Morsels For The Mind – 31/01/2014

1 February 2014 by Malcolm Campbell, posted in Malcolm's linkfest, Science

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

City slickers. Sea otters make their way to urban waters, & may benefit. Nsikan Akpan on some amazing (and very cute!) critters.

Building on success. Mary Bates looks at amazing animal architects.

A dam quandary. Video confirms first wild beaver in UK in 800 years. Where did it come from?! John Platt looks into it.

Whale of a problem. Sometimes stranded whales need to be humanely euthanised. How to do it? Kelsey Atherton found out.

The mane thing. Why a person would write about wild horses? A lot. Andrew Cohen provides a wonderful answer.

What's love got to do with it? Of oxytocin & friendly dogs. PLOSONE paper hereJulie Hecht's take here.

A breed apart? Of skull shape, dog breeds & behaviour. Thought provoking piece, by Holly Dunsworth, on the science connecting the three.

Huge bipedal cats abound! Well, that's what your cat thinks. Or something like that. Christine Dell'Amore talks to behaviourist John Bradshaw about the feline mind.

Pet peeve. The science behind your dog's or cat’s meds? Um, not so good, as Peter Aldhous found.

Good news. Bad news. Rare wild cats spotted by camera trap. Hunters monitor it. Victoria Hillman reports on a disheartening situation.

Spotted! Elusive snow leopard espied on a camera trap. Rachel Nuwer on a fantastic feline.

Night moves. Krithi Karanth shows carnivores’ nocturnal walks observed by camera trap.

Light coat. Polar bear fur’s light absorption gives additional warmth.

Lions, and tigers, and bears. Oh my. Their survival should be important to all of us. Robin McKie makes the case.

Rats. Sex reverses cognitive decline of ageing. In lab rodents. David Dobbs on a good news, bad news sort of discovery.

I don’t know if this animal still survives. Part of me would prefer that, even if it does, it stay hidden.” Quote by Philip Hoare from a fantastic piece on the Tasmanian tiger. Is it extinct? Read of the week.

Getting the point? There are only four, that’s right, four, northern white rhinos left. John Platt on the grim news.

Together forever. Can we learn about love from socially monogamous prairie voles? Abigail Tucker on the possibility that we might learn a lot.

Captive to old ideas? Are zoos being strategic about conservation? Thought provoking piece, by Jason Goldman.

Written in poo. History of land tortoises. Elizabeth Preston looks into it.

What the flock?! Mesmerising bird flight paths. WOW! Amazing was of visualising bird trails, by Dennis Hlynsky. View of the week.

If you liked Dennis Hlynsky’s bird trails, check out his other work here.

Edgy travellers. Elizabeth Preston wonderfully describes how homing pigeons navigate best with right balance of edges on the terrain below.

Living the low life. The things penguins have to put up with these days. Outstanding coverage, by Nadia Drake, of some worrying data.

Climate casualty. Penguin chicks can’t withstand the damp cold. Roberta Kwok describes this troubling find.

Down with climate change. Penguin chicks' downy coat makes changing climate lethal. Matt McGrath on these climate casualties.

Better together. Living social lives benefits lizards. Mary Bates on how we know this.

Making a meal of it. Bahar Gholipour on how alligators stalk prey.

Up & at ‘em. Elizabeth Pennisi reveals how salamanders leap like flat catapults.

Deadly duo. Two different rattlesnakes, two different venoms.  The amazing thing is that they are likely close relatives. Intriguing find, nicely explained by Ed Yong.

A whale for the killing? Huge numbers of whale sharks slaughtered in China. Alistair Dove highlights this ridiculous situation.

Sucker for attention. Lumpsucker “available for birthday parties, weddings, & corporate functions”. Bec Crew on a remarkable fish, being used in, er, remarkable ways.

Clear beauty. Bleaching fish reveals their inner awesomeness, as Helen Thompson reveals.

Pre-nuptial claws. RoboCrabs reveal pincer-waving moves that attract crustacean mate.

Sight unseen. Sara Mynott explains that, despite all its photoreceptors, the mantis shrimp has some colour blindness.

The ride of their lives. Nsikan Akpan describes how leeches use crabs as taxis.

Chilling out. Douglas Main on a leech that survives -80C temperatures.

Behold! The peanut butter & jellyfish! Yes, really. A must view, shared by Rebecca Helm. View of the week.

Cold comfort? Some corals may be resilient to rising ocean temps. It's in their genes. Holly Bik shows how.

When we fear death..perhaps it is because we have forgotten how beautiful death can be, knit back into life." Quote from a beautiful, lyrical piece by Kate Cummings on love, life & death. Read of the week.


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

“Grabbing spiders is generally not a good idea." But that black widow still mightn’t bite you. Catherine Scott beautifully explains the data behind this.

Separate ways. The evolution of our lice vs chimp lice.

A grassroots movement? Did ants originate from subterranean species or surface dwellers? Alex Wild gets to the bottom of it.

Won't get fooled again. Lured pollinators wary of being duped. Susan Milius describes an amazing interaction between insects and plants.

Angry little fellas. Matthew Cobb looks at aggression in male fruit flies.

Brotherly love. Flies with brothers are gentle lovers.

A moving experience. Becky Bach describes how flies detect motion like we do.

Hidden in plain sight. It’s high time we paid attention to our 4000 native bee species. Clay Bolt on the compelling case.

All abuzz. Beautiful bees.  Photos by Sam Droege, with great story by Jane Jae Lee.

Illuminating experience. Fantastic fireflies.

Too intoxicated to work. Bees on neonicotinoid collect half the pollen they would otherwise. Damian Carrington on a worrying discovery.

End of the monarchy? Monarch butterfly populations are depressingly dismal. Alex Wild has understandably grave concerns: "The other scary thing is, monarchs are one of the very few insects that are monitored. If they are collapsing, what of the others? And I'm really freaking out over the monarch collapse. The honey bee problems? Way overblown in comparison to this."

Butterfly effect. Corn, soy, & climate creating monarch butterfly decline.

Falling monarch. Monarch butterfly numbers hit new low. Dire situation described by Sylvia Fallon.

Battling bedbugs? Don't wage war like this. Bug Girl shows that it could be hazardous to your health.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology, history and the like

Size mattered. In ancient oceans bigger was better.

Potty mouthed. Insects lived on dinosaur poop. Jon Tennant on a cool find in amber.

Rock star to movie star. Brian Switek on how Dilophosaurus emerged from fossil quandary to Jurassic Park icon.

Track stars. Tromping titanosaurs left amazing trackways. They say much about their movement, as Brian Switek explains.

Brushing up on things. "Bottle brush" beastie unearthed.

Birds of a feather. Darren Naish describes how to infer the behaviour of ancient avian species.

Fantastically fierce frog. Armoured Beelzebufo skulked about, 65 million years ago. Tia Ghose describes this amazing amphibian.

One freaky frog. Brian Switek describes Beelzebufo - armoured, horned, like a mouth with legs, lurking around 65 million years ago.

That's no croc. Travis Park on how whale evolution featured ancestors that resembled furry crocodiles.

School of hard rocks. Stephanie Pappas describes an ancient whale fossil fossil discovered in K-8 schoolyard.

Not our fault? Were North American megafauna disappearing before human arrival? Contentious possibility, explored by Michael Balter.

The lingering Neanderthal genome got a lot of attention this week. The best coverage was found in the following morsels:

Lingering legacy. Ed Yong shows how two papers indicate that 20% of Neanderthal genome lives on in modern humans.

Hand-me-down genes. Ewen Callaway describes how 20% of Neanderthal genome spread amongst modern humans.

Gone, but not forgotten. Carl Zimmer on how modern humans inherit the legacy of Neanderthal genes.

Hybrid vehicles.  Ian Sample describes how modern human genomes carry legacy of hybridisation with Neanderthals.

Gone without a trace? Not Neanderthals, their gene variants linger. Except on the X chromosome! Gemma Tarlach explains.

Win some, lose some. Neanderthal gene variants in modern human genomes both beneficial & harmful. Kate Wong's nice take on the sequencing results of the week.

The older the better. Tia Ghose describes how "young" DNA can be weeded out from contaminated ancient DNA sequence data.

Holy smokes! Evidence for a 300k year old fire pit. Burning question: Who lit it? Megan Gannon takes a look.

Ol' blue eyes. Ancient European hunter-gatherer. Ian Sample on the surprising results of genome sequencing from a European that lived 7000 years ago.

Behind blue eyes. Europe’s hunter gatherers were azure eyed, darker skinned. Rebecca Morelle looks into it.

Fair game. Even 7000 years ago, Europeans were not fair skinned. Fascinating discovery, nicely explained by Tia Ghose.

Everybody gets the blues. Even 7k years ago, darker-skinned Europeans had blue eyes. Catherine de Lange sheds light on the discovery.

Strange bedfellows. Patrick Clarkin takes a fantastic romp through palaeo-hominin hookups.


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

The wrath of grapes. Climate changes poses challenges for wine industry. Super feature by Susan Gaidos. Read of the week.

Saline solution. Abby Olena on how plant roots steer clear of salinity.

Seeing the forest for the genes. Trees face significant genetic challenges due to climate change. Sally Aitken describes it as the major problem facing temperate forests.

What’s a caper? Well, it’s not only something that involves muppets. Michael Dhar explains.

Crafty chemists. Plants surprising synthesis of phenylalanine.

You say tomato. I say purple-GM-fruit-with-as-much-antioxidant-as-blueberries. David Shukman on why this is the case.


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

Protective coating. Sloths carry remarkable disease-combatting microbes in their coats. Anne-Marie Hodge digs into some amazing science. Superb reporting. Read of the week.

All the right moves. S.E. Gould shows how spherical bacteria get about.

It's not about the sex. Sexually transmitted parasites don't make their hosts have more sex. Alexandra Fresch on a surprising find.

The following morsels may plague your thoughts. Literally…

A bad return. Black Death plague has been epidemic multiple times. Could it happen again?

There & back again? Could Black Death re-occur? Evidence from past suggests risks, as George Dvorsky shows.

A tale of two plagues. Two ancient pandemics arose from same pathogen. Could it arise again? Helen Thompson looks into it.

Tooth & consequences. DNA from a tooth reveals origins of 6th century AD plague. Cool research, nicely described by Nick Evershed.

Lethal leap? Does a viruses jumping from plants to bees cause harm to hives? Super coverage, by Jennifer Frazer, of a worrying new discovery. Read of the week.

White ain’t right. A “white plague” is decimating corals. Not good. Great coverage by high school student Julia Paoli.

Destroying an ecosystem to kill a few bad players has potentially disastrous consequences.” Quote from a super post by Jonathan Eisen on why killing microbes isn't the best of ideas. Far from it, in fact. Read of the week.

The only way out is to expand the reach of microbiome research..into humanity at its broadest.” Quote from a brilliant feature by Ed Yong on the global search for healthy microbiomes. Read of the week.

Elbowing in. Sneezing/coughing into the pit of your elbow is becoming the new normal. Hilda Bastian on a subject that is nothing to sniff at.


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)

Tour de force. To really identify a gene for something, do it like this. Great coverage, by Ed Yong, of an amazing piece of research.

Acid trip switch. Low pH can reprogram cells into a stem cell pathway. David Cyranoski on a remarkable discovery.

Going viral. Sara Reardon describes mice engineered for MERS infection, for vaccine testing.

How things shape up. A glorious century of crystallography. Spectacular!

Crystal clear. Phenomenal contribution of women to crystallography. Superb overview by Georgina Ferry.

Able semen. Seminal fluid not only for sperm support. Jef Akst looks at the details.

Making scents of it. When they detect the odour of cancer, GM fruit flies' antennae glow. Francie Diep explains.

The bitterest pill. Far from helping, antioxidant supplements hasten lung cancer. Important research, perfectly explained by Ed Yong.

Supplemental data. Antioxidant supplements, like Vitamin E, hasten cancer in mice. Heidi Ledford on experiments that have provided a mechanism for previous observations.

Gravity of the situation. Reduced gravity reduces immune system activity. Interesting discovery, nicely explained by Francie Diep.

Not so nuts. Incremental exposure appears to lessen peanut allergy. James Gallagher describes an amazing treatment.

Culture shift. Synthetic bio being used to make "fine chemicals" like fragrances. Erika Check on an interesting trend.

Time for a change. Tools now available to rapidly edit genomes by design. Superb feature by Colin Barras.

Such a blast! TNT detected using biosensor inspired by turkey's wattle. Yes, really! Bethany Brookshire on a great story of how biology inspired new technology.

Planet of the apes? Could chimps be genetically engineered to be like humans? Um, nope. Good explainer, by Eric Schulze.

In it for the long run? And maybe a faster run? Might a sub 2h marathon be possible? David Cox explores the possibility.


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

The processes of our planet have a timeless quality.” On the wonders of earth science. Robyn Wylie digs into it.

Wow. Just wow. From space, mind-blowing volcanic eruptions are more mind-blowing. View of the week.

The hole story. Younger age for entire Grand Canyon creates rifts with geologists. Alex Witze looks into it.

Weathering change. Amazonian clouds tell us about our impact on the environment. Great feature by Adrianne Appel.

The dirt on ball lightning. It shares its chemistry with soil.  Amazing stuff, by Matthew Francis.

Cold comfort. Yes, it is frigid in parts of North America, but record high temps are elsewhere. Important reminder that climate is global, by Andrew Freedman.

Get the puck outta here! Canadian citizen science handles climate's hockey stick with outdoor rink data. Brian Owens on data generated in the "True North Strong & Free".

Magnificent marine mystery. The case of the undersea “crop circles”. Solved! Nadia Drake shares the solution.

Home on the range. Restoring grasslands. Gavin van Horn takes a look at the reunion of bison and prairie.

The Anthropocene may be marked more by all that becomes absent, than by the birth of anything new.” Quote from a brilliant piece by Lee Billings on the legacy of our epoch. Read of the week.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Starts with a bang. Why a supernova is amazing. Great explainer by Katie Mack.

A river runs through it. Hydrogen river runs in space.

Knotty by nature. Jason Major describes a celestial knot that may birth planets.

The universe is meshed up. We live in a cosmic web, & its filaments have been seen. Gabriel Popkin describes an incredible observation.! Jellyfish galaxies that is. Lisa Grossman on some gorgeous celestial bodies.

Beauty & the beast. Phil Plait describes a brilliant bubble made by volatile star.

Gravity of the situation. Massive black hole prevents stars from forming. Amazing.

It’s full of stars. Our universe. Galaxies galore. Amazing. Ethan Siegel takes you there.

Cloudy with a chance of... Weather, 6 light years away. Jason Major on some amazing meteorology.

Anybody home? Alpha Centauri B may host a “superhabitable” world. Jeff Hecht explains why this may be the case.

Lights out! Bob King shows us a private eclipse of the Sun, from space.

Water, water, everywhere. In our solar system. Caleb Scharf looks at water's seemingly ubiquitous occurrence.

A roving eye. Ten years of amazing Rover photographs of Mars. Awesome photos, shared by Joseph Stromberg.

Spectacular spring. Martian change of seasons.

To infinity & beyond! Astronaut Tim Peake on the importance of space travel. Good interview with Pallab Ghosh,


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

"Nature is far richer than our imaginations." On quantum reality. Brilliant piece by Adrian Kent.

Back to the future? Might future occurrences be acting to explain current quantum mysteries? George Musser beautifully describes some mind-bending ideas.

What's the Big deal?  Maybe the universe didn't start with a bang but a long chill. Gabriel Popkin looks at a new hypothesis.

A long, long time ago... Things before the Big Bang. Ethan Siegel provides yet another amazing explainer.

May the force be with you! Gravity - it’s a force & so much more. Great explainer, by Brian Koberlein.

G whiz. The time has come to measure the big gravitational constant. Terry Quinn on the case that is being made.

A small matter, a big deal. Nice take on the Higgs Boson, by high school students, The Beyond Blog!

Way out there. Particle collisions here on Earth tell us about cosmic rays. Amazing discovery, beautifully explained by Jon Butterworth.

Hang on! Ever wonder how fast you’re whirling on the planet? Fast. Really fast. Robert Gonzalez shows how to find out just how fast.

Heads up! How many coin flips does it take to get really long runs of heads only? Cool statistics, by Evelyn Lamb.

Check this out, Marty! Claire Cameron provides a nice history of fictional time machines, including that famous DeLorean.

Like a bird on a wire. Except it’s a drone. Perched. And watching you.

Pole position. Quantum cloud simulates monopole. Lizzie Gibney on some physics that addresses a long-standing hypothesis.

Slippery sidewalks are an irritation. But throwing a load of rock salt at them is not brilliant. Because science.

Nature, with 4 billion years of experience, does not work like Steve Jobs, continuously designing sleeker versions.” Quote from a marvellous piece by Amy Maxmen on the evolution of complexity. Read of the week.


Matters of mind – how we, and other animals, perceive our world and our place in it – neuroscience, mental health, psychology, sociology & human interest stories

Clouded mind. Amnesiac's brain thin sliced, imaged, & uploaded to the cloud. Some amazing neuroscience, beautifully explained by Virginia Hughes.

Thin slice of life. Fine slices of famous brain provide profound insights. Alison Abbott takes a look.

Smart thinking. Exploring new ways to detect alien intelligence. Excellent exploration of how we define intelligence, here on Earth, by George Dvorsky Read of the week.

Minding our busyness. Money won’t buy happiness, but more time to do things might. Jeanette Bicknell explains.

Where did the time go? The rapidly accelerating concept of an instant. Superb feature, by Tom Vanderbilt. Read of the week.

A sight to be seen. Teens blinded by cataracts since infancy have vision restored. Amazing treatment, and its outcome, described by Madhusree Mukerjee.

A matter of taste? Might we be able to detect water's "flavour"? Dan Engber on a surprising sense.

Got an itch you can’t scratch? A mirror might help like you mightn’t imagine. Fascinating discovery, nicely explained by Kat Arney.

Fascinatin’ rhythm. The beat goes on…inside of us. How & why do we keep it?  Fascinating research, beautifully examined by Anne Buchanan.

Time out. Music messes with our temporal sense. Fascinating breakdown of how music shapes our perception, by Jonathan Berger.

Bowing to leadership. There is hidden hierarchy in string quartets. Intriguing undertones, nicely explained by Rebecca Morelle.

A matter of trust. When it comes to honouring commitments, we’re all ants & grasshoppers. Jessa Gamble explains.

Save it for later. The basis of procrastination. And how to reduce it. Interesting, and helpful, piece by Alisa Opar.

At the heart of this enterprise, there seems to be a massive disconnect.” Quote by Dorothy Bishop, from an excellent critique of educational neuroscience.

The long & short of it. "Long data" are turning Asimov's fictional "psychohistory" into reality. Mind blowing possibility, explained by Samuel Arbesman.

Every day, folks battle mental illness. Our support is needed every day. This week, BellLetsTalk focused on that support. BellLetsTalk a good way to focus attention on one day, but support needed every day. (For those outside of Canada wondering about the BellLetsTaIk hashtag was all about, here's the motivation.) Related morsels follow.

I still don't know exactly what triggered it. Suddenly I wasn't Me any more.Tania Browne describes a breakdown, and recovery therefrom.

Mental illness has made me take a wider view of where I’m at – and why.Sarah Boon's affecting, personal perspective on mental health.

I’m going to keep plugging away at things as best I can.”   Crystal Ernst on battling depression.

Degree of depression. Mental health challenges confronted by PhD students. Melonie Fullick on an incredibly important issue in higher education.

Mirror moves. Tania Browne on how obtaining reflections of our mental health & how others perceive it.


Behind the scenes – the workings of life’s museum of natural history – discovery, communication, and education

Everyone’s game. Dara Mohammadi describes how online gamers are helping to address science questions.

A big deal. Watch Big Data grow with personal activity monitoring à la FitBit. Thought provoking post, by Jessica Bland.

Ultimately our future is not the responsibility of a few lab-coated individuals, but us all.” Quote by Alice Bell from a superb post on the role of scientists in shaping the future. Read of the week.

The payback? When scientists are trained using public funds, what is owed society? Superb, thought-provoking consideration of an important issue by Janet Stemwedel. Read of the week.

I can’t imagine my science without social media.” Great interview of Emily Darling by Paige Brown.

The difficulty for me wasn’t in writing about science, it was writing about science in an accessible, engaging way.” Quote from Julie Gould’s interview of Jason Goldman, who always writes in a accessible, engaging way.

To blog or not to blog? How blogging helps research productivity. Chris Buddle shares his personal experience. Very useful.

I’m in search of the stylists of science writing.” Help Tom Webb find them.

Strong words. Bringing poetry to science. Thought provoking post, by Charles Bane Jr.

Thanks for the memories. Carl Zimmer made a request for good memoirs by scientists, and shared them by Storify.

Dynamic demonstrations. Ace series of helpful videos for science teachers by Alom Shaha. Awesome.

The fabric of life. Vintage textiles transformed into fauna & flora. Mr. Finch crafted these gorgeous creations. View of the week.

Drawing on experience. Climate change captured in pastels. Wonderful merger of art and science, by Zaria Forman.

Made to order. Synthetic biology & art collide. Of Elvis-containing mice & personal cheese. Megan Gambino shares some creations at the interface of art and science.

What could be better than Ed Yong's writing? How about Ed giving a TED Talk! Well, here you go then.


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