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).)
Related Posts with Thumbnails