Saturday, September 21, 2019

caterpillar book out now

I haven't seen a physical copy yet, but apparently my latest book in German is out today (at least that's what amazon thinks). Ask at your bookshop or get it from amazon if you must. It is the second collection of the sketches I write for the Nachrichten aus der Chemie, the magazine of the German Chemical Society, covering roughly the last decade. The first collection was the nine million bicycles book published in Feb 2011.




The caterpillar in question is the tobacco hornworm / tobacco hawk moth (Manduca sexta), which has a remarkable resistance to nicotine as well as some other chemical tricks up its sleeve which I discussed in one of the sketches included here. I have a strong suspicion that Lewis Carroll had this species in mind when he invented the hookah-smoking caterpillar that confuses Alice with unhelpful answers in Alice's adventures in Wonderland, so I suggested to use an Alice illustration for the cover and got away with it. While it may be a little bit naughty to use another author's popularity this way, I feel that after 26 years at Oxford I can claim Lewis Carroll as my cultural background.

Friday, September 20, 2019

stupid useless vain

as today's global wave of climate demos were held, I happened to be in Düsseldorf. Starting point for the local demo was Corneliusplatz, and I didn't know the way there all that well, so I was really glad that this cyclist overtook me as I was cycling into town:




and I only had to follow her. The demo here was huge - this is what I saw on arrival at Corneliusplatz, clearly more than 10k people:





I've posted these and a few other quick picks from today on flickr, more to follow at a later date.

Monday, September 16, 2019

the trouble with tourists

Open Archive Day


travel is fun when you're a small number of travelers and you get to blend in with the locals in some faraway scenery. When the travelers outnumber the locals, we tend to call them tourists, and their idea of fun can become a problem for the resident population and for the environment. Blame it on capitalism commercialising and over-selling everything.

A year ago, prompted by a special issue on migration, I wrote a feature on the environmental impact of tourism, which is now in the open archives:


Global tourism's growing footprint




This August, Der Spiegel featured the madness of cruise operations on its cover - probably the most dramatic example of tourism going off the rails.

Oh, stop press, I just discovered that the Guardian has published a photo essay about this issue today:

A rising tide: ‘overtourism’ and the curse of the cruise ships

Thursday, September 12, 2019

science news 12.9.2019

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.


astrobiology

First water detected on potentially 'habitable' planet
This should be in today's issue of the Guardian as it appeared on their website yesterday afternoon.



evolution

Scientists identify rare evolutionary intermediates to understand the origin of eukaryotes
Took me a while to work out what this is really about, but it appears to be about ribosomal proteins in archaea.

Half-a-billion-year-old tiny predator unveils the rise of scorpions and spiders
Two palaeontologists working on the world-renowned Burgess Shale have revealed a new species, called Mollisonia plenovenatrix, which is presented as the oldest chelicerate. This discovery places the origin of this vast group of animals--of over 115,000 species, including horseshoe crabs, scorpions and spiders--to a time more than 500 million years ago.



Reconstruction of Mollisonia plenovenatrix, by Joanna Liang. Mollisonia was only about 2.5 cm long.
Credit: Illustration by Joanna Liang © Royal Ontario Museum


Ground-breaking method to reconstruct the evolution of all species
Researchers identified an almost complete set of proteins, a proteome, in the dental enamel of the now-extinct rhino and the resulting genetic information is one million years older than the oldest DNA sequenced from a 700,000-year-old horse.

Long before other fish, ancient sharks found an alternative way to feed


ecology

Aphid-stressed pines show different secondary organic aerosol formation

A precise chemical fingerprint of the Amazon
This novel drone-based chemical monitoring system tracks the health of the Amazon in the face of global climate change and human-caused deforestation and burning.

It's all a blur.....why stripes hide moving prey

Insects as food and feed: research and innovation drive growing field


humans

Discovering biological mechanisms enabling pianists to achieve skillful fingering


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

science news 11.9.2019

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.


astrobiology

Nitrogen explosions created craters on Saturn moon Titan



plant science


Raising a glass to grapes' surprising genetic diversity
genome sequence of Chardonnay grape


behaviour

Sex for cooperation
Using behavioral and hormonal data from a habituated bonobo community at the long-term LuiKotale field site in the Democratic Republic of Congo researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard University and the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology have now shown that same-sex sexual behavior in female bonobos increases friendly social interactions, including cooperation.


nanoworld

Optical vacuum cleaner can manipulate nanoparticles


humans

Researchers find earliest evidence of milk consumption
A research team, led by archaeologists at the University of York, have identified a milk protein called beta lactoglobulin (BLG) entombed in the mineralised dental plaque of seven individuals who lived in the Neolithic period around 6,000 years-ago.



A jaw bone used in the study -- from the collections of the Dorset County Museum.
Credit: Dr Sophy Charlton, University of York


Bones of Roman Britons provide new clues to dietary deprivation
Researchers at the University of Bradford have shown a link between the diet of Roman Britons and their mortality rates for the first time, overturning a previously-held belief about the quality of the Roman diet.

The vagina monocultures
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have taken the first step towards trials of vaginal microbiota transplantation (VMT). Inspired by the success of fecal transplantation, it is hoped that transplants of vaginal fluids from healthy donors will provide the first restorative, curative treatment for bacterial vaginosis. Published in Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, the team's donor screening concept aims to ensure that only beneficial microbes are transferred by VMT - and not potential pathogens.
The award for today's best headline goes to ...


--------------

In the news:

The science says that badger culls don't work against bovine TB, because badgers are social animals and if you disrupt their community structures, they'll move and spread any TB they carry even more. Regardless, UK governments are keen to approve badger culls, just to show farmers that they are doing something for them - and never mind the science. The Guardian reports today that a badger cull of unprecedented scale has been approved for this autumn.




Tuesday, September 10, 2019

science news 10.9.2019

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.


astrobiology

And then there was light: Looking for the first stars in the universe


evolution

Identity crisis for fossil beetle helps rewrite beetle family tree
The beetle at the center of this mix-up, about the size of Franklin D. Roosevelt's nose on the U.S. dime, is Leehermania prorova.


zoology

'Building blocks' of bird calls resemble human languages


environment

Major environmental challenge as microplastics are harming our drinking water


humans


Watching music move through the brain
Scientists have observed how the human brain represents a familiar piece of music, according to research published in JNeurosci. Their results suggest that listening and remembering music involve different cognitive processes.

Monday, September 09, 2019

save the sharks

We're culturally conditioned to see sharks as a threat to humans, but the reality is exactly the other way round. Humans are an enormous threat to a whole range of species of cartilaginous fish including sharks, rays and chimaeras. I wrote a feature about shark conservation back in 2014, but the recent news that the UK is actually exporting shark fins troubled me so much I decided to revisit the field. As a result I discovered more disturbing news - many people may be eating sharks without even realising it.

My new shark feature is out now:

Stop the global slaughter of sharks


Current Biology Volume 29, issue 15, pages R715-R718, August 5, 2019

Restricted access to full text and PDF download

(will become open access one year after publication)

Magic link for free access

(first seven weeks only)





The whale shark (Rhincodon typus), the largest fish on our planet, has remained mysterious in many ways. (Photo: EliasSch/Pixabay.)

Saturday, September 07, 2019

hilary's tune

If you remember the biopic "Hilary and Jackie" (about cellist Jacqueline du Pre and her flautist sister Hilary), there is a scene where Hilary plays a piece to impress her new flute teacher. The teacher, however, tells her to go back to basics and focus on one note - the B at the beginning of the piece.

She was playing the Badinerie from the Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor by JS Bach, and in spite of the unhappy outcome of that performance in the movie, the piece has stayed with me and I am very pleased that I am now able to find my way through it. I think the trigger for actually learning it was stumbling upon this rendition from the young Spanish flautist, Andrea Rozas, on some sort of talent show.

Although it is written for flute and harpsichord, it works very nicely for solo flute. And I've managed to memorise it (it is a very short piece). I've also learned the previous movement of the suite, which is a minuet. Both are also very nice for the alto recorder. Check also this version of both movements on the pan pipes.


I used the sheet music from flutetunes.com, so I have no beautiful antiquarian edition to show, but here's a flute portrait I took last month at the Half Moon:



I love the fact that pubs have flute-sized mats to put your instrument down ...


After a year spent with JSB and CPE, I am now ready to play a composer whose last name is not Bach.

Friday, September 06, 2019

science news 6.9.2019

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.



ecology


New study tracks sulfur-based metabolism in the open ocean



Study reveals new patterns of key ocean nutrient
The important nutrient phosphate may be less abundant in the global ocean than previously thought, according to a new paper in Science Advances. The researchers compiled data collected using highly sensitive techniques that measure phosphate to create a more accurate dataset to power global ocean models.


Breakdown in coral spawning places species at risk of extinction
Synchronized coral spawning has become erratic, endangering the long-term survival of coral species,


humans

First ancient DNA from Indus Valley civilization links its people to modern South Asians


Hunter-gatherers agree on what is moral, but not who is moral

People can see beauty in complex mathematics, study shows



-----------------


in the news


phosphate fertilisers are still at risk of running out
, but then again, recycling the phosphorus is eminently feasible, so just a question of political will. See also my relevant feature from November 17




Thursday, September 05, 2019

science news 5.9.2019

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.

(Later than usual today as yahoo mail was down today which is where I normally get the EurekAlert email.)


astrobiology

Planetary collisions can reduce the internal pressures in planets
(I dropped the word "drop" from the headline as I didn't approve of the way it was used.)


evolution

Death march of segmented animal unravels critical evolutionary puzzle
The death march of a segmented bilaterian animal unearthed from ~550-million-year-old rocks in China shows that the oldest mobile and segmented animals evolved by the Ediacaran Period (635-539 million years ago). The research was conducted by an international research team from China and the US.


Prehistoric AC

Tyrannosaurus rex, one of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs on the planet, had an air conditioner in its head, suggest scientists from the University of Missouri, Ohio University and University of Florida, while challenging over a century of previous beliefs.



A graphic thermal image of a T. rex with its dorsotemporal fenestra glowing on the skull.
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Brian Engh.


ecology

Underwater soundscapes reveal differences in marine environments


genomes

Researchers move beyond sequencing and create a 3D genome





humans

Denisovan finger bone more closely resembles modern human digits than Neanderthals

Depression breakthrough
Major depressive disorder -- referred to colloquially as the 'black dog' -- has been identified as a genetic cause for 20 distinct diseases, providing vital information to help detect and manage high rates of physical illnesses in people diagnosed with depression.

How 'information gerrymandering' influences voters
Featured on the cover of today's issue of Nature.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

science news 4.9.2019

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.


astrobiology

Study reveals 'radical' wrinkle in forming complex carbon molecules in space


earth

Oldest lake in Europe reveals more than one million years of climate history
That's Lake Ohrid (North Macedonia / Albania), in case you wondered.


zoology

New whale species discovered along the coast of Hokkaido

Birds in serious decline at Lake Constance



Nowadays a rare visitor: barn swallows have decreased by 70 percent around Lake Constance. The animals suffer above all from the disappearance of smallholder farms and barns where they can build their homes as well as the decline in insects.
Credit: Stephan Trösch

Slowed metabolism helps geese fly high
New physiology study sheds light on how bar-headed geese migrate over the Himalayas


sustainable tech

Europe's future is renewable
Europe has enough solar and wind resources to meet its electricity demand entirely from renewable sources. A new study by researchers at the Institute for Transformative Sustainability Research (IASS) in Potsdam shows that many regions and municipalities could meet their electricity demand using electricity systems based exclusively on renewables. However, their development would exacerbate land use pressure around metropolitan areas and larger conurbations.


humans

Scotland's genetic landscape echoes Dark Age populations

Human perception of colors does not rely entirely on language, a case study


-----------

in the news:


squirrels listening to birds' chitchat





Tuesday, September 03, 2019

science news 3.9.2019

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.




ecology

Toxic frogs with weak defenses persist in the gene pool alongside stronger competitors



climate change

Vintage film shows Thwaites Glacier ice shelf melting faster than previously observed



Not much happening today, apparently (apart from UK's political meltdown).

-----

In the news:

a rather scary reminder to eat your five portions of fruit and veg ...



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