Sunday, May 19, 2019

funny noises

All our instruments series, episode 11

After taking care of that old piano, we're now returning to the established principle of this series, introducing instruments by order of appearance.

Every once in a while there is one that I never quite got the hang of - even if I've had it for decades. Like the banjo, the Jew's harp is one I find ok for making ploinky noises, but it doesn't really work for me as an instrument. This just as a warning before you click the video.




Here goes - if you can do any better, feel free to tell me what I'm doing wrong:




Saturday, May 18, 2019

In the midst of winter

Más allá del invierno
Isabel Allende


I think I first read Isabel Allende in 1984, when her first novel, La casa de los espiritus came out in translation and was very successful worldwide. From the next novel De amor y de sombras onwards, I read almost all her novels in the original version (a quick count gets me to 15). I skipped the young adult ones and may have missed one or two in recent years. (I really hated the cover of El cuaderno de Maya so much I couldn’t buy or read that one. Would have to wrap it in paper or something.)

Having started the shared reader/author journey 35 years ago with what was then the recent history of the coup in Chile, and having made all sorts of excursions to remote times such as the early days of the European conquest of the Americas, it feels a bit weird to be jolted into the present day New York and the eve of the Drumpf election with this novel published in 2017. However, it mostly works well.

It starts a bit slowly with a wintry encounter between the three very different characters, but then she throws in a dead body hidden in the trunk of a car and all goes swimmingly. Three interesting back stories relating to different parts of Latin America interwoven with the quest to do something meaningful about the body makes an interesting tapestry. Although the characters manage to sort out their mess, this doesn’t really tell us what to do about the rest of the horrid world.

PS looking for the cover of this one, I found out that the next novel is due out on May 21, called Largo pétalo de mar. I really do need to pull my socks up and keep up a bit better.

Friday, May 17, 2019

science news 17.5.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

Galaxy blazes with new stars born from close encounter
"The irregular galaxy NGC 4485 shows all the signs of having been involved in a hit-and-run accident with a bypassing galaxy. Rather than destroying the galaxy, the chance encounter is spawning a new generation of stars, and presumably planets."


climate change

24% of West Antarctic ice is now unstable

Warming climate threatens microbes in alpine streams, new research shows


ecology

Bedbugs evolved more than 100 million years ago -- and walked the earth with T. rex

The global invasion routes of the red swamp crayfish, described based on genetics


conservation

Meet the tenrecs
"Researchers reviewed the conservation priorities for the 31 species of tenrec -- a poorly understood family of small mammals superficially resembling hedgehogs, found only on the island of Madagascar."



Researchers reviewed the conservation priorities for the 31 species of tenrec -- a poorly understood family of small mammals superficially resembling hedgehogs, found only on the island of Madagascar.
Credit: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS


light and life

Research suggests revision to common view on how retinal cells in mammals process light
As far as I understood, this is because previous view was based on amphibians and mammals use fewer G proteins per photon coming in.


medicine

Antibody responses vs. Ebola keep evolving in survivors, months after recovery


humans

How our current thinking can sway our memories of love

People recycle more when they know what recyclable waste becomes

Thursday, May 16, 2019

science news 16.5.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


environment and sustainability


New whistle alerts bats to steer clear of wind turbines

Can sound protect eagles from wind turbine collisions?


When biodegradable plastic isn't
"Manufacturers offer biodegradable or compostable plastic bags, but in many cases, these claims have not been tested in natural environments. Now, researchers report in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology that the bags do not degrade in some environments any faster than regular polyethylene."


humans

Ancient fish ponds in the Bolivian savanna supported human settlement

Scientists suss out the secrets of human screams
"Screaming is well-studied in animals, but much less is known about how human screams function in communication, or how similar or different human screams are from those of other species. To help unlock the secrets of human screaming, researchers at Emory University have studied human vocal sounds, representing a broad acoustical range and array of emotional contexts, and studied what makes a sound a scream or not."
Shoutout to the Acoustics Society of America, they always have the most fascinating press releases when their annual meeting is on.
Also, this reminds me of the 1990s News and Views piece in Nature by Jared Diamond about why people scream when attacked - give or take a few duplicated letters, the title was Aaaaaarrrrrrgh, nooo! I found that quite inspiring in terms of what you can get away with in a scientific journal.


Chewing gums reveal the oldest Scandinavian human DNA
"The first humans who settled in Scandinavia more than 10,000 years ago left their DNA behind in ancient chewing gums, which are masticated lumps made from birch bark pitch."


languages

Bristol academic cracks Voynich code, solving century-old mystery of medieval text
According to a new analyisis, it is written in proto-Romance and there are 200 pages left to be translated. Oh and it is the only known document written in proto-Romance.



Vignette A illustrates the erupting volcano that prompted the rescue mission and the drawing of the map. It rose from the seabed to create a new island given the name Vulcanello, which later became joined to the island of Vulcano following another eruption in 1550. Vignette B depicts the volcano of Ischia, vignette C shows the islet of Castello Aragonese, and vignette D represents the island of Lipari. Each vignette includes a combination of naïvely drawn and somewhat stylized images along with annotations to explain and add detail. The other five vignettes describe further details of the story.
Credit: Voynich manuscript


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


from the news media:

Just as I got really excited about the Voynich manuscript and the proto-Romance language, I found this piece in the Guardian, which quotes several experts who don't believe the claims. So, wait and see - would be amazing though.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

science news 15.5.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.



astrobiology

Small, hardy planets most likely to survive death of their stars

How the Sun pumps out water from Mars into space


evolution

First birds: Archaeopteryx gets company

Dolphin ancestor's hearing was more like hoofed mammals than today's sea creatures

How the snail's shell got its coil
"Researchers from the Tokyo University of Science, Japan, have used CRISPR gene editing technology to make snails with shells that coil the 'wrong' way, providing insights into the fundamental basis of left-right asymmetry in animals."


ecology
Escaped pet parrots are now naturalized in 23 US states, study finds
"Research data on bird sightings finds that 56 different parrot species have been spotted in 43 states, and 25 of those species are now breeding in the wild in 23 different states."

Parents unknown
"Animals in hard-to-reach places, especially strange, 'unattractive,' animals, may completely escape our attention. We don't know what their role is in the environment. In fact, we don't even know they exist. New research may double the number of species of a little-known marine creature, based on DNA studies of its larvae."


Phoronid larva collected in Bocas del Toro province, Panama (Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean).
Credit: Michael Boyle


light and life

Dead zones in circadian clocks
"Circadian clocks of organisms respond to light signals during night but do not respond in daytime. The time window where circadian clocks are insensitive to light signals is referred to as the 'dead zone'. Researchers from Kanazawa University have proposed a mechanism for the daytime dead zone. They report that saturation of a single biochemical reaction in the gene regulatory network that controls circadian oscillations can create a daytime dead zone in different species."


quantum computation

Accelerating quantum technologies with materials processing at the atomic scale
"An emerging suite of information technologies based on fundamental quantum physics has been given a boost by researchers at the University of Oxford, who have invented a method to engineer single atomic defects in diamond using laser processing."


humans

How much language are unborn children exposed to in the womb?

Coffee addicts really do wake up and smell the coffee

How Nigerian music can help you choose a ripe watermelon
"The quickest way to decide if a watermelon is ripe or not is by tapping on it. And if you're having trouble detecting the subtleties of the sound, listen to some Nigerian traditional music to get your ears attuned. Nigerian researcher Stephen Onwubiko has found a link between the sounds of drumming in traditional Nigerian music and the sound of fingers drumming on watermelons in the markets."

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

science news 14.5.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


Just three stories today ...


evolution

Coastal organisms trapped in 99-million-year-old amber


ecology

Wild pigs invade Canadian provinces
"Wild pigs -- a mix of wild boar and domestic swine -- are spreading rapidly across Canada, threatening native species such as nesting birds, deer, agricultural crops, and farm livestock, research by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) shows."


humans

'Doing science,' rather than 'being scientists,' more encouraging to those underrepresented in the field
"Over the course of a school year, elementary school children lose confidence that they can 'be scientists,' but remain more confident that they can 'do science.'"
I'd suspect though that the same applies to all fields. Playing music sounds a lot less scary than being a musician. Doing some writing is less demanding than being a writer.

Monday, May 13, 2019

face off

Open Archive Day

A year ago, after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I wrote a feature about facebook as a dual use technology - amazingly useful in many ways for both its users and for social scientists, but also open to staggering dangers, such as the manipulation of elections.

Since then, the dangers have remained at the forefront of the news agenda. The recent mass shooting in New Zealand, which the attacker live-streamed on facebook for a quarter of an hour, was a new example how "connecting people" can backfire. Just yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg met Emmanuel Macron and appeared on French television to defend his record, but the concerns are only growing as the network's coverage continues to expand.

So the feature is still as relevant as it was a year ago, and it is now freely accessible:

Watching two billion people



PS (14.5.2019): another day, another facebook related crisis, this time it's the security of WhatsApp, and some troubling revelations of the capabilities that the app has (I'm rather glad I'm not using it).

Friday, May 10, 2019

science news 10.5.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


evolution

Discovery of the photosensor for yellow-green light-driven photosynthesis in cyanobacteria
"Cyanobacteria, a type of bacteria that performs photosynthesis, utilize a photosensor to maximize their light-harvesting capacity under different light environments. A joint research team led by Toyohashi University of Technology found a new photosensor that regulates yellow-green light-harvesting antenna in cyanobacteria. Further analysis of the cyanobacterial genomes revealed that this photosensor emerged about 2.1 billion years ago or more and evolved through genetic exchange between cyanobacteria."

The bird that came back from the dead
"New research has shown that the last surviving flightless species of bird, a type of rail, in the Indian Ocean had previously gone extinct but rose from the dead thanks to a rare process called 'iterative evolution'."


life on the edge

Remarkable fish see color in deep, dark water



The Tub-eye Fish, Stylephorus chordatus. This species was found to use five different rod opsins within its eyes. The long cylindrical shape of its eyes increases light capture and also enables the fish to move the eyes from a horizontal to a vertical position.
Credit: Dr. Wen-Sung Chung, University of Queensland, Australia


ecology

Antarctic biodiversity hotspots exist wherever penguins and seals poop

Dexterous herring gulls learn new tricks to adapt their feeding habits


environment

Traces of Roman-era pollution stored in the ice of Mont Blanc


bio-inspired

New brain tumor imaging technique uses protein found in scorpion venom

Scientists discover a new class of single-atom nanozymes
These are single-atom catalytic sites inspired by enzyme active sites, apparently.


humans

Abrupt climate change drove early South American population decline

Ancient DNA suggests that some Northern Europeans got their languages from Siberia
"Most Europeans descend from a combination of European hunter-gatherers, Anatolian early farmers, and Steppe herders. But only European speakers of Uralic languages like Estonian and Finnish also have DNA from ancient Siberians. Now, with the help of ancient DNA samples, researchers reporting in Current Biology on May 9 suggest that these languages may have arrived from Siberia by the beginning of the Iron Age, about 2,500 years ago, rather than evolving in Northern Europe."

Virtual Reality can improve quality of life for people with dementia

Appendix removal associated with development of Parkinson's disease

The art of the circus
"From tightrope to trapeze, circus arts have long fascinated and inspired people of all ages. Now, research from the University of South Australia is revealing the true value of circus skills and their unique ability to deliver significant mental health benefits for Australian children."
... no mention of unicycling - bit more manageable than tightropes and trapeze ?







Thursday, May 09, 2019

science news 9.5.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


evolution

New Jurassic non-avian theropod dinosaur sheds light on origin of flight in Dinosauria



Life reconstruction of the bizarre membranous-winged Ambopteryx longibrachium.
Credit: Chung-Tat Cheung


ecology

Urban trees 'live fast, die young' compared to those in rural forests

Grading conservation: Which reserves defend forests?


anthropocene

Radioactive carbon from nuclear bomb tests found in deep ocean trenches


nanoworld

Creating a global map of the protein shape universe

Researchers create 'impossible' nano-sized protein cages with the help of gold


food & drink

Great chocolate is a complex mix of science, physicists reveal
investigation of the conching process

The smell of dark chocolate, demystified

Understanding the power of honey through its proteins

Avocados, as a substitution for carbohydrates, can suppress hunger without adding calories

Why some red wines taste 'dry'
"Wine connoisseurs can easily discriminate a dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, from a fruitier red, like Pinot Noir. Scientists have long linked the 'dryness' sensation in wine to tannins, but how these molecules create their characteristic mouthfeel over time is not fully understood. Now, researchers reporting in ACS' Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry have found that tannin structure, concentration and interactions with saliva and other wine components influence the perception of dryness."


humans

Ride-sharing companies make traffic worse instead of better in San Francisco
I suspect that's because their business isn't ride-sharing (as in hitch-hiking), it's unregulated taxi operation.



--------

From the news media:

Phage therapy is in the news and described as if it were a new thing - it has been known for decades, of course, see my 2014 feature.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

science news 8.5.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


climate change

Arctic rivers provide fingerprint of carbon release from thawing permafrost


ecology

Lions vs. porcupines
"Lions can bring down wildebeests and giraffes, but when they try to hunt porcupines, the spiky rodents often come out on top. When lions attack porcupines (it's usually young male lions that make that mistake), the porcupine's spines can seriously injure the lion. These injuries can make it impossible for the lions to hunt normally, leading them to hunt livestock or even humans. This study is a deep dive into lion-porcupine interactions over the centuries."!


This is an African porcupine.
Credit: © Eric Kilby


behaviour

Paper wasps capable of behavior that resembles logical reasoning


medical

Groundbreaking study could lead to fast, simple test for Ebola virus


beerology

Mystery of texture of Guinness beer: inclination angle of a pint glass is key to solution


humans

Fewer than half of British men and women have sex at least once a week
The mysterious decline happened 2001-2012 apparently, so we can't even blame it on Brexit ...



Tuesday, May 07, 2019

science news 7.5.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


evolution

The fossilization process of the dinosaur remains


conservation

Even more amphibians are endangered than we thought
"Due to a lack of data on many amphibian species, only about 44% of amphibians have up-to-date assessments on their risk of extinction, compared to nearly 100% of both birds and mammals. Now, researchers reporting May 6 in Current Biology have used known ecological, geographical, and evolutionary attributes of these data-deficient species to model their extinction risk -- and their assessment suggests that at least 1,000 more species are threatened than was previously believed."
NB: The paper in Current Biology appears to be on open access.


Credit: Robert Freckleton


reproduction

Female flies respond to sensation of sex, not just sperm


sustainable technology

Radical desalination approach may disrupt the water industry
"Columbia Engineering researchers report that they have developed a radically different desalination approach--"temperature swing solvent extraction (TSSE)"--for hypersaline brines. Their study demonstrates that TSSE can desalinate very high-salinity brines, up to seven times the concentration of seawater."


humans

Ayahuasca fixings found in 1,000-year-old bundle in the Andes
"archaeologists have discovered traces of the powerfully hallucinogenic potion in a 1,000-year-old leather bundle buried in a cave in the Bolivian Andes."


Origin of Sino-Tibetan language family revealed by new research



Monday, May 06, 2019

roll back malaria (again)

The global effort to roll back malaria has been a success for a while, but in the last three years, progress in disease reduction appears to have stalled. In my latest feature I am looking at the problems holding back the fight against the disease and at some potential solutions:

Fresh efforts needed against malaria


Current Biology Volume 29, issue 9, pages R301-R303, May 6, 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 mosquito Anopheles gambiae, which transmits malaria in Africa and thereby causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, has been called the world’s deadliest animal. (Photo: ArtsyBee/Pixabay.)

Sunday, May 05, 2019

moonlight sonata

All our instruments series, episode 10

Sorry there has been a slight delay in the continuation of this series. This has to do with the instrument I am going to present this week, which has ended up in my care just now, but has been in the family for longer than any other, a bit more than a century.

It is my grandmother's piano, built by August Förster in Leipzig in 1912. My grandmother (Frieda Eberle, née Nagel) was born in 1902, studied at the Conservatoire in Bückeburg, but then married in 1924 and had three daughters. Widowed in 1945, she gave piano and singing lessons at Idar Oberstein until her early death in 1962.

The piano was in storage from 1962 to 1968, but then moved in with us and stayed with my mother until her death. Although she had a somewhat conflicted relationship with the instrument, I think it is safe to say that it has been played at least occasionally for most of its 107-year life time so far.




Among my mother's belongings I discovered a 90 min recording of her mother playing piano pieces (and singing an opera duo). As I don't know much about piano sonatas, I'll copy the complete set list in here and would be grateful for any thoughts on the choice of pieces.

Oh, and I put all of it on YouTube as well, so here's a video that doesn't feature my playing for once:




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


Here's the complete list of pieces recorded in January 1958

Beethoven:
Piano Sonata No. 17 in D minor, Op. 31, No. 2, "The Tempest" (audio)
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C♯ minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2, popularly known as the Moonlight Sonata (audio)
Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, commonly known as Sonata Pathétique (audio)


Mendelssohn
Spinnrocken ???
Frühlingslied

Schubert op 90
Impromptu Nr 2, Nr 3, Nr 4

Mendelssohn
Rondo cappricioso

Brahms
Rhapsodie op 78 (audio from the tail end of the Beethoven sonatas until around here)

Chopin
Rev. Etude
Etude Op 25 Nr 11 (audio of the rest of the piano pieces)

Mozart
duet: Reich mir die Hand mein Leben, from Don Giovanni (audio)

Saturday, May 04, 2019

robotic chemistry

Back in February I made a little business trip to the city of London to chat with the CEO of DeepMatter Group, a company founded by the very innovative chemist Lee Cronin whose work I have covered in Chemistry World before. The company aims to bring automation and complete computerised control to general chemical reactions - currently only highly repetitive tasks like peptide synthesis and DNA sequencing are run by robots.

My resulting feature is out now in Chemistry & Industry:

I2 Robot

Chemistry & Industry 83, No. 4, pp 18-21.

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (members only) (should turn up here soon, specific link to follow)

Any access problems give me a shout and I can send a PDF.



After the interview I went to the Tate Modern (Pierre Bonnard exhibition) and also made my way up to their new(ish) viewing platform. (I'm sure architecture watchers can determine the day of my visit from the status of the skyline.)

Friday, May 03, 2019

science news 3.5.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

When it comes to planetary habitability, it's what's inside that counts


evolution

Dwarfs under dinosaur legs: 99-million-year-old millipede discovered in Burmese amber

Running may have made dinosaurs' wings flap before they evolved to fly

Chewing versus sex in the duck-billed dinosaurs
"The duck-billed hadrosaurs walked the Earth over 90-million years ago and were one of the most successful groups of dinosaurs. But why were these 2-3 tonne giants so successful? A new study, published in Paleobiology, shows that their special adaptations in teeth and jaws and in their head crests were crucial, and provides new insights into how these innovations evolved."

Bats evolved diverse skull shapes due to echolocation, diet


ecology

Arsenic-breathing life discovered in the tropical Pacific Ocean

What drives multiple female acorn woodpeckers to share a nest?
Must be the rents ...

Why can't we all get along (like Namibia's pastoralists and wildlife?)

Scientists interviewed pastoralists in Namibia's Namib Desert to see how they felt about conflicts with wildlife, which can include lions and cheetahs preying on livestock and elephants and zebras eating crops.

For giant pandas, bamboo is vegetarian 'meat'



Pandas have a strange mix of have herbivore and carnivore traits.
Credit: Pixabay veverkolog


humans

Why you love coffee and beer
"Why do you swig bitter, dark roast coffee while your coworker guzzles sweet cola? Scientists searched for variations in our taste genes that could explain our beverage preferences, because understanding those preferences could indicate ways to intervene in people's diets. But to scientists' surprise, the study showed taste preferences for bitter or sweet beverages aren't based on variations in our taste genes, but rather genes related to the psychoactive properties of these beverages."

Thursday, May 02, 2019

science news 2.5.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

ASU researchers find water in samples from asteroid Itokawa


evolution

Flowering plants, new teeth and no dinosaurs: New study sheds light on the rise of mammals


ecology

The hunger gaps: How flowering times affect farmland bees

Hippos, the animal silicon pumps
"The excrements of hippos play an important role in the ecosystem of African lakes and rivers. Because there are fewer and fewer hippos, this ecosystem is in danger. In the long term, this could lead to food shortages at Lake Victoria. These are some of the results of a study by an international team of researchers published in the journal Science Advances."
ooooh, this is another opportunity to reference my Megapoo feature


zoology

Narwhals have endured a million years with low genetic diversity, and they're thriving
Narwhals have also starred in my fantastic species feature and in the one about the impact of arctic shipping.

Why do birds typically live longer than mammals?
"Why do birds typically live longer than mammals? A new paper offers a hint, albeit not a conclusive answer. Assistant Professors of Biology Cynthia Downs and Ana Jimenez at Hamilton College and Colgate University respectively have co-authored a paper with nine students, 'Does cellular metabolism from primary fibroblasts and oxidative stress in blood differ between mammals and birds? The (lack-thereof) scaling of oxidative stress' in press with Integrative and Comparative Biology."


behaviour

Wolves more prosocial than pack dogs in touchscreen experiment
Disturbing news - they'll soon start spreading fake howls on social media ...


humans

Modulating a hormonal pathway improves social function in 2 clinical trials of adults and children with autism spectrum disorder
"Results from two clinical trials reveal that modulating the hormone vasopressin's biological pathway safely enhanced social functioning in 223 adult men and 30 children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)."

First hominins on the Tibetan Plateau were Denisovans
An actual jaw bone with two teeth represents the first Denisovan found away from the Denisova cave, very exciting discovery.



The Xiahe mandible, only represented by its right half, was found in 1980 in Baishiya Karst Cave.
Credit: © Dongju Zhang, Lanzhou University


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


The UK climate report calling for 0 carbon emissions by 2050 discussed in the Guardian.



Tuesday, April 30, 2019

science news 30.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

Researchers find ice feature on Saturn's giant moon
"Research team finds huge ice feature on Titan while trying to understand where Saturn's largest moon gets all of its methane. This research, which used Principal Components Analysis in an unconventional way, also validated results from previous Titan missions."


evolution

Climate, grasses and teeth -- the evolution of South America mammals


bumblebees

How the bumble bee got its stripes
"Researchers have discovered a gene that drives color differences within a species of bumble bees, helping to explain the highly diverse color patterns among bumble bees."

Pesticide exposure causes bumblebee flight to fall short


ecology

Wax helps plants to survive in the desert

Are coffee farms for the birds? Yes and no
"Through painstaking banding of individual birds, Sekercioglu asked whether the expansion of coffee plantations is reducing tropical bird biodiversity. The answer, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is no. And yes. Sun coffee plantations are able to host a surprising number of bird species, even more if the plantation has some tree cover. But the plantations are not enough to maintain bird biodiversity."



Male turquoise cotinga, threatened with extinction. This is the only known instance of this bird being caught and banded.
Credit: Cagan Sekercioglu/University of Utah


climate change

As oceans warm, microbes could pump more CO2 back into air, study warns

Rapid melting of the world's largest ice shelf linked to solar heat in the ocean


bio-inspired

Squid skin inspires creation of next-generation space blanket


humans

Study links gene to sleep problems in autism

Widespread brain connections enable face recognition

How the olfactory brain affects memory
"How sensory perception in the brain affects learning and memory processes is far from fully understood. Two neuroscientists of Ruhr-Universität Bochum have discovered a new aspect of how the processing of odours impacts memory centres. They showed that the piriform cortex -- a part of the olfactory brain -- has a direct influence on information storage in our most important memory structure, the hippocampus."
Paper is on open access here.

Release of '13 Reasons Why' associated with increase in youth suicide rates



Monday, April 29, 2019

archaea archived

Open Archive Day

Last April's feature on archaea and their membranes is now in the open archives. There was a very clever explanation of the differences between membranes in the domains of life, but I'll have to reread the piece myself to remind myself how it went.


Archaea cloaked in mystery


Friday, April 26, 2019

science news 26.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.



earth

Diamonds reveal how continents are stabilized, key to Earth's habitability

New view of how ocean 'pumps' impact climate change
"A new Rochester study has found that factors such as wind, currents, and even small fish play a larger role in transferring and storing carbon from the surface of the ocean to the deep oceans than was previously thought."


ecology

Pole-to-pole study of ocean life identifies nearly 200,000 marine viruses
"An international team has conducted the first-ever global survey of the ecological diversity of viruses in the oceans during expeditions aboard a single sailboat. They identified nearly 200,000 marine viral species, which vastly exceeds the 15,000 known from prior ocean surveys of these waters and the approximately 2,000 genomes available from cultured viruses of microbes. Their findings, appearing April 25 in the journal Cell, have implications for understanding issues ranging from evolution to climate change."



This image shows the Tara sailing on its Polar Circle expedition in 2013.
Credit: A. Deniaud Garcia/ Fondation Tara Ocean


environment

Unravelling the complexity of air pollution in the world's coldest capital city
"A joint Mongol-Japanese research team from the National University of Mongolia and Kanazawa University conducted the first detailed study of organic air pollutants in Ulaanbaartar city. The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contents of airborne particulates were determined, and indicated that the degree of air pollution varies markedly by district and season."


sustainable technology


Caffeine gives solar cells an energy boost
a joke during a coffee break turned into a real improvement of the technology ...

Using DNA templates to harness the sun's energy

How to take the 'petro' out of the petrochemicals industry
"University of Toronto Engineering researchers chart a course for how an alternative technology -- renewable electrosynthesis -- could usher in a more sustainable chemical industry, and ultimately enable us to leave much more oil and gas in the ground."


humans

MRC researchers discover how eating feeds into the body clock
"The Medical Research Council (MRC)-funded study, published today in the journal Cell, is the first to identify insulin as a primary signal that helps communicate the timing of meals to the cellular clocks located across our body, commonly known as the body clock."


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

From the news media:

The report about reading speach intention from neurons in the brain made the front page of the Guardian yesterday.



Thursday, April 25, 2019

science news 25.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

Rapid destruction of Earth-like atmospheres by young stars


earth

Microbes may act as gatekeepers of Earth's deep carbon


climate change / ecology

Reindeer adapt to climate change by eating seaweed

Antarctica: the final frontier for marine biological invasions?

Global warming hits sea creatures hardest



This is a sea robin.
Credit: Malin Pinsky/Rutgers University-New Brunswick


evolution

Fossil crab reveals a new branch in the tree of life


senses

New discovery in how mammals sense the cold could lead to new pain relief drugs

Smelling with your tongue
"Scientists from the Monell Center report that functional olfactory receptors, the sensors that detect odors in the nose, are also present in human taste cells found on the tongue. The findings suggest that interactions between the senses of smell and taste, the primary components of food flavor, may begin on the tongue and not in the brain, as previously thought."

Researchers create the first maps of two melatonin receptors essential for sleep

Monday, April 22, 2019

stay in touch

I have noticed that our sense of touch is falling out of fashion. For various unrelated reasons (technology, urbanisation, psychology / society) we are less likely to operate things by mechanical touching, to have tactile experiences of our natural environment, or to touch other humans outside of a sexual context. With a slight unease about these developments floating around my mind, I was very excited to discover the recent paper from researcher in Finland who have studied the "touch biographies" of volunteers to study what the interhuman touch meant to people (in Finland), and I jumped at the opportunity to use this as a peg to cover the wider importance of feeling things (and organisms, and people) and the question of whether and why our feel for our world is in decline.

The resulting feature is out now:

Are we losing touch with our world?

Current Biology Volume 29, issue 8, pages R265-R268, April 22, 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)





A tactile experience of nature and wildlife is increasingly rare as urbanisation and technology progress. (Photo: Asinno/Flickr.)



Monday, April 15, 2019

Molière's last show

Open Archive Day

Last week, a comedian who was apparently famous on the live comedy circuit in the UK, died on stage in front of a baffled audience. Which reminded me of Molière, who very nearly managed that - playing the title role in his own play Le malade imaginaire (the imaginary invalid) he fell ill on stage and died at home a few hours later.

I used the story of Molière's last performance as an opener in my feature on the US psychiatry manual, the DSM-5, which in a way, also has the difficult task of working out what is real disease and what isn't. I don't often get to mention Molière in my features so I have kept fond memories of this one, where he played such a starring role.

Has the manual gone mental?

Friday, April 12, 2019

science news 12.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


earth

Ice Ages occur when tropical islands and continents collide
"Earth's steady state is warm and balmy, but half a dozen times over the past billion years, the planet developed ice caps and glaciers. Researchers have now amassed evidence that these cold snaps occurred when tectonic activity propelled continents headlong into volcanic island arcs in the tropics, uplifting ophiolites that rapidly absorbed carbon dioxide, cooling Earth. Once collisions stopped, CO2 again built up from volcanic eruptions and a runaway greenhouse effect warmed the planet."


evolution

Ancient 'Texas Serengeti' had elephant-like animals, rhinos, alligators and more


ecology

Study: How will tropical mammals react to rising temperatures?
"How wildlife will react to climate change is an open question, but one of the first studies to compare the responses of tropical mammals to warmer habitats suggests the answer won't be as simple as 'move to a cooler place.'"


nanoworld

Engineers tap DNA to create 'lifelike' machines


humans

Multiple Denisovan-related ancestries in Papuans

People with a sense of oneness experience greater life satisfaction
"People who believe in oneness -- the idea that everything in the world is connected and interdependent -- appear to have greater life satisfaction than those who don't, regardless of whether they belong to a religion or don't, according to research published by the American Psychological Association."

Astronaut has no lingering, major epigenetic differences from earthbound twin brother
"This is the dawn of human genomics in space," claims a researcher quoted in the PR - and a candidate for an IgNobel. What I didn't find on skimming through was: Did they select Scott Kelly as an astronaut for the ISS stay because he had a monozygotic twin, or did the idea arise after it turned out one of the ISS people had one?
NB there are at least 10 other PRs on various aspects of Scott Kelly's physiology including his telomers and his gut microbiome - but I assume they all point to the same paper out in Science today.


Texts like networks: How many words are sufficient to recognize the author?
A member of my household once read one of my pieces in a newspaper and got about halfway before finding it suspicious and checking the byline ...



The author of an unsigned text can be identified by analyzing the relationship between just a few words of the text, as shown by physicist-statisticians from the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Cracow. (Source: IFJ PAN)


Thursday, April 11, 2019

science news 11.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


ecology

Human activities shift dominant tree-fungi pairing in North America
See also my recent feature on the billion year history of plants and fungi - as of today, the magic link should still be active for another couple of weeks.


zoology

Long-lived bats could hold secrets to mammal longevity

Birds' surprising sound source
"Birds, although they have larynges, use a different organ to sing. Called a syrinx, it's a uniquely avian feature. Now, a team that brings together physics, biology, computation and engineering finds that the syrinx confers an advantage: by sitting so low in the airway, the syrinx can produce sound with very high efficiency."


environment & health

The Lancet Planetary Health: Traffic-related air pollution associated with 4 million new cases of childhood asthma every year

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions while balancing demand for meat

Diet rich in animal protein is associated with a greater risk of death


humans

New species of early human found in the Philippines

Researchers interpret Cherokee inscriptions in Alabama cave

Archaeologists identify first prehistoric figurative cave art in Balkans



Digital tracing of Bison featured in rock art.
Credit: Aitor Ruiz-Redondo

(there's also a drawing of an ibex here)

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

from the news media:

The first image of a black hole is all over the news today, no wonder as I saw about 10 separate press releases for it. Here is the Guardian's take on it (with the picture).




Wednesday, April 10, 2019

science news 10.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

Life could be evolving right now on nearest exoplanets


earth

The oldest ice on Earth may be able to solve the puzzle of the planet's climate history

More than 90% of glacier volume in the Alps could be lost by 2100


evolution

The return of Cthulhu -- the small sea critter
"Researchers at Yale, Oxford, the University of Leicester, Imperial College London, and University College London have identified a 430-million-year-old fossil as a new species related to living sea cucumbers. They named the creature Sollasina cthulhu, after H.P. Lovecraft's tentacled monster, Cthulhu."



This is a life reconstruction of Sollasina cthulhu.
Credit: Elissa Martin/Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History


ecology

Astro-ecology: Counting orangutans using star-spotting technology
See also my latest feature on Orangutans.


environment

Tracking the sources of plastic pollution

Study shows potential for Earth-friendly plastic replacement
"New research from The Ohio State University has shown that combining natural rubber with bioplastic in a novel way results in a much stronger replacement for plastic, one that is already capturing the interest of companies looking to shrink their environmental footprints."


humans

Study explores how technology can help prompt positive memories for people with depression

Autism symptoms reduced nearly 50% two years after fecal transplant


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

From the news media:

A woman lived 99 years with her organs in all the wrong places, reports The Guardian. But at least her heart was in the right place.






Tuesday, April 09, 2019

science news 9.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

Astronomers find evidence of a planet with a mass almost 13 times that of Jupiter



Brazilian researchers have identified robust signs of the existence of a giant object in the Cygnus constellation orbiting a binary system of a live star and a white dwarf.
Credit: Leandro Almeida


ecology

Excellent catering: How a bacterium feeds an entire flatworm

Earth's recovery from mass extinction could take millions of years


conservation

World-first study shows Indigenous skills vital to conservation research outcomes


bio-inspired

Slug glue reveals clues for making better medical adhesives

Study shows dogs can accurately sniff out cancer in blood


archaeology

Declassified U2 spy plane images reveal bygone Middle Eastern archaeological features


humans

Dietary supplement boosts cognitive function in vegetarians
"Vegetarians who take the dietary supplement creatine may enjoy improved brain function, according to a new study. The research will be presented today at the American Physiological Society's (APS) annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2019 in Orlando, Fla."





Monday, April 08, 2019

deepest dive ever

Open Archive Day

Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner, who made the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans one of the most important model systems of modern biology, died a few days ago. Reading his obituary I suddenly remembered that he wrote a humorous column on the last page of Current Biology back in the 1990s, signing off as Uncle Syd.

I wondered if his work for the journal overlapped with mine but found he signed off from his column first appearing at the back of the issues (loose ends) and then at the front (false starts) in December 2000 and I started writing journalistic pieces for the front pages in January 2001 (before that, wearing my researcher hat, I had a dispatch published in 1998).

So I did the deepest dive into the Open Archives ever and looked up Brenner's last column as well as my debut piece for the news pages, which was about European genomic initiatives after the Human Genome Project, including the projects in Estonia and Iceland:


European genomics: think big or small?


Back then my pieces were typically shorter than the features I've been writing since 2011.




Friday, April 05, 2019

science news 5.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

Scientists discover a small, dense planet orbiting a white dwarf

Life on Mars?
"Researchers from Hungary have discovered embedded organic material in a Martian meteorite found in the late 1970s. The scientists were able to determine the presence of organic matter in mineralized form such as different forms of bacteria within the meteorite, suggesting that life could have existed on the Red Planet."


evolution

Noncoding DNA drives the convergent loss of flight in flightless birds

Jurassic crocodile discovery sheds light on reptiles' family tree

Ancient, four-legged whale with otter-like features found along the coast of Peru



This illustration shows an artistic reconstruction of two individuals of Peregocetus, one standing along the rocky shore of nowadays Peru and the other preying upon sparid fish. The presence of a tail fluke remains hypothetical.
Credit: A. Gennari


ecology

Seed dispersal by invasive birds in Hawaii fills critical ecosystem gap


armies old and new

Scientists shed light on preservation mystery of Terracotta Army weapons
"The chrome plating on the Terracotta Army bronze weapons -- once thought to be the earliest form of anti-rust technology -- derives from a decorative varnish rather than a preservation technique, finds a new study co-led by UCL and Terracotta Army Museum researchers."

Robots to autocomplete Soldier tasks, new study suggests
"Smart phones autocorrect in texting, search engines autocomplete queries, and mapping applications redirect navigation in real-time to avoid slowed traffic. These ubiquitous AI-based technologies adapt to everyday needs and learn user habits by focusing on making the algorithm better, but Army researchers want to enhance AI by providing more information about the intent of the user."
I missed the memo explaining why any of this was supposed to be good news.


humans

Poverty leaves a mark on our genes

A 'million word gap' for children who aren't read to at home

What and where in the processing of body-part information


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

from the news media:

10 animals we're eating into extinction rounded up in the Guardian. On the same issue see also my feature Can we change our predatory ways? now on open access.

Also, the Guardian is adding the official CO2 concentration measured in Hawaii to its weather report - as a daily reminder that we must tackle climate change now.





Thursday, April 04, 2019

science news 4.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


life on the edge

Otherworldly mirror pools and mesmerizing landscapes discovered on ocean floor
"Scientists aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute's research vessel Falkor recently discovered and explored a hydrothermal field at 2,000 meters depth in the Gulf of California where towering mineral structures serve as biological hotspots for life. These newly discovered geological formations feature upside down 'mirror-like flanges' that act as pooling sites for discharged fluids."


ecology

Wild bees flock to forested areas affected by severe fire



Triepeolus on Canada thistle.
Credit: Jim Rivers, OSU


behaviour

Gorillas gather around and groom their dead
Intriguing - might this undermine some of the conclusions that anthropologists derive from prehistoric burial evidence?

How understanding animal behavior can support wildlife conservation


agriculture

Insect-deterring sorghum compounds may be eco-friendly pesticide


humans

The Lancet: Globally, 1 in 5 deaths are associated with poor diet
and here's a different take on the same data:
New study finds poor diet kills more people globally than tobacco and high blood pressure

The brain's auto-complete function

The whisper room: Moderates on Twitter are losing their voice





Wednesday, April 03, 2019

science news 3.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

Prebiotic chemistry: Stable majorities
How could prebiotic information-bearing DNA sequences survive in the face of competition from a vast excess of shorter molecules with random sequences? Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich scientists now show that a relatively simple mechanism could have done the trick.


evolution

Which came first, the lizard or the egg?
In a world first, Sydney biologists have observed a three-toed skink lay eggs and give birth to a live baby from the same pregnancy, opening a useful pathway to study the evolution of pregnancy.


climate change

A slippery slope: How climate change is reshaping the Arctic landscape


botany

Saffron comes from Attica -- origin of the saffron crocus traced back to Greece


ecology

Sea snakes make record-setting deep dives

Scientists measure extent of recovery for critically endangered black abalone

New species of wood-munching (and phallic-looking) clams found at the bottom of the ocean

Should I stay or should I go?
Researchers investigate the dispersal patterns of the endangered golden lion tamarin, to help maintain the viability of the species. They found that while both female and male tamarins do leave their natal group but males immigrate into other groups, whereas females form entirely new ones.


A golden lion tamarin with their offspring.
Credit: Kyoto University/Andreia Martins


light and life

Blue light could treat superbug infections


humans

Food for thought: Why did we ever start farming?
See also my feature on the evolution of agriculture, now in the open archives.

How the brain finds meaning in metaphor


Tuesday, April 02, 2019

science news 2.4.2019

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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


evolution

UTA biologist shows new insights into chromosome evolution, venom regulation in snakes

The evolution of bird-of-paradise sex chromosomes revealed

Scientists construct new family tree for perching birds



White-bellied Sunbird (Cinnyris talatala) in Kruger National Park, South Africa. These Old World ecological analogues of hummingbirds have convergently acquired a penchant for nectar and stunning iridescence.
Credit: Daniel J. Field, University of Cambridge


synthetic biology

First bacterial genome created entirely with a computer


recycling

New 'blue-green' solution for recycling world's batteries
"Rice University materials scientists demonstrate an environmentally friendly solution to remove valuable cobalt and lithium metals from spent lithium-ion batteries. The metals and the eutectic solvent they use to extract them can then be recycled."


humans

Can technology improve even though people don't understand what they are doing?
"New experimental work by an ASU research team suggests that cultural evolution can generate new adaptive knowledge even though people don't understand what they are doing."


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


biodegradable vibrators and vegan condoms - Amy Fleming looks for sustainability in all things sexual.







Monday, April 01, 2019

rang-tan in trouble

Among the many kinds of animals at risk of extinction, orangutans are getting a relatively good amount of attention, so I hadn't felt the need to cover their plight so far, but with the recent court ruling in Indonesia putting the rarest of the three extant species in acute danger, I caved in and wrote my very first piece about them. Oh and the "rang-tan" video may have played a role in that decision process as well.

The resulting feature is out today:

Hard times for orangutans

Current Biology Volume 29, issue 7, pages R225-R227, April 1, 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 Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis) was only identified as a separate species in 2017 and is the most threatened of the three surviving species of orangutan. (Photo: Tim Laman/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0).)

Saturday, March 30, 2019

harz heritage

The industry painter Alexander Calvelli is having a busy time opening two exhibitions in the Harz area this weekend, both covering motifs found in the natural and cultural heritage of that area.

One at The Cistercian Museum Walkenried Monastery today:




The other opens at the World Heritage Site Rammelsberg tomorrow, see the announcement here, and runs until October 27.


Some local press coverage I just found:

Walkenrieder Nachrichten

Göttinger Tageblatt

Friday, March 29, 2019

science news 29.3.2019


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 (using quotation marks) in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without quotation marks, if I have any.


astrobiology

New evidence of deep groundwater on Mars


ecology

In ancient oceans that resembled our own, oxygen loss triggered mass extinction
430 million years ago

Fungus has decimated the populations of 501 amphibian species worldwide

Harnessing plant hormones for food security in Africa
"Striga is a parasitic plant that threatens the food supply of 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. Scientists have found that they can take advantage of Striga's Achilles' Heel: if it can't find a host plant, it dies. The scientists have developed a technique that has potential to reduce the impact of Striga by more than half, helping to safeguard food supplies and farmers' livelihoods."


Sea anemones are ingesting plastic microfibers



Fluorescent plastic microfibers that have been ingested by a bleached sea anemone, Aiptasia pallida.
Credit: Manoela Romanó de Orte



climate change

1 billion people will be newly exposed to diseases like dengue fever as world temperatures rise


bio-inspired

Shrimp claw inspires new method of underwater plasma generation
See also last year's feature on fusion also inspired by the pistol shrimp.


humans

Caffeine on the mind? Just seeing reminders of coffee can stimulate our brain
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