Thursday, September 24, 2020

lichenous liaisons

Blogger no longer allows me to switch back to the "classic" version, so this is my first attempt at writing a blog entry with the new one, and anything could happen. I'll stick to the important info:

My latest feature is about the evolution of lichens. Recent findings suggest they are more recent than thought (which is disappointing from an astrobiology perspective as it means they didn't pioneer the vegetation on dry land), but their evolution was also more complex than thought, with the symbiotic link being made and broken and remade in some lineages, which called for the lovely title (which I nicked from the press release, and amazingly nobody else did that before me):

Lichenous liaisons

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 18, 21 September 2020, Pages R1009-R1012

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Ophioparma, a lichen formed by a fungus and green algae, growing on rocks in the Alaskan tundra. The red spots are fungal fruiting bodies that release meiotically derived ascospores. (Photo: © Matthew P. Nelsen, Field Museum.)

Monday, September 14, 2020

sharks in the open

Open Archive Day

There has been some exciting shark news in recent week at the biology front (eg about angel sharks or about giant sharks from the Cretaceous), but not so much in conservation issues, as the global slaughter carries on, so the hard work of raising awareness of shark conservation continues. My most recent feature about sharks and how they may end up on your dinner plate appeared a year ago, so it is now in the open archives:

Stop the global slaughter of sharks

The scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) is one of the shark species whose fins were identified in a barcoding study of fish products in the UK. It also appears on the EDGE of Existence list of unique and endangered rays and sharks. (Photo: © Simon Rogerson.)

Friday, September 11, 2020

science news 11.9.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


66 million years of Earth's climate uncovered from ocean sediments

Understanding the 'deep-carbon cycle'
New geologic findings about the makeup of the Earth's mantle are helping scientists better understand long-term climate stability and even how seismic waves move through the planet's layers.


Coming up for air: Extinct sea scorpions could breathe out of water, fossil detective unveils


In the absence of otters, climate warming leads to Aleutian Reef decline
Sea otters prey on urchins and keep their population in check. When otters disappear, urchin populations explode, leading to overgrazing on kelp and a decline in kelp forests.


The surprising rhythms of Leopards: Females are early birds, males are nocturnal
After 10 months of camera surveillance in the Tanzanian rainforest, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have become the first to conclude that female and male leopards are active at very different times of the day. The discovery contradicts previous assumptions and could be used to help protect the endangered feline, whose populations have dwindled by 85 percent over the past century.


Antibody responses in COVID-19 patients could guide vaccine design
The results show that the neutralizing activity of antibodies from recovered patients is typically not strong, and declines sharply within one month after hospital discharge.


Multiphase buffering by ammonia explains wide range of atmospheric aerosol acidity
Anthropogenic ammonia emissions and the water content matter more than dry particle composition for the acidity of atmospheric aerosols in populated regions.


Tel Aviv University study confirms widespread literacy in biblical-period kingdom of Judah
based on the identification of 12 different handwritings? I'm not sure I follow that conclusion. They could have rounded up the only 12 people in the kingdom who were able to write?

Examples of Hebrew ostraca from Arad.
Credit: Michael Cordonsky, TAU and the Israel Antiquities Authority

Addicted to the sun? Research shows it's in your genes
Sun-seeking behaviour is linked to genes involved in addiction, behavioural and personality traits and brain function, according to a study of more than 260,000 people led by King's College London researchers.

dystopian futures

Experiments reveal why human-like robots elicit uncanny feelings


From the news media:

Thursday, September 10, 2020

science news 10.9.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


Where rocks come alive: NASA's OSIRIS-REx observes an asteroid in action

In Ancient Giant Viruses Lies the Truth Behind Evolution of Nucleus in Eukaryotic Cells
An exchange of genetic material that occurred when ancient giant viruses infected ancient eukaryotic cells could have caused the nucleus of the eukaryotic cell--its defining feature--to form. This is what Professor Masaharu Takemura of the Tokyo University of Science, Japan, suggests in his recent review in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. His novel evolutionary hypothesis opens doors to new discussions on the subject, bringing us one giant step closer to the truth.


New insight on the impacts of Earth's biosphere on air quality
specifically, this is about the distribution of isoprene in the atmosphere.


At least 28 extinctions prevented by conservation action in recent decades

New tracking technology will help fight rhino poaching in Namibia
Interactive software that 'reads' and analyzes footprints left by black rhinoceroses can be used to monitor the movements of the animals in the wild, giving conservationists a new way to keep watch on the endangered species and help keep it safe from poachers, according to a Duke University-led study.

A black rhino and its calf; new technology that uses software to read unique features of rhino footprints will help protect this endangered species from poachers.
Credit: WildTrack


A chemist from RUDN developed a new type of one-molecule thick water-repellent film
... out of calixarenes, to be specific.


More cats might be COVID-19 positive than first believed, study suggests


Do as plants do: Novel photocatalysts can perform solar-driven conversion of CO2 into fuel


From the news media:

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

science news 9.9.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


Deep channels link ocean to Antarctic glacier
meaning warm water can lick it away


New fossil ape is discovered in India
A 13-million-year-old fossil unearthed in northern India comes from a newly discovered ape, the earliest known ancestor of the modern-day gibbon. The discovery fills a major void in the ape fossil record and provides important new evidence about when the ancestors of today's gibbon migrated to Asia from Africa.

Skeletal study suggests at least 11 fish species are capable of walking
See also my feature on evolution of lineages gaining or losing their legs

Thailand's cave angel fish, Cryptotora thamicola, is famous for its ability to walk, using a salamander-like gait. But it may not be alone: At least 10 relatives share its unusual pelvic shape.
Credit: Zachary Randall/Florida Museum


International study gets at the root of what makes deer migrate
Researchers found that the dynamics of springtime plant growth, specifically whether green-up progresses like a wave or not, explain where deer migration occurs in many ecosystems.

Gulls pay attention to human eyes
Herring gulls notice where approaching humans are looking, and flee sooner when they're being watched, a new study shows.
For a moment I thought the gulls were checking if you're watching your food ...


Lost frogs rediscovered with environmental DNA
Scientists have detected signs of a frog listed extinct and not seen since 1968, using an innovative technique to locate declining and missing species in two regions of Brazil.


High-intensity focused ultrasound _treatment_ for prostate cancer: First US study shows promising outcomes
The title originally didn't make it clear, but this is a new method of treating the cancer, instead of radiation or chemotherapy. It's not about diagnostic ultrasound.

Recharging N95 masks for continued usage
N95 masks achieve 95% efficiency at filtering out 0.3-micron particles, while maintaining reasonable breathability, thanks to a layer of polypropylene fibers incorporating electrical charges to attract particles. Extended usage and decontamination, provoked by severe shortages during the pandemic, can easily remove the charges and degrade filtration efficiency. In Physics of Fluids, researchers share a method to restore the filtration efficiency of N95 masks to out-of-box levels, as long as the mask is not structurally compromised.

Could singing spread COVID-19?
wear a mask, skip the consonants


The oldest Neanderthal DNA of Central-Eastern Europe
A new study reports the oldest mitochondrial genome of a Neanderthal from Central-Eastern Europe. The mitochondrial genome of the tooth, discovered at the site of Stajnia Cave in Poland, is closer to a Neanderthal specimen from the Caucasus than to the contemporaneous Neanderthals of Western Europe. Stone tools found at the site are also analogous to the southern regions suggesting that Neanderthals living in the steppe/taiga environment had a broader foraging radius than previously envisaged.

Ancient hunters stayed in frozen Northern Europe rather than migrating to warmer areas, evidence from Arctic fox bones shows


From the news media:

Oxford Covid vaccine trial on hold after adverse reaction in one participant.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

science news 8.9.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.

Not much going on today, apparently:


Ancient bony fish forces rethink of how sharks evolved


A new twist on DNA origami


Producing leather-like materials from fungi


'Wild West' mentality lingers in modern populations of US mountain regions
Scientists looked at links between the personality profiles of over 3.3m US residents and the "topography" of 37,227 ZIP codes. Distinct psychological mix associated with mountain populations is consistent with theory that harsh frontiers attracted certain personalities. Researchers argue this may be residual from US frontier expansion during the 19th century, as personality pattern is strongest in the West.


From the news media:

the biggest bang since the Big Bang

and an essay written by a robot. Scary stuff.

Monday, September 07, 2020

value your vultures

Vultures are still suffering from image problems in many cultures, due to their association with death and decay. We should really appreciate them a lot more, however, as their removal of carcasses is an extremely important and valuable ecosystem service. India has lost large parts of its vulture population in recent decades and is already feeling the consequences which include opportunistic mammalian scavengers such as rats and feral dogs spreading diseases that also affect humans, such rabies and the plague. And now Africa is at risk of a similar decline in vulture populations, which could have even worse effects there.

In my latest feature I have looked at the causes and effects of vulture declines around the world, and also marvelled at the different cultural associations we have with various species. The Andean condor, for instance, is also a vulture but doesn't appear to have the same image problem as the other species.

The feature is out now:

Hard times for ecosystem cleaners

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 17, 7 September 2020, Pages R963-R966

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Vultures are having a hard time in the Lucky Luke comics, too - targeted by jokes if not by bullets ...

If reading the feature is too much work, there is a video about vulture conservation here.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Johann Benjamin Groß

browsing through the cello tag on tumblr, I was surprised to discover a cellist and composer who shares my last name (although unlikely to be related, as it's a name that originated in many places independently): Johann Benjamin Groß (1809-1848). His Wikipedia entry only exists in German, French and Russian so far, so I'll compile the basic info in English here(may expand on this later):

12.9.1809 Born in Elbing (West Prussia, today Elblag, Poland, a coastal city with some 120,000 inhabitants). Parents: Georg Groß, bell-ringer (was that a full-time job?) and Dorothea van Bergen (watch this space - there are genealogy records for families with both these names in nearby places so I might be able to find his grandparents etc.)

studies cello at Berlin with Ferdinand Hansmann, a pupil of Jean-Pierre Duport (that's the older Duport, not the one of Napoleon/Stradivarius fame).

1824 Cellist at the theatre of Königstadt near Berlin

1830 First solo cello at the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig.

1833 short stint at the orchestra of the Magdeburg theatre

1834 played in a quartet at Dorpat (today Tartu, Estonia)

1835 moved to St. Petersburg to become first cellist at the Imperial Court orchestra.
marries Catharina von Witte from Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia). They had three daughters.

There he composed more than 40 works, including several concertos and many chamber works for the cello.

1.9.1848 died in St. Petersburg of cholera.

2004 After a period of oblivion, his work is performed again at the Schumann Festival at Düsseldorf. First recordings are released from 2009 onwards.

Monday, August 24, 2020

wake-up call

Open Archive Day

If you missed my feature on the science of sleep last summer, here's your wake-up call: It is now in the open archives absolutely free to all. As I remember it, I learned many surprising things about how birds sleep with one half of the brain and even in flight, ducks lined up in a row with the terminal duck keeping one eye open for predators, and such like.

I also came away with the surprising impression that scientists are discovering complex sleep regulation in ever less complex animals, which re-ignites the debate what use it is and what advantage over a simple rest period regulated by the circadian clock. (A crucial difference: The circadian clock wouldn't care how much you slept the previous night, while sleep is budgeted and sleep deprivation can accumulate.)

Anyhow, everything you always wanted to know about the science of sleep is here:

The reasons of sleep

Birds display neural sleep signatures very similar to those of mammals, but also a whole range of behavioural adaptations to accommodate the need for sleep in challenging conditions. (Photo: sipa/Pixabay.)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

back to the beginning

On my crawl backwards through the first cello suite, I am now reaching the beginning, that famous Prelude. Which is to say I'm giving up on memorising the Allemande. While it isn't too difficult to play, I haven't managed to find a way of memorising more than the first seven bars (out of 32). I now think those brain cells are better used in completing movement 5 (the more memorable minuets) so I can play the second half of the suite completely from memory.

Moving on to the Prelude which is the most famous part of the suites, so there are even more performances and tutorials of this than of the other ones.

In addition to the trusted tutorial by Inbal Segev and the slow version from Cellopedia, there is also:

Yo-Yo Ma playing the Prelude at a Tiny Desk Concert and then talking about how he learned it as a child "one bar at a time" (inspired by this video, I tried that last year and got stuck in bar 10 - although back then I spent a lot less time on it than I do now). He started to learn it at age 4, apparently, Inbal Segev only at 6, maybe that's the number that determines your global success as a cellist?

Alisa Weilerstein deconstructing the prelude for an issue of the Vox Earworm series.

It has of course been played on many other instruments as well, as an example here is Ana Vidovic playing it on guitar which I think works really well. She has recorded all movements of the first suite but I feel the clarity of the guitar helps me more with the first three movements which I find harder on the cello.

I'm also adding these videos to my youtube playlist "cello repertoire".

I was about to record something in the garden, but then a neighbour started playing piano ...

Revision list (newest addition first)

1.2 Allemande
1.3 Courante
1.4 Sarabande
1.6 Gigue
1.5 Minuet I&II
3.5 Bourree I&II

PS where next after the first suite? I guess I'll do the tail end of the third suite (Gigue and Sarabande) to complement the Bourrees which I've learned already, but suggestions welcome.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

useful books

I've packed a box of books on applied sciences (energy, environment etc.) that may be more useful to others than they are to me. If anybody has a bright idea how they could be made to benefit a good cause (I'll accept educating yourself as a good cause), I'm all ears.

~ 22 books listed chronologically backwards:

Ethanol: Science and engineering
Editors: Angelo Basile, Adolfo Iulianelli, Francesco Dalena, T. Nejat Veziroglu
Elsevier 2018, ISBN: 9780128114582

Low Carbon Energy Transitions
Kathleen M. Araujo
Oxford University Press 2018

Gregory Chatel

Nanocomposite materials: synthesis, properties and applications
Jyotishkumar Parameswaranpillai, Nishar Hameed, Thomas Kurian, Yingfeng Yu (Editors)
CRC Press 2017, ISBN 978-1482258073

Fracking (Issues in Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 39)
R.E. Hester, R. M. Harrison, eds.
Royal Society of Chemistry 2015, ISBN: 978-1-84973-920-7

Still only one Earth: Progress in the 40 years since the first UN Conference on the Environment.(vol 40 of the series: Issues in Environmental Science and Technology)
R. E. Hester and R. M. Harrison, eds.
RSC publishing, 2015, ISBN 978-1-78262-076-1

Matthias Rögner (Ed.)
Walter de Gruyter, 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-033645-0

Low cost emergency water purification technologies
Chittaranjan Ray, Ravi Jain
Butterworth Heinemann 2014, ISBN 978-0-12-411465-4

The burning answer: a user’s guide to the solar revolution
Keith Barnham
Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2014

The economic competitiveness of renewable energy - pathways to 100% global coverage,
Winfried Hoffmann.

Handbook of cellulosic ethanol
Ananda S. Amarasekara
Scrivener Publishing 2014, ISBN 978-1-118-23300-9

Introduction to Carbon Capture and Sequestration
(The Berkeley Lectures on Energy, Vol. 1)
Berend Smit, Jeffrey A. Reimer, Curtis M. Oldenburg, Ian C. Bourg
Imperial College Press, ISBN 978-1-78326-327-1

Hydrofracking: what everyone needs to know
Alex Prud'homme
OUP 2014

Polymers for energy storage and conversion
Vikas Mittal, ed.
Wiley / Scrivener 2013, ISBN 978-1-118-34454-5

Powering planet Earth: Energy solutions for the future
Nicola Armaroli, Vincenzo Balzani, Nick Serpone
Wiley-VCH 2013, ISBN: 978-3-527-33409-4

Physical gels from biological and synthetic polymers
Madeleine Djabourov, Katsuyoshi Nishinari, Simon B. Ross-Murphy
Cambridge University Press 2013 ISBN 978-0-521-76964-8

Functional materials from renewable sources
Falk Liebner and Thomas Rosenau, eds.
ACS Symposium series 2012
ISBN 978-0-8412-2788-0

Natural products in chemical biology
Natanya Civjan, ed.
J. Wiley & Sons, 2012

Advanced Oil Crop Biorefineries (RSC Green Chemistry 2012)
Self-assembly and nanotechnology systems: Design, characterization, and applications
Yoon S. Lee Wiley 2012 ISBN 978-1-118-08759-6

Chemistry for sustainable technologies: A foundation
Neil Winterton
RSC 2011

The physicochemical basis of pharmaceuticals
Humphrey Moynihan, Abina Crean
Oxford University Press 2009

Concepts of Nanochemistry
Ludovico Cademartiri and Geoffrey Ozin
Wiley-VCH 2009; ISBN 978-3-527-32597-9

(Back in the 00s, I used to carry or send books to Latin America, but I no longer travel that far without a very good excuse and the postage has become horrendously expensive, which is why I'm looking for alternatives.)

This was a lovely cover, but I found the content a bit disappointing ...

Friday, August 21, 2020

science news 21.8.2020

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.

ancient climate

Past rapid warming levels in the Arctic associated with widespread climate changes
Using Greenland ice cores, new research is the first to confirm the longstanding assumption that climate changes between the tropics and the Arctic were synchronised during the last glacial period.

Fossil leaves show high atmospheric carbon spurred ancient 'global greening'
Scientists studying leaves from a 23-million-year-old forest have for the first time linked high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide with increased plant growth, and the hot climate off the time.

Anthropogenic CO2 increase is unprecedented
Even in earlier warm periods there were pulse-like releases of CO2 to the atmosphere. Today's anthropogenic CO2 rise, however, is more than six times larger and almost ten times faster than previous jumps in the CO2 concentration.


Discovery lays blame on supernova for extinction event nearly 360 million years ago
Between a decline in biodiversity and a series of extinction events, the Late Devonian period was not the most hospitable time on Earth. And then came one or more supernovae explosions whose resulting ionizing radiation was the final push that spelled the end for armored fish, most trilobites and other life.

Ichthyosaur's last meal is evidence of triassic megapredation
Some 240 million years ago, a dolphin-like ichthyosaur ripped to pieces and swallowed another marine reptile only a little smaller than itself. Then it almost immediately died and was fossilized, preserving the first evidence of megapredation, or a large animal preying on another large animal.

Dinosaurs' unique bone structure key to carrying weight
A unique collaboration between paleontologists, mechanical engineers and biomedical engineers revealed that the trabecular bone structure of hadrosaurs and several other dinosaurs is uniquely capable of supporting large weights, and different than that of mammals and birds.


Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads more indoors at low humidity

Contact tracing apps unlikely to contain COVID-19 spread
Contract tracing apps used to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are unlikely to be effective without proper uptake and support from concurrent control measures, finds a new study by UCL researchers. The systematic review*, published in Lancet Digital Health, shows that large-scale manual contact tracing alongside other public health control measures - such as physical distancing and closure of indoor spaces such as pubs - is likely to be required in conjunction with automated approaches.

Researchers show children are silent spreaders of virus that causes COVID-19
Is anybody counting how many studies say this and how many the opposite?


Archaeology: X-ray imaging provides unique snapshot of ancient animal mummification
Analysis of three mummified animals - a cat, a bird and a snake - from Ancient Egypt using advanced 3D X-ray imaging is described in a paper published in Scientific Reports. The technique provides insights into the conditions in which the animals were kept, their complex mummification process and their possible causes of death, without causing damage to the specimens.

Australia's wish list of exotic pets
Unsustainable trade of species is the major pathway for the introduction of invasive alien species at distant localities at higher frequencies. It is also a major driver of over-exploitation of wild populations. In a new study, published in the open-access journal Neobiota, scientists estimate the desire of Australians to own non-native and/or illegal pets and the major trends in this practice. In addition, the team suggests ways to improve biosecurity awareness in the country.

A juvenile ball python for sale at Repticon Trading Convention 2018 in Palm Springs, Florida.
Credit: Adam Toomes (CC-BY 4.0)

Genetics: Romantic relationship dynamics may be in our genes
Variations in a gene called CD38, which is involved in attachment behaviour in non-human animals, may be associated with human romantic relationship dynamics in daily life, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.


From the news media:

Record breaking ice loss from Greenland's glaciers reported for 2019. Your friendly reminder that a total loss of Greenland's ice sheet means six metres sea level rise.

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