Monday, October 26, 2020

open cities

More than half of humankind is now living in cities, and urbanisation continues to grow. So in my contribution to last year's special issue on the anthropocene, I gazed into my crystal ball to work out how cities can be more sustainable in the future.

The resulting feature is now in the open archives:

The future is urbanised

Making cities resilient to climate interactions requires tailored solutions. Heat build-up is a problem for many cities, and the traditional approach of painting surfaces in reflective colours can help to keep the environment cool. (Photo: SofiaPapageorge/Pixabay.)

Friday, October 23, 2020

science news 23.10.2020

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.

astrobiology

OSIRIS-REx TAGs surface of asteroid Bennu

evolution

African crocodiles lived in Spain six million years ago
The crocodiles that inhabited the coasts of North Africa during the late Miocene period embarked on a journey to Europe across what is now the Mediterranean basin. This is confirmed by the analysis of the first fossils of the Crocodylus genus in the Iberian Peninsula, found in the Valencian site of Venta del Moro between 1995 and 2006, and which are now being described for the first time.

Bat-winged dinosaurs that could glide

This illustration shows a reconstruction of Ambopteryx in a glide. Credit: Gabriel Ugueto

conservation

The next generation of biodiversity conservation targets must aim higher than ever
Writing this week in Science, 40 researchers argue for a set of holistic actions for new biodiversity goals that are unambiguously clear, sufficiently ambitious, and based on the best knowledge available. Most importantly, the goals need to aim higher if they are to be successful in the face of worsening trends for the climate and life on Earth.

light and life

Researchers identify how night-shift work causes internal clock confusion

biomedical

Lab-grown mini-lungs mimic the real thing - right down to covid infection

dystopian futures

Comparing the promise and reality of e-scooters

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From the news media:


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

it's all in the chemistry

Sexual chemistry keeps species alive but what if it fails? What if a mutation means that suddenly a chemical signal fails to find a receptor? There are a few examples where a change in chemistry visibly drives the separation of species, including a recent discovery where it is happening right now. I've discussed a few cases in my latest feature in C&I:

Chemical evolution

Chemistry & Industry Volume 84, Issue10 October 2020 Pages 22-26

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (members)

Here's the first page with a picture of some yeasts whose sexual reproduction is also discussed in the feature:

Monday, October 19, 2020

closing in on the RNA world

As a former ribosome researcher, I tend to obsess about the tail end of the RNA world (the early phase of evolution when life used only RNA, no proteins or DNA) sometimes, namely the point when a ribozyme started making peptide bonds, and cleared the way for the division of labour between proteins, DNA and RNA that dominates life today. Now, however it is time to get really excited about the beginning of the RNA world, the point when the very first ribozyme started making more of its own kind. Experiments using in-vitro evolution to find such a ribozyme and they are tantalisingly close to success. Which would be amazing because from that point, we could rerun the evolution of the RNA world in the lab ...

So, while we're waiting for this breakthrough, here's my feature explaining just how brilliant that will be.

Towards the birth of evolution

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 20, 19 October 2020, Pages R1233-R1235

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)

The images thrown in were even more symbolic this time than normally:

Some sort of membrane or other enclosure was necessary for the early precursors of life to keep their molecules together and protect them from harm. (Photo: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay.)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

wandering about Wuppertal

I recently visited Wuppertal to look at the places where our family cello Heinrich (and its eponymous owner) lived a century ago, in what was then Elberfeld and Barmen. The conglomerate of Wuppertal isn't generally known as a tourist destination, although I tend to think it should be, as the suspension railway (Schwebebahn) gliding through the airspace above the river Wupper makes it unique. On previous visits I have also seen art exhibitions in the Von der Heydt Museum and as a child I must have visited the zoo there.

Walking from the main station Wuppertal Hbf (which was Elberfeld Hbf a century ago - see this slideshow of old postcards) to the first address where Heinrich lived, I came past this neogothic marvel and took a photo just for touristy interest.

Only after I arrived back home and read up a few things about old Elberfeld did it dawn on me that this building, known as the new townhall (Neues Rathaus), must have been where Heinrich the cellist went to work - he came to Elberfeld because he found a job in the city administration there. Which fits nicely as it is only ten minutes walk away from the flat where he lived in the 1920s, in Schleswiger Str.:

From the 1930s till the end of his life he lived in Gronaustr, which is technically in Barmen but still very close to Elberfeld, and a very nice location too. Behind the buildings you have the botanic garden going up on a hillside, and to the front you look out over the valley of the river Wupper and towards the green hills on the other side.

There are more photos of my visit in the relevant Flickr album now, the ones specifically relating to Heinrich are tagged with his name. I've also thrown in a photo of his string quartet - I'm still trying to find out who the other three musicians were.

Amateur string quartet in Elberfeld, 1927 - can anybody identify the other musicians?

Amateur-Streichquartett Elberfeld 1927 - kann jemand die anderen Musiker identifizieren?

Background story is here.

Friday, October 16, 2020

science news 16.10.2020

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.

evolution

Monkey study suggests that they, like humans, may have 'self-domesticated'
Asif Ghazanfar led a team of scientists who determined that changing an infant monkey's verbal development also changed a physical marker of domesticity: a patch of white fur on its forehead. This is the first study linking the degree of a social trait with the size of a physical sign of domestication, in any species.

ecology

Bark beetle outbreaks benefit wild bee populations, habitat

Cows prefer "live" co-moo-nication, study reveals

light and life

Researchers deconstruct the "biological clock" that regulates birdsong < >

A team of researchers from Penn State and New York University has deconstructed an important "biological clock" in the zebra finch brain and found that the "wires" between neurons, called axons, play a critical role in the precise timing of the birds' courtship song.
Credit: Christopher Auger-Dominguez

biomedical

Bats save energy by reducing energetically costly immune functions during annual migration
relevant for zoonoses including covid, hence biomedical of sorts.

sustainability

Artificial cyanobacterial biofilm can sustain green ethylene production for over a month

dystopian futures

Researchers develop framework to identify health impacts of self-driving vehicles
Loving the use of the word "impacts" in that title.

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

From the news media:

Have some blue fluorescent tardigrades

Thursday, October 15, 2020

science news 15.10.2020

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.

earth

Volcanic eruptions may explain Denmark's giant mystery crystals
Researchers have long been stumped for an explanation of how tens of millions of years-old giant crystals known as glendonites came to be on the Danish islands of Fur and Mors. A recent study from the University of Copenhagen offers a possible explanation to the conundrum: major volcanic eruptions resulted in episodes of much cooler prehistoric climates than once thought.

ecology

'Honey bee, it's me'
Honey bees rely on chemical cues related to their shared gut microbial communities, instead of genetic relatedness, to identify members of their colony. This new work is significant in part because it shows an integral role for the microbiome in the essential, everyday social interactions of honey bees, the Earth's most important pollinators, researchers said.

Mapping out rest stops for migrating birds
A team of researchers have developed a new metric called the stopover-to-passage ratio that can help determine if a majority of birds are flying over a particular site or stopping at the site to refuel or rest. The answer to this question can have important implications for what action is ultimately taken on the ground to help migratory birds.

Whitebark pine declines may unravel the tree's mutualism with Clark's Nutcracker
A new study suggests inequality in the whitebark pine-Clark's Nutcracker mutualism may make this partnership vulnerable when the population of one partner declines. Whitebark populations are declining due to factors including blister rust disease, mountain pine beetle infestations and climate change. The study suggests that nutcrackers leave areas where whitebark is less abundant and seek resources elsewhere, which might mean that declining seed dispersal should be added to the list of current threats to whitebark.

A Clark's Nutcracker perches in a whitebark pine. Photo by Frank D. Lospalluto/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Credit: Photo by Frank D. Lospalluto/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

conservation

Ivory Coast without ivory? Elephant populations are declining rapidly in Cote d'Ivoire

sustainability

Sweetpotato biodiversity can help increase climate-resilience of small-scale farming

humans

Modern humans took detours on their way to Europe
Climate conditions shaped the geography of settlement by Homo sapiens in the Levant 43,000 years ago / findings of Collaborative Research Centre 806 'Our Way to Europe' published in 'PLOS ONE'

Fossil footprints tell story of prehistoric parent's journey
Hungry giant predators, treacherous mud and a tired, probably cranky toddler -- more than 10,000 years ago, that was the stuff of every parent's nightmare. Evidence of that type of frightening trek was recently uncovered, and at nearly a mile it is the longest known trackway of early-human footprints ever found.

Trash heaps in Israel reveal agricultural shifts during the Roman Imperial Period

Nerves that sense touch may play role in autism
Autism is considered a disorder of the brain. But a new study suggests that the peripheral nervous system, the nerves that control our sense of touch, pain and other sensations, may play a role as well. The exploratory study is published in the October 14, 2020, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

dystopian futures

Robot swarms follow instructions to create art

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From the news media:

Thursday, October 08, 2020

legos and other building blocks

That awkward moment when I need to cite my own article from five months ago and find I have neither saved the PDF nor referenced it on the blog. So after a trawl through the Wiley Online Library, here are the publications in German I recently forgot to mention:

Von Viren und Tieren
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 68, Issue 5, March 2020, Pages 63-65
Access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English (animal sources of Sars-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses)

Proteomik: Den Urmenschen auf den Zahn gefühlt
Chemie in unserer Zeit Volume 54, Issue 3, June 2020, Page 147
Access via Wiley Online Library
Related content in English (dental proteomics of hominins)

Stammzelltherapien - was ist dran?
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 68, Issue 7/8, July/August 2020, Pages 62-64
Access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English (stem cell therapies)

Insekten-Pheromone: Scheidung auf Chemisch
Chemie in unserer Zeit Volume 54, Issue 4, August 2020, Page 215
Access via Wiley Online Library
Related content in English (coming soon)

Ausgeforscht: Langlebiges Lego
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 68, Issue 5, March 2020, Page 114
Access via Wiley Online Library

So entsteht eine Proteinfabrik
Nachrichten aus der Chemie Volume 68, Issue 5, March 2020, Pages 65-67
Access via Wiley Online Library
related content in English (ribosome asembly and evolution)

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

second wave

As the UK is now steaming into a second Covid wave, I'm getting the opportunity to learn another Bach suite. In mid September, I completed my exploration of the first suite with an approximation to playing the Prelude. Then I had 2 1/2 weeks off in Düsseldorf without a cello (but with my grandmother's piano on which I am still more hopeless than on the cello), and now I am ready for the third suite (which is in C major, one of the three major keys I can almost handle). Of which I have already learned the Bourree 1 and 2, so only 5 movements left to do. Let's start at the tail end again, with the gigue:

I'm starting with Inbal Segev's musings, of course, but then there aren't as many videos to choose from as there were for the first suite. Let's try:
Ophélie Gaillard
Alisa Weilerstein
I'm also adding these videos to my youtube playlist "cello repertoire".

In September, Heinrich's first outing after six months of lockdown led us to the bandstand in Florence Park.

Revision list (newest addition first)

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


Monday, October 05, 2020

sick of climate change

Today's issue of Current Biology includes a special section "The Microbial World". My contribution to the section looks into the effects of climate change on the ecology of pathogens. Amphibians are the canaries in the coalmine for this one, as they don't control their body temperature and changes in environmental temperature make them vulnerable to fungal infections that are already causing extinctions. But potentially climate-induced human diseases are also being investigated.

Disease in the times of climate change

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 19, 05 October 2020, Pages R1104-R1106

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(Actually, it is open right now as part of the special issue, but I suspect that this will change once the next issue appears in two weeks time. In that case, it will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Other goodies in the special issue include a primer on the phyllosphere (the above-ground microbiome of plants) by Britt Koskella and a quick guide to giant viruses by Chantal Abergel.

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.)
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