Morsels for the mind – 28/6/2013

28 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 mane event! Big story of the week was the genome from a horse stallion that lived 700000 (that’s right, 700k!) years ago! It was impossible to rein this story in, and a whole herd of great folks galloped off with great coverage, including Joe Hanson, Erika Check Hayden, Breanna Draxler, Emily Chung, Francie Diep, and Kate Wong. Clearly there was unbridled passion for this tale. (Apologies for saddling you with the puns!)

What’s up dog? Dogs check in with us when they explore their world. Just like kids do.

Filthy rumours. Christie Wilcox and Ed Yong dispel the longstanding myth that Komodo dragons have dirty mouths. The dragons actually down prey by venom, not mouth-borne microbes.

Some nerve. Evidence that squid sense pain. Zen Faulkes explores a sensitive subject.

Slow and steady. It may not only win the race, but also be easier on your body.

Social safety net. Friends are key for monkey survival in tough times.

Meat on the menu. The surprising hunting habits of chimps. Amazing field observations.

Thievery corporation. Lemurs are better thieves when they work together.

Big things, small package. The remarkable impact of lemmings.

Bad to the bone. The case of a most unusual skeleton.

Muscling in. Bunnies beat cheetahs when it comes to muscle power.

Fate is sealed? The four seals under the greatest extinction threat.

If you can’t take the heat..move around in your egg. That’s what turtle embryos do.

The game of the naming. Dave Hone gives voice to how species get named.

Panda-monium. A history of red panda escapes from zoos.

Spreading the love. Conservation must extend beyond charismatic megafauna. Ugly Animal Preservation Society hopes to save those species only a mother could love.

Luminescent lips. Female octopus is a flashy kisser.

Some like it hot. Lampreys heat things up for sex.

Phenomenal floater. A pink, oceanic, mystery blob is a beautiful population of squid larvae.

Hot stuff! Life at a thermal vent.

Making a point. The spiky beauty of fire sea urchins.

Pearls of wisdom. How oysters may their treasure round.

Pika’s prefer pre-chewed patches. Mountain mammals like caterpillar leftovers.

What killed the dinosaurs? We did. We’re having a devastating impact on dinosaur descendents, birds.


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

The flapping of butterflies’ wings. Chaos plays a role in giving rise to wing colour. Brilliant, must read piece by Brandon Keim.

Inside story. Bug in bugs in bugs. It’s a biological matryoshka doll!

Looking back. Photoreceptors in butterfly’s behind.

Big brother benefit. Social spiders gain benefit from older siblings.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Amongst spiders.

Walloping websnappers! The wonders of spider silk proteins. Oldie, but goodie post from Lucas Brouwers.

Best buzz. Exploring the motion of bees.

Time, flies. Following the life of a fly. Shockingly beautiful photoessay by Sean McCann.

Tonight the bottle let me down. About beer-bottle-loving beetles and other evolutionary traps we create.

The bees knees. Sometimes we forget about native bees species. We shouldn’t.

Repellent thinking. Homeopathic mosquito repellent? No. Just no.


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

“No matter what meanings we ascribe to them, plants maintain their mystery.” Gorgeous, lyrical post by Olivia Laing.

“What are we to make of these stories of dead trees.” Another genius post, this one on ash die-back, by Olivia Laing.

Keeping count. Plants tally the amount of starch reserves they have so as to calculate just how much to use to get them through the night.

Ancient internet. Plants communicate via an underground fungal network.

Pretty green. What would the Earth look like with only flora? Like this.

Rhythm method. The veggies in your fridge may be timing their chemical composition, using their circadian clock to do so.

A light touch. Plants may use quantum coherence of photons in photosynthesis.

Making it work? Sometimes plants and insects seem to work together. Are they really doing work or just living?

Phenomenal flora. The beautiful colours of plant life.

“It seems such a cruel idea to cut down such a splendid tree.” And with that, a conservation movement was born.

Not so sweet. What would fruit production look like without bee pollinators?


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Winging it. Awesome gallery of winged dinosaurs.

Flights of fancy. Arthur Conan Doyle and his pterosaurs. Fernanda Castano pulls a great story together.

Hints of tints. Determining the colour of early birds.

Heads up. Fossil points back to a ancient knobby-headed reptile.

Headed this way. The cranio-facial features of Tyrannosaurs.

Dead reckoning. Monumental mystery at a fossil bed.

Chipping away at the past. A bone chip was used to reconstruct the Denisovan hominid lineage. Jamie Shreeve pieces together an amazing story.

All in the family. Early farmers chose to be inbred.


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

Pass it on.  Microbes transfer DNA to human cells.

Up in the air. There are bacteria at 10000 meters in the atmosphere. What are they doing there?

Going viral. Battling diseases like TB with designed viruses.

Moulding pets lives. Apergillus mould is a rising threat to dog and cat health.

The motives behind using corpses as missile is a hotly debated topic. Well then.


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

C’mon feel the noise? Separating the genome’s signal from the background. Carl Zimmer’s excellent treatment of a contentious topic.

It’s loopy! How loops enable genes to get their work done.

Reading right. How DNA gets read in the correct direction.

Dead serious. Why autopsies are still important.


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

Flood of insight. Important piece by Sarah Boon on the lessons to be gleaned from recent flooding.

Releasing pressure. How forces build up and then erupt to create a volcanic explosion. Aatish Bhatia brings his astonishing breadth of insight to this explosive subject.

So cool. He got the age wrong, but Kelvin showed that you could calculate the age of the Earth by its heat loss.

Baked Alaska. Why a satellite image of the northern state has some folks hot under the collar.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Cooking lesson. If you don’t want a half-baked universe, you must pre-heat it first.

Explosive find. Galaxy makes a home for 6 supernovae!

A big dust up. A dusty surprise around a black hole.

Triple treat! Trio of planets found in 6 planet system in the “Goldilocks” habitable zone around an M-dwarf star.

Can you dig it? Digging for bulbs in your garden and the hunt for habitable planets. Great read by Caleb Scharf.

Winding it up. The winds on Venus are getting faster.

Mars scars. The origins of the etchings on the red planet’s surface. Jon Tennant digs up the dirt on this fascinating topic.

Mesons, and muons, and Mars, oh my! Penetrating particles generated by cosmic rays may help peer beneath Martian surface.

Gamma, gamma, hey! Bringing the detection of γ-rays back down to Earth.

A little light entertainment. Observing the aurora.

Is there anybody out there? Sara Seagher has honed the equation for the likelihood of extraterrestrial life.

Going, going..still here. Voyager 1 is having a heck of a time exiting the Solar System. It seems like it goes on for a pretty long time, into that weird in-between space. Truly, the long goodbye.


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

Putting certainty into uncertainty. A proof for Heisenberg’s eponymous principle.

Having a ball. The shape of fire in zero gravity.

Monkey business. Taking a shot at a longstanding physics example that involves a primate and a gun.

The joy of sex? Is female orgasm adaptive? Spoiler: Nope.

No yolking matter. How did some lizards evolve to give birth to live young? They came out of their shell.


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

Any way you slice it, it is amazing. Thin sections used to reassemble a high resolution 3D map of the brain.

“We are deeply physical correlates of the mind.” Marks Stokes offers a beautiful take on brain imaging.

“None of the other chimps would sleep on the platform where she died.” Beautiful, heartrending consideration by Maggie Koerth-Baker of chimp grief and what it means to our own sense of mortality. She shades in the back story here.

What the fork?! Cutlery impacts the way food tastes.

Is it possible for seizures to provide good feelings? Yes. Yes it is. Incredible.

Abstract expressionist. A stroke leaves a man with the ability to describe concepts but not his own son. Phenomenal.

Getting a move on. Why babies and dogs twitch in their sleep.

Pitching in the dirt. How to throw people with perfect pitch off the right tone when they are singing. There’s a key to it.

Tweaking the mind’s eye. When photographers manipulate neurotransmission.

Lying low. A lie detector can be beaten – you just have to suppress memories of guilty acts.

Wonder why wonder works? Well…

Why is dancing Spiderman so amazing, aside from the fact that it is, well, dancing Spiderman? Here’s why.

The other side of summer. The science behind seasonal increase in suicide rates. Important piece by David Dobbs.


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

Father knows best. A dad’s search for the cause of his daughter’s orphan disease ends in success! Fantastic, feel-good, must read story by Brendan Maher.

And in other “feel good” news: NIH to retire almost all of their research chimps. But more space is needed for them once retired.

Sticking with feel good stuff…Imagine a great father taking his 9-year-old son on field work in a tropical rainforest and then the son blogging about it.  It doesn’t get much better than this. Quality time.

And now, for all of you trombone players out there…

“What matters those hours..spent alone..practicising the trombone.” Carl Zimmer slides in superb advice about becoming a top-notch writer.

Getting the word out. Excellent reflections on science blogging by Ed Yong and Bora Zivkovic.

Modern life is rubbish? Concerns about modernity have been around since we’ve been “modern”. It’s nothing new. Want to feel better? Don’t pay attention to the news.

Code of misconduct? What happens when science gets it wrong? Important piece by Virginia Hughes.

The one that got away. We need to be able to reel in misreported science.

“We could all do with listening to each other a bit more.” Alice Bell brilliantly considers expertise and “mansplaining”.

It’s a perfect equation. Why physicists should tweet.

Picture this. You may not own the photos you have taken when doing your science.

Not a matter of taste. Wine tasting is “junk science”. Yes really. Do the experiments to see it for yourself.

Do you hear what I hear? There’s a noise that is driving some Canadians to distraction.

Da Vinci code. Leonardo said to examine the art in science. Some folks are doing just that.

Digging in the dirt. The role that exploring nature as a kid had in launching scientists along their career trajectory.

“To get more people into good science, we have to better use the science of persuasion.” Persuasive.

As merry as the day is long. Exploring the celebration of the summer solstice.

Summertime, & the livin’ is easy? Profs don’t work in the summer? Ah, no. Putting a myth to rest.

One enchanted evening. Wonderful reflection of a summer evening walk, over a decade ago.

Cut grass and vanilla ice cream. Mmm. The smells of summer? Nope, old books.

“Bring on the science. Bring on the zombies.” Kyle Hill brings the science to apocalypse fiction. Awesomely.

Pencil it in. After the apocalypse, we’ll need to get together to write out Wikipedia. In pencil. Here’s how. More genius stuff from the mind of Kyle Hill.

Night moves. Why do folks prefer to get it on in the evening? Because science!

Best foot forward? Foot orgasm syndrome. That is all.


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