Morsels For The Mind – 25/04/2014
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
It starts with a dead squirrel. It's more about life than that might suggest. I wrote this.
Marvellous mammals. Amazing animals.
Seriously sad. Matt Walker finds that when a marmoset tends to dying partner, it’s heartbreaking.
It all adds up. Sarah Williams explains that monkeys systematically underestimate when doing addition.
That smarts! Intelligence measured across 36 non-human animal species. Ed Yong describes how to do animal intelligence research right.
Yeah! Humpback whales no longer need protection along Canada’s coast! Wait! What?! Emily Chung describes a contentious decision.
“Our own dolphin is suing us!” Quote from amazing, must read by Charles Siebert on non-human animal legal rights. Read of the week.
Cat as cat can. Cheetahs, but not wild dogs, peacefully co-exist with lions, explains Sarah Zielinski.
Off target. Folks think they’re using rat poison. Actually they’re using wildlife killer. Martha Groves's piece is an important look at the broader impacts of "benign" actions.
Unnatural behaviour? What does dogs rolling in worms say about nature? I wrote this.
Sit. Stay. Elaborate. Why is canine behaviour research frequently oversimplified? Julie Hecht takes a smart look at "dumbing down".
Hunting for answers. How did hunting shape us & our interactions with other species? Steve Bodio looks at dogs, falcons and humans.
Want to dress up in a somewhat disturbing panda costume for employment? Here’s the job you’ve been looking for. View of the week.
Wonderful wildlife. Gorgeous gallery.
Meaning of the blues? We don’t know why Galapagos blue-footed boobies aren’t breeding. But it’s not good, as John Platt explains.
Cephalopod cycles. Cuttlefish parasite’s astonishing life cycle.
Bugs’ life – insects and other things that creep, crawl and otherwise delight – the arthropods
Milking the data. Jessica Morrison on how the milk-yielding, sleeping-sickness-causing tsetse fly has telling genome.
Oh, bee-have! Bee gets its snail shell nest in order.
Masters of disguise. Anjali Reddy looks at katydids’ cryptic coloration & camouflage.
Royally duped. Caterpillar mimics ant queen to get ants to care for it. Awesome example of mimicry, beautifully explained by Hilary Hurd.
Back from the brink. John Platt on how weta reintroduction is a conservation success story.
Beetle mania. Cheryl Dybas describes how bark beetles, & deadly microbes they host, changed water cycle.
Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like
Life under a magnifying glass. Adam Mann takes a look at organisms trapped in 'impact amber' from asteroid strike.
Seeing life through glasses? Might ancient Martian life be recorded in impact crater glass? Jason Major considers the evidence.
Good time to meat. Cougars survived Pleistocene extinction as they eat what they meet. All of it. Rachel Nuwer describes the evidence in support of the hypothesis.
Dirty pool. Charles Choi finds that Neanderthals carried fairly high number of mutations in gene pool.
Nothing to lose one’s head over. Rebecca Morelle explains how genomics reveals that blood stored in gourd unlikely beheaded Louis XVI’s.
Beautiful botanicals – wonders of the photosynthesising world – that is, mainly plants
Turning over a new leaf. Vine mimics host it grown on. Beautiful coverage of an interesting discovery, by Ed Yong. Plants do some amazing things. This said, this one really stretches the limits of credulity. Suspect it may be the plant taps into a heterochronic pathway typical of other vines (e.g., English ivy) that alters leaf morphology. Likely volatile based switch, but could be light quality related, despite the scant data in the paper suggesting the contrary. Regardless, it’s a very cool discovery. Look forward to learning of the mechanistic basis. Read of the week.
Wiretappers use bugs to spy on conversations. Scientists use bugs to spy on plants' internal communications. I wrote this.
It stems from this. Moss that stands like a tree.
Microscopic marvels – smaller than the eye can see, but big in action – bacteria, fungi and viruses
Fighting fire with fire. S. E. Gould on battling bacteria with fungal weapons that came from bacteria.
Kiss of death. Tanya Lewis explains how Strep throat bacteria evolved into deadly flesh-eaters.
In the flesh. Matt Simon explains how flesh-eating Strep bacteria evolved into an epidemic.
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 & epigenetics)
The Ys & wherefores. Rina Shaikh-Lesko explains that there is a remarkable retention of gene functions, despite Y chromosome shrinkage.
No need to wonder Y. Josh Fischman explains that the Y chromosome has value beyond sex determination.
With due cause. Guidelines for assessing genetic variant causality with human disease. Important development, with insights provided by two of the guidelines' architects, Daniel MacArthur & Chris Gunter.
Forces of nature – big-ticket items – ecology, evolution & extinction
Endless forms most alien. Charles Darwin & the search for extraterrestrial life. Superb look at the history of the science, by David Bressan. Read of the week.
Matter of taste. Why some cockroaches find sugar bitter. Evolution! Peter Andrey Smith on the sensing of flavours.
Robots get fit. Robots “evolve” different fitness strategies when left to own devices, as Francie Diep explains.
Earth, wind and fire – planet shaping – geology, meteorology, oceanography, the environment & climate
Growth industry. Carbon emissions are increasing plant growing season, as Nicola Jones explains.
Roots of change. As climate increases permafrost melt, trees stand askew. Brian Clark Howard takes a look.
Star attractions – the final frontier, space
It’s full of stars. Gorgeous galaxies.
Star attraction. Christopher Crockett describes how gravity from white dwarf bends light to brighten stellar companion.
Mind the gap. There’s a moon there - amongst Saturn’s rings.
No news is good news? Might things be better for humanity in absence of habitable planets? Andrew Snyder-Beattie considers the possibility.
“I’m dedicated to finding another Earth because what else can I do?” Quote by Sara Seager from an outstanding profile of an astounding researcher, by Corey Powell. Read of the week.
Getting physical – physical sciences – cosmology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computing, engineering, and technology
Not so dark? Might pulsars & not dark matter explain positron excess? Interesting alternative hypothesis, nicely explained by Colin Stuart.
Gravity of the situation. Bouncing neutrons shows gravity at work over tiny scales, finds Lizzie Gibney.
Makes your head spin. How fast would you have to whirl to slow down Earth’s rotation? Rhett Allain does some dizzying physics.
Before his time? Are medieval bishop’s insights relevant to modern physics? Tom McLeish & Giles Gasper suggest that the answer is yes.
Blending in. How a kitchen blender might help make better graphene. Richard Van Noorden on science you really shouldn't do at home, kids.
“Scientists are often taught to be rational & politics is anything but rational.” Quote from interesting read by Zoe Corbyn on George Smoot & his view of life, the universe & particles.
A dose of medicine – science in practice in a medical setting, and health-related stories
“Patients don’t get the help they need, they often do get a helping of scorn.” Quote by Julie Rehmeyer from incredible two part piece (part one here, part two here) on living with CFS. Read of the week.
Living with Lyme. Insights into an incompletely-characterised disease. Excellent read, by Katherine Harmon.
Caught out. Don’t be deceived by the “I’m not contagious” line. Healthy advice, by Jenny Rohn.
A long way to go. As we acknowledge 30th anniversary of AIDS, where do things stand? Important look at how far we've come and what remains to be done, by Nathalia Holt.
Sound strategy. Gene-therapy-delivering cochlear impact restores hearing. Amazing new medical advance, perfectly explained by Ed Yong.
In it for the long run. Christie Aschwanden on the challenge of developing a calculator to determine running times.
Wherefore art thou, potion? Were Shakespeare’s fictional chemistries based in realty? Claudia Hammond considers the facts in the Bard's fictions.
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 criminally responsible. Devastating impact of mental illness. This deeply, deeply affecting piece by Amy Dempsey is a poignant, sensitive, intelligent, and important profile of a devastating case of schizophrenia. Read of the week.
Over the moon? Does the moon influence human behaviour, like other animals? Excellent look at lunar influences, by Cameron Walker. Read of the week.
“Here’s how smart Einstein was — he understood all too well..our obsession with celebrity & special-ness.” Quote from a great piece by Virginia Hughes about Einstein’s brain & our obsession with celebrity. Read of the week.
Just desserts? Bethany Brookshire explains how rats develop other bad eating habits due to bingeing.
Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education
Swashbuckling scientists? Pirates were the “original gangsters of natural history”. Awesome look at some amazing history, by Alex Warneke. Read of the week.
“Whoever thinks academics don’t like to engage with the public should spend just one day in our office.” Quote by Akshat Rathi from an excellent reflection on how academics can enrich journalism. Read of the week.
Picture this. Susan Ask describes her excellent work with the Urbanimalia project, using drawing as a means to get children to empathise with animals.
Great wide open? Balanced critique of an “open science reporting” project, by Sarah Boon.
A thing of beauty. Beautiful science writing derives from the beauty of facts. Excellent advice on writing beautifully, by Ann Finkbeiner. Read of the week.