Morsels for the mind – 5/7/2013

5 July 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

What’s in a name? A wonderful rumination on taxonomy & individual animal consciousness, by Brandon Keim.

Gettin’ down. Orang-utans spend more time walking on the ground than thought.

A nose for newborns. They smell like what their moms ate.

All hear this. Convergent evolution in bats and whales.

Have you herd? A single horse genome gets the “meh” treatment. Great stuff by Erika Check Hayden.

Getting it together. Both group size and environment shape social learning in lemurs. A great exploration of the evolution of socialisation by Krystal D’Costa.

Not so black and white. Determining whether a new orca group is also a new species is not so easy.

And they all lived happily ever after? Nope, these otter twins have a grim tale.

Whales of discord. As superbly illustrated by Kate Whittington: the whaling debate is a classic clash of culture and science. It has created some interesting outcomes: UN judges compare Japan’s whaling activities to…wait for it..Darwin’s Beagle voyage and the human genome project. Yes, really. Here’s the antidote: Seven, sound, cetacean-scrutinising schemes. The schemes are, by the way, not whaling. It’s important, as evidence suggests that military sonar is taking a tolllinked to strandings. No flukey coincidence.

“If you run, you will only die tired.” How to survive a lion attack. Might come in useful.

Fantastic fallout. Radiation from nuclear blasts could thwart ivory poachers.

Getting a head in life? Might head transplants be possible? Some folks are not convinced that we are there yet.

If I only had a heart? Or a liver? Liver might be possible. Heart tougher. Some folks not convinced that we are there yet, even with the liver.

Getting to the bottom of things. Passing gas: easier standing up or lying down? The science!

No more monkey business? As captive chimp research winds down, should we now take a better look at other primates?

Some nerve! Special neurons provide birds with GPS.

The eyes have it. Convergent evolution of vision, including squid.

If it quacks like and duck, and walks like a duck…it may have a 3-D-printed foot. Like this one.

Doggone it. Raccoon dogs may be cute, but they are still one invasive species.

Saiga’s saga. The iconic, endangered antelope may be making a comeback.

End game. If there is a tail to be pulled, corvids will pull it!

Behaving shellfishly. The snail that builds it shell with the shells of others.

Mobile homes. Invasive land snails provide shells for marine hermit crabs.

Where is every body? Amazing maps account for all species of mammals, birds and amphibians.

Colourful characters. The evolutionary emergence of snake colour morphs in non-venomous snakes to mimic venomous ones.

Back to the birthplace. Fish navigate to where they were born using a sun-based compass.

Saw unseen. The numbers of sawfish have dwindled by 90% in the last decades. Dire.

Disappearing act. Amazing octopus camouflage. Must be seen to be believed.

Cut little suckers. An octopus hatchling.

No guts, no gory? Lionfish’s impressive eating also makes it a formidable invasive. Great story by Christie Wilcox.

No mere mortals. How jellyfish postpone death.

The hole story. Bone white leeches from the deepest cave.


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

Sound solution. Hawk moths warn off bats with sonic blasts from their genitals. Yes, really.

Every breath they take. How insects breathe.

Crossing things out. Microbes prevent wasp species from hybridising.

Getting a leg up. Chemoreceptors on their legs help flies select the right mates.

Shine on you crazy…insects. Beautifully iridescent bugs.

The devil inside. Gut microbes give insect crop pest an edge on farmers.


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

Seedy business. Bird guts prepare wild chilli pepper seeds for life ahead.

Time’s up! How plants run like clockwork.

All aboard! Pinpointing the origins of endosymbiotic photosynthesis. It likely involved a mini meal – when algae consumed bacteria – like this.

Flavour fave. Finding the genes that make tomatoes taste good.

Leaves it alone. How plants defend themselves.

Wood ya, could ya? Making a battery of woody fibres.


Fossil finds – organisms of times past – dinosaurs and beyond

Winging it. Feathers placed dinosaurs on the flight path. Another palaeontological excursion by Henry Nicholls.

Get on up. Even dinosaurs crawled before they walked.

Marvellous mariners. Mesosaurs took to the seas.

Fine feathered friends. Birds may shed light on the world in which Homo floresiensis lived.

Gone, but not forgotten. Exploring the dodo. Great story by Henry Nicholls about remains in a natural history museum.

No grave error. 14000 years ago, folks deliberately festooned burial sites with flowers.

The hungry caterpillar…killed the dinosaur. Maybe not the best bedtime hypothesis, but darn interesting even if ultimately incorrect.

Pitcher perfect. How we throw and how it may have come about. Holly Dunsworth passes along one great story here. And John Hawks underscores that it is really about biomechanics, not evolution.


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

“That’s great, it starts with a Petri plate. Bugs and streaks and microbe fates. Carl Woese is not afraid...” It’s the end of the world as we know it, and bacteria will feel fine.

Microbe-made moods? How our gut bacteria might be shaping our behaviour. Jane Foster has put together an excellent piece here.

A black mark in history. Revisiting The Plague. Delightfully gruesome stuff by Annelie Wendeberg.

Magnificent mushroom makers. The cool stuff fungi do.

Fungi’s firm footing. We’ve got fungi all over us, but nowhere are they more diverse than on our feet.

Double downside. Gut microbes of obese mice spur liver cancer.

A real shot in the arm. Rabies antidote could save 55000 people per year.


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

Spectacularly small. Tiny genomes tell a much bigger tale about evolution. Beautiful piece by Carl Zimmer.

A matter of taste. Testes have taste receptors. Tasticles? Indeed.

Art of arteries. The genes that shape blood vessel formation.

Into the fold. Depending on protein folding, different extent of Parkinson’s disease severity.

Kept in check. How jumping genes are made to settle down.

That’s cool. Low temperatures cause fat cells to heat things up.


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

Deep healing. Water flow shows that the mending of seismic sutures is remarkably fast.

Everything old is new again. 35-year-old NASA photos from a failed satellite mission will make a big difference in analysing climate’s impact today.

Built to last. Why some mountains stick around.

Northern exposure. Rowing through the Northwest Passage. Rowing!? This is not a good thing.


Star attractions – the final frontier, space

Phenomenal fireworks for a week of celebrations. Of a celestial sort, of course!

Seen in a different light. Our spectacular Sun, viewed with different wavelengths.

A big dust up. Cosmic dust flows around a giant black hole. Gorgeous.

Flipping out. A nearby planet makes its star’s magnetic field flip rapidly.

Took a shining to this. The 400 year old mystery of the Venutian glow.

Statistical fluke or something huge? Our amazing asymmetric universe.

Bright, bright, sunshiny day. Incredible, sparkly solar activity.

Brewing it up. Alcohol does some funky quantum chemistry in space. Really funky.

Gorgeous galaxy. Even though it’s dusty, it’s beautiful.

When worlds collide. Or galaxies even

Is there anybody out there? Up to 60 billion planets could support life. They are orbiting faint red dwarfs.

Up, up, and away. Balloons might be the next big thing in astronomy.


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

Unweaving the rainbow. Literally. Brilliantly. Entertainingly. Fantastically.  Another great production by Joe Hanson.

Astonishing chain of events. Mind-blowing, gravity-defying chain leaps from its container. Aatish Bhatia beautifully dissects what is happening here.

Striking out. That viral photo of a “lightning strike in sand”? Yeah, probably not. Kyle Hill gets all sciencey on it.

Five fascinating facts. Phenomenal explainer by Ethan Siegel on the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Can’t see the dark. Dark Matter doesn’t seem to effect the Solar System’s motion.

“The bowl and the laser bat.” A wonderful riff on music and mathematics to construct the perfect tune.


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

Taking it personally. The evolution of personality. Sarah Jane Algar takes a look at a complicated subject.

Read all about it! The relationship between reading and cognitive decline.

The dope on dopamine. The amazingly diverse activity of the neurotransmitter.

The waiting is the hardest part. Sometimes patience is powerful medicine.

Mind over matter. Where does human behaviour originate? It’s not all about image.

Speaking of images…

Does neuroscience have an image problem? Pete Etchells surveys the scene. And Mark Stokes makes the excellent case that it is just too early to tell where neuroscience will take us.

Everyone’s a critic. Mice are able to discriminate between artists style.

Pass it on. Why do some memes gain traction and go viral? Because science!

Pet hypothesis. Do pets make seniors feel more satisfied with life?

Made you yawn! The contagious nature of yawning. Not yawn-inducing at all.

“A spectator in your own life.” How losing your sense of smell makes you feel. A touching & fascinating exploration of this topic.

I second that emotion. The relationship between emotion and facial expressions.

“Two other things help a lot: an analogy and a book.” Cloud Atlas, Black Swan Green, & Ghostwritten author David Mitchell poignant, informative and lyrically written reflection on his son’s autism.


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

“Defining the concept of “science” is notoriously tricky business” but Sean Carroll pretty well nails it here.

“You are writing about science because you like science.” Brilliant advice from Rob Dunn on what a scientist should do when writing for the general public.

“Sharing the news is not the same thing as journalism.” Science reporting versus reporting science. Great take by Matt Shipman.

A break-in, evidence tampering, and a death. Mystery novel? Nope. Retraction of a 19-year-old Nature paper.

“Knowledge. Experience. Science. Celebrate these. But not the asundering.” Amazingly woven post stitched with cat gut, by Nancy Parmalee.

Getting no respect. When sexism supersedes proper reporting. Important piece by Janet Stemwedel.

There’s a thin line between love and hate…literally. In this great project, Rose Eveleth keeps tabs on those who love and hate science.

The enemies of science may not be who you think they are. It may be educators. Let’s be careful out there.

And speaking of being careful…

Risky business? Outreach has its dangers, particularly depending on what career stage you are at. This piece engagement by Melonie Fullick should be required reading by university administrators from chairs to chancellors.

To boldly go…Using science fiction as a means to educate about science. Engage!

Getting the balance right. The challenge of being a female mentor of PhD students.

When bad thwarts good. How politics can undermine the good work of conservation. Compelling, thought-provoking piece by Khalil Cassimally.

Extra, extra read all about it. Getting at the real scoop behind the hyped headline of a science story.

Timing is everything. It enables discrimination of tweets from a person, a corporations or bots.

“You are one tweet away from being fired.” Great advice on twitter use.

Wanting to make a lasting impression? Maybe it’s your random acts that will persist.


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