasive ladybugs pack a parasite that kills the competition.

Transformation time – the magnificent metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly. Provides nice view of what’s going on inside. Gorgeous.

The smaller they buzz, the longer they build. One lengthy paper wasps nest.

Oh what a tussled web they weave. Argiope spiders are very cool.

Moths work a little molecular magic – converting a poison to a pheromone.

When they get it together, ants and acacias make a contract written with two proteins – an enzyme and an enzyme inhibitor. A catalysed coupling if ever there was one.

Flight of fancy. Literally. How dragonflies do their stuff. Amazing.


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

It’s full of it. Rhubarb is a veritable chemical cornucopia.

Plants and ideas can share the same fate. They may be hopeful monsters.

Count on it. Plants’ supernumerary genomes tell an interesting tale, but even those with minimal genomes, like the bladderwort, do amazing things.

Life’s better when we go green – we’ve made lots of great scientific discoveries by studying plants.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Dinosaurs departed with a trace. Trace fossils that is.

Once there was a living fossil, who left a fossil. An interestingly long-lasting ichthyosaur.

Now this is a mammoth undertaking. Literally. Figuring out the iconic prehistoric beast’s demise from remnant tusks.

Bring ‘em back alive? Not when they’re already extinct, say the editors of Scientific American.

It’s all relative, all the way down. It is. We’re all related. Somewhere in our distant past.

Neanderthals were fast little suckers. Fossil evidence suggests they weaned early.

Still in fashion. Ancient ancestors decide to pull on clothing. What do we know about how this got started?

Give us a hand. It is, after all, something that makes us special.

A long term relationship. We and dogs go way back. And we may have been “domesticated” in the same way.


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

You’ve got another immune system. It’s the viruses you harbour. They protect you from bad microbes. Yes, really.

We are walking trellises in a microbial garden. Where we grow mushrooms. Lots and lots of fungal goodness.

A famine has given rise to a feast. The genome of the Irish potato famine-causing fungus provides insights into devastating crop disease. It’s an incredible story.

It’s getting around. By stealth. The fungal foe, Cryptococcus.

This all adds up to something. Microbial circuitry used to built an analogue calculator.

When you glow down to the woods today. You’re sure to get a big biofluorescent mushroom.

Who’s flus? Handy Venn diagram lets you know who catches what.

Every little genome has the devils inside. Talking about the retroviruses that lurk within here.

It’s cold’s comfort. Literally. The cold-causing rhinovirus prefers conditions that are…wait for it…cold.


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

Extract DNA with a cocktail recipe?! Well, maybe not, but you will have fun trying. Cheers!

Tweaking twins: how genetics, environment, and personal experience create unique individuals from identical twins.

When you’re feeling old, you may want to blame it on your NF-kB. It’s got a role in ageing.

So this is how one makes nice. You do it with an enzyme that makes strawberry aroma.

A nice little get together. Self-assembling nanoparticle is both beautifully designed, and effective.

Stressed for success? Vaccines, and other healthy stuff, may be more effective if you are a little bit stressed.


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

Ship shaped. How down-to-earth movements, like shipping, make sky high cloud features.

Land ho! One of the longest continuous stretches of terra firma right here on Earth.

How do you shape a planet? Why, here’s how!

Putting a good face on things. Facial recognition software finds faces in geographical features.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

The wind whistles around Uranus. Yep, that never gets old.

In space, get-togethers are big, really, really big. (and are sometimes strung together with gas)

This stuff really gets around. Movements around Saturn, and orbits at the centre of the galaxy.

It sure does things with flare! Our super Sun.

There are times when a galaxy wheels about. With wheels within wheels.

Getting our just deserts. On Titan and right here on Earth. Remarkable similarities.

Just a little bit groovy. Titan’s tiny topography.

The real hit parade. Cool record of meteorite impacts.

Far out! The best sounds in the universe…may be the sounds of the universe itself.


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

The freakiest thing you will look at this week: Photons that do not exist at the same time can be entangled. Stop. Think about it. Think about it again. Amazing.

It’s bloomin’ beautiful. When nanoscale self-assembly takes root, chemistry  seeds microscopic flowers, really gorgeous flowers.

If you want to go out for a spin, check out this explainer on electron spin, and then watch how it propagates in a magnetic avalanche. Cool!

Mined the time. The oldest water, minimally 1B years old, seeps deep underground.

Time flies when you’re having chaos. A half century of the infamous theory.

Divided we stand. The awesome power of the golden ratio.

Save by zero. Nought is important.


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

See spot run. Why seeing a bunch of moving dots conjures up a dog in motion. Amazing.

See Spot think? fMRI may soon provide some insights into dog brain activity as it relates to canine cognition.

Embarking on a new dialogue. Dog apparently learns grammatical conventions.

Want to keep a memory pristine? The forget it. Paradoxically, recalling a memory runs the risk of rewriting it - incorrectly.

Not so special? When it comes to interesting frontal lobes, humans have some company.

Love is the drug? Does romance trigger addiction pathways? Hmm.

Sometimes people really sing the blues. Or the reds, or yellows. And even non-synesthetes can see that.


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

Now this was exSciting! Scitable blog network launched ten, that’s right 10, blogs this week. Watch them soar!

“If we don't recognise the politics of science, we will just get played by those who do” says Alice Bell. It can lead down a road of ruin for science.


“The chasm between science and society is wide and deep.” We need to mind that gap.

Ways to bridge the gap:

Pop goes the science!  Great interview with Kyle Hill on bridging science and popular culture.

Speaking of great interviews, Deborah Blum talked about the power of the science story with Matt Shipman.

The kids are alright. Engaging high school students in citizen science has great potential – to build climate models for example.

Great advice for scientists this week: How to write like a journalist. How to talk to journalists about work done by others, as beautifully explained by Ed Yong. (and a reminder about how to talk about your own work)

“What we learn about unicorns and zebras can help with horses too.” That’s why studying rare “orphan disease” is important. Really, really important.

When astronauts get down to earth, we learn about the gravity of gravity. While other earth bound scientists, like Ed Stone, look to the stars to understand out universe (beautiful post by Alexandra Witze). And others are concerned that the wheels may have some off of one of our ways to find exoplanets.

Virginia Hughes weighed in on the relationship obesity and health. Two brilliant pieces captured an issue with gravity, here and here.

Frequency. Distribution. Determinants. Data. Epidemiology encapsulated in 4 words. Beautiful.

Oh, to be a kid again. Today’s science books for kids are phenomenal.

Depression can curtail some discoveries, but lead to others. This poignant, important post lays it all bare.

Does the vastness of the universe mean we’re insignificant? No. No it doesn’t. And that’s amazing.

And finally, the answer to the question everyone asks: Why does orange juice tastes bad after you brush your teeth? Because science!


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