Friday, June 28, 2019

no flights (almost)

(PSA: didn't get the Eurekalert email today, so no science news)

As the media were discussing "flight shame" and how Greta Thunberg travelled from Sweden to London by train, I realised that I made my second-last air journey in mid-June 2009, so more than 10 years ago now. That one led me to Copenhagen, for an invited talk at a two-day event. While I would be happy to go there by train, the long journey didn't make much sense for this very short stay. Similar situation for the only other flight I've made since then: a workshop where I was signed up to make a contribution was supposed to be held in Hamburg or Barcelona, but ended up being in Bucharest, which was maybe just a little bit outside the range I was happy to travel by train.

Other than that, since the opening of High Speed 1 and the St. Pancras International terminus in 2007, which made Eurostar much more convenient than it was in the times of the Waterloo terminus, I have done all my other European travel by rail, going as far as Barcelona, Prague, Budapest and Rostock in separate rail journeys (links point to the relevant flickr albums).

The other factor that made not flying easier was the insight that my initial plan of making science in Latin America a part of my business model wasn't really working, so Cuba in April 2005 has remained my last intercontinental flight. I wouldn't say no if there were several good reasons to make a specific journey, but just one reason wouldn't suffice.

This year, all my travels lead me to Germany for family reasons, which has now become a routine rail trip - much less trouble than trying to get to the remoter parts of the UK, for instance. Further ahead, new challenges await. I'll need to figure out flightless ways of getting to Galicia, Morocco and Sweden.



St. Pancras International (own photo, 2018)

Updates (some press reports appearing ahead of no-flight 2020):

Suzanne Bearne, The Guardian, 10.8.2019
- some case studies and handy hints.

Science magazine of 27.9.2019 carries an editorial urging scientists to fly less.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

science news 27.6.2019

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

Researchers discover more than 50 lakes beneath the Greenland Ice Sheet


climate change

The water future of Earth's 'third pole'
"One-seventh of the world's population depends on rivers flowing from Asia's high mountain ranges for water to drink and to irrigate crops. Rapid changes in the region's climate are likely to influence food and water security in India, Pakistan, China and other nations. NASA keeps a space-based eye on changes like these worldwide to better understand the future of our planet's water cycle."

Corals can survive in acidified ocean conditions, but have lower density skeletons


evolution

Unlocking secrets of the ice worm
... coooooool ....

Bird three times larger than ostrich discovered in Crimean cave



PaleoArt of the bird discovered in a Crimean cave.
Credit: Andrey Atuchin


ecology

Reining in the ecological effects of free-roaming horses

Honeybees infect wild bumblebees -- through shared flowers

Towards a worldwide inventory of all plants


nanoworld

Translating proteins into music, and back
"In a surprising marriage of science and art, researchers at MIT have developed a system for converting the molecular structures of proteins, the basic building blocks of all living beings, into audible sound that resembles musical passages. Then, reversing the process, they can introduce some variations into the music and convert it back into new proteins never before seen in nature."
And another take on the same paper, with a video.


humans

Neanderthals used resin 'glue' to craft their stone tools

Neanderthals made repeated use of the ancient settlement of 'Ein Qashish, Israel

The ancient history of Neandertals in Europe
"Parts of the genomes of two ~120,000-year-old Neandertals from Germany and Belgium have been sequenced at the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology."


cycling and recycling

To increase bike commuters, look to neighborhoods
"People agree that bike commuting improves health, reduces air pollution and eases traffic, a recent survey suggests. But that wasn't enough to get most people to commute by bike. New research indicates that a person's neighborhood may play a large role in influencing the decision to commute by bike."

New unprinting method can help recycle paper and curb environmental costs



Wednesday, June 26, 2019

science news 26.6.2019

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

Star tours
"Astronomers have a new tool in their search for extraterrestrial life -- a sophisticated bot that helps identify stars hosting planets similar to Jupiter and Saturn."

Hubble finds tiny 'electric soccer balls' in space, helps solve interstellar mystery
let's just call them fullerenes, it's not so difficult a word ... (esp. for a US audience who wouldn't be all that familiar with the geometry of a European-style football either)


zoology

Dung beetles use wind compass when the sun is high
... and the Milky Way at night, as earlier work had shown ...

Researchers model how octopus arms make decisions

How the dragon got its frill
"The frilled dragon exhibits a distinctive large erectile ruff. Researchers (UNIGE and SIB) report that an ancestral embryonic gill of the dragon embryo turns into a neck pocket that expands and folds, forming the frill. They demonstrate that this robust folding pattern emerges from mechanical forces during the homogeneous growth of the frill skin, due to the tensions resulting from its attachment to the neck and head."



Folded and erected frill of a Chlamydosaurus dragon.
Credit © UNIGE, A.Debry/S.Montandon/M.Milinkovitch


humans

Levänluhta jewellery links Finland to a European exchange network
"A recently completed study indicates that the material of the jewellery found together with human remains at the Levänluhta water burial site originates in southern Europe, contrary to what researchers had previously thought."

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

science news 25.6.2019

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.


bio-inspired

Novel Chinese nanogenerator takes cue from electric eels

Branching out: Making graphene from gum trees
"Researchers have developed a cost-effective and eco-friendly way of producing graphene using one of Australia's most abundant resources, eucalyptus trees."


food and drink


A solarium for hens? How to increase the vitamin D content of eggs

Could coffee be the secret to fighting obesity?
"Scientists from the University of Nottingham have discovered that drinking a cup of coffee can stimulate 'brown fat', the body's own fat-fighting defenses, which could be the key to tackling obesity and diabetes."


humans

Woodstock really was a free-wheeling festival, new archeological research shows
Archaeologists are now studying events that happened in my lifetime. Makes me feel like an Ancient Egyptian ...



Monday, June 24, 2019

let's talk Indo-European

Open Archive Day

As I mentioned in my science news last month, there was a press release from Bristol University claiming that the Voynich manuscript has been decoded and turned out to be in "proto-Romance". I got really excited about it but the press reports quickly found a large number of experts who doubted the claim and even ridiculed it. Moreover, there have been lots of previous claims made for the same document. The PR has since then disappeared from EurekAlert. So, sadly, no proto-Romance document, but there is a surprising amount of information accumulating about the proto-Indo-European language and the genetics and culture of the people who spoke it, as I discovered a year ago.

My feature on the science around the evolution of Indo-European languages is now in the open archives:

The Indo-European ancestors' tale



Scholars studying ancient Indian documents written in Sanskrit noticed similarities with Ancient European languages. (Image: Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-04-02): https://wellcomecollection.org/works/vetkhzjj by a CC-BY-4.0 licence.)

Sunday, June 23, 2019

i'm a tenor

All our instruments series, episode 14


ok, I'm not a tenor, but this recorder is one. I bought it in 2001 to play very simple flute duets with the young flautist in the family, but two years later I upgraded to a cheap flute, so this tenor never got to play that many duets.

It is a fairly standard Yamaha plastic thing with Baroque fingering (as opposed to the German fingering which I learned at school. There is an element in the sound of these plastic recorders that I don't like - later on in the series I'll come to recorders that I am much more excited about but I guess this one is ok, considering that it's a lot cheaper than the cheapest flute. I haven't taken it to any sessions so far, but I guess I should take it out every once in a while.

The Japanese company Yamaha, as I learned from Wikipedia, was founded in 1887 as a piano and reed organ manufacturing business and is now the world's largest maker of musical instruments. The eponymous motor cycles company is a spin-out from the corporation.



For the video I've played a C major scale over 2 octaves (only learned up to the E at school but have expanded my recorder technique a bit recently) and O son do ar by Luar na lubre, a tune that I often play but not on this instrument.




Saturday, June 22, 2019

nine years on flickr

Time flies by while facebook is eating the world and I am quietly enjoying myself in some of the last non-facebook niches like flickr (recently spun out from the yahoo empire and still a bit wobbly on its new legs). So yesterday, June 21st, marked my 9th flickrversary.

Anniversaries are always an excuse to geek out with some stats (as I did after 4 years). I have

3140 photos on flickr now which divided by 3287 days gives you just under one photo per day - a growth rate I have been following from the first year. They have gained me

450 followers by yesterday - so it took

7 posts to gain a new follower - that number has been a bit higher on social platforms like twitter and tumblr.

The photos have had

4.68 million views by yesterday, or

1490 views per photo, but that's mostly on account of my WNBR pics - a minority among my photos that is pulling in the crowds. Each one of them is certain to reach over 3,000 views within a couple of weeks, most are now in 5 figures, and one is in 6 figures. Good advertising for environmental protest and other good causes.

The last page of my viewing charts, with between 111 and 152 views is populated by "stuff on walls" (there's actually a flickr group by that name) such as architectural detail and street art. So I'll post the least viewed pic here:



Find it on flickr here. (I did add it to a few groups and albums, not sure why these aren't showing right now, one of those flickr hickups.)




Friday, June 21, 2019

science news 21.6.2019

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

Danish researchers confirm that narwhals and belugas can interbreed


ecology

Spiders risk everything for love
"A biology study finds that blue jays can easily spot wolf spiders engaged in their courtship rituals. The results demonstrate the powerful influence of sexual selection."


Why climate change means a rethink of coffee and cocoa production systems
See also my 2014 feature on the impact of climate change on coffee and cocoa plantations.



Coffee and cocoa are both traditionally grown under tree shade in order to reduce heat stress and conserve soil.
Credit: Bioversity International/K.DeSousa
Usage Restrictions: This photo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.



light and life

Research details response of sagebrush to 2017 solar eclipse
"The short period of darkness caused a significant reduction in photosynthesis and transpiration in the desert shrub, but not quite to the levels of nighttime, according to some of the most detailed research on plant response to solar eclipses ever reported."

Thursday, June 20, 2019

science news 20.6.2019

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

The secret of platinum deposits revealed by field observations in South Africa


climate change

Melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled in recent years


ecology

Marine microbiology -- Successful extremists
"In nutrient-poor deep-sea sediments, microbes belonging to the Archaea have outcompeted bacterial microorganisms for millions of years. Their ability to efficiently scavenge dead cells makes them the basal producers in the food chain."

Finding 'Nemo's' family tree of anemones



One of the 10 known species of clownfish-hosting sea anemones is Heteractis magnifica, or the "magnificent anemone."
Credit: © B. Titus


bees

US beekeepers lost over 40% of colonies last year, highest winter losses ever recorded


recycling

Upcycling process brings new life to old jeans
"an efficient, low-cost method that can convert waste denim into viscose-type fibers that are either white or the original color of the garment."


humans

Fresh look at mysterious Nasca lines in Peru


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

From the news media:

The "car-free day London" announced today is a bit of a flop as it only closes 20 km of roads. I've done a quick calculation and found that's less than the size of a B5 envelope (half an A4 page) for each Londoner. Anyhow, here's George Monbiot flying the flag for more radical measures to make cities car-free.




Wednesday, June 19, 2019

science news 19.6.2019

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

Origin of life - A prebiotic route to DNA


ecology

Risky business: New data show how manatees use shipping channels

Scientists challenge notion of binary sexuality with naming of new plant species
A flower that has confused researchers for many years with its gender-fluidity ...



The unusual fluidity the flower form of S. plastisexum inspired its name
Credit: Chris Martine (CC-BY 4.0)



climate change

Coral bleaching causes a permanent change in fish life

Climate change enhances carbon dioxide flux from lakes

New insight from Great Barrier Reef coral provides correction factor to climate records


humans

Dark centers of chromosomes reveal ancient DNA
"Geneticists exploring the dark heart of the human genome have discovered big chunks of Neanderthal and other ancient DNA. The results open new ways to study both how chromosomes behave during cell division and how they have changed during human evolution."

One day of employment a week is all we need for mental health benefits -- study
"Latest research finds up to eight hours of paid work a week significantly boosts mental health and life satisfaction. However, researchers found little evidence that any more hours -- including a full five-day week - provide further increases in wellbeing. They argue the findings show some paid work for the entire adult population is important, but rise of automation may require shorter hours for all so work can be redistributed."

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

science news 18.6.2019

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

NASA scientists find sun's history buried in moon's crust
"The Sun's rotation rate in its first billion years is unknown. Yet, this spin rate affected solar eruptions, influencing the evolution of life. A team of NASA scientists think they've figured it out by using the Moon as critical evidence."


evolution

Study reveals new genomic roots of ecological adaptation in polar bear evolution

The evolution of puppy dog eyes



The authors suggest that the inner eyebrow raising movement triggers a nurturing response in humans because it makes the dogs' eyes appear larger, more infant like and also resembles a movement humans produce when they are sad.
Credit: The University of Portsmouth


light and life

Dinoflagellate plankton glow so that their predators won't eat them


humans

Breakthrough in understanding how human eyes process 3D motion

9,000 years ago, a community with modern urban problems

New time-banking system utilizes blockchain tech to measure one's value to society
Once China combines this with the reward / punishment and big data systems they already have, it will be the complete dystopia ...


Monday, June 17, 2019

the hunt goes on

It is by now quite clear that humans are already causing a major mass extinction, with modern land use change adding to the damage that began when our stone age ancestors began making weapons. In the current situation I find it particularly shocking that people still go out and do their bit to accelerate the extinction by manually killing a few animals. From the songbirds captured as delicacy to the sharks murdered for their fins, and the last of the surviving big terrestrial beasts shot as trophies, there may be different reasons why these things are still happening, but all of these just have to stop. (As for the hunters in Europe who are busy controlling the deer population, this wouldn't be necessary if we had a few more wolves ... )

I've written a feature on hunting before (In October 2015, focusing on the ecological role of Homo sapiens as the unfairly armed top predator killing the wrong animals) but just felt it was time to look at it again, this time with about equal weight given to animals being killed on land, in the oceans, and in the air. The resulting feature is out now:


Hunting wildlife to extinction


Current Biology Volume 29, issue 12, pages R551-R554, June 17, 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)




Photo: Save the Elephants

Sunday, June 16, 2019

bongos

All our instruments series, episode 13


This lovely pair of bongos is an example of an instrument that I really like but don't take out of the house because it's quite heavy (for what it does).

We bought this for the children back in the 1990s, when there was still the Russell Acott music shop (It moved from the High Stree to Botley business park in 1998 and closed in 2011, after 200 years). There's a tiny tear in one of the drumskins but otherwise they have kept surprisingly well for a quarter of a century. Amazingly, all 8 rubber feet are still in place.




Wikipedia tells me that bongos originated in Cuba, but I have no idea where this particular pair was made, there seems to be no indication of a brand of any kind.

Just some random drum noises to give an impression of the sound (and my non-existent percussion skills):




Saturday, June 15, 2019

bare as you dare

I referenced the World Naked Bike Ride in my 2016 feature on A planet with two billion cars, when I called it "possibly the most vocal criticism of car culture today". Since then, thankfully, we have seen a wider spectrum of protests against the continuing dominance of fossil fuels and the vehicles that burn them, including Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes "Fridays for Future".

Still, there's nothing quite like a few hundred naked cyclists to get people's attention for a range of good causes also including cycling safety and body positivity, so it's good to see that the UK rides are still going strong (there are at least 14 happening this year) and Extinction Rebels have joined some of them. In continental Europe, on the other hand, the impetus seems to have ebbed away a bit. In Germany, police and courts have bullied the cyclists into submission to the extent that the one surviving ride in Berlin is now billed as a swimwear ride (Berlin Bikini & Badehose Bicycle Ride), supported by the alternative transport club VCD. The cyclists club ADFC, of which I am a member, seems to be taking the line of ignoring WNBR altogether.

There are around eight other rides surviving in European countries outside the UK - I am still slightly puzzled about why this is a so much bigger phenomenon here than in the rest of Europe.

What has also changed in the last few years is that the last three rides I have been to have encountered far-right demonstrations en route. Am I to conclude that these are now so widespread that you can't cycle around a city on a weekend afternoon without bumping into one? Or are they targeting WNBRs in some way?

At this year's London ride I took this photo of which I am quite proud, which I think of as the WNBR version of Liberty leading the people (complete with an Extinction Rebellion flag):



(this ans 77 other pictures are also in my flickr album)

This year's UK and rest of Europe dates:

1.6. Nottingham
7.6. Manchester - Thessaloniki
8.6. London, Edinburgh, Cardiff - Cork, Madrid
9.6. Bristol, Brighton
15.6. Cambridge - Brussels, Zaragoza
22.6. Chelmsford, York
29.6. Exeter , Folkestone
6.7. Ipswich - Amsterdam
13.7. Colchester
14.7. - Berlin
20.7. Clacton - Helsinki

(see also the global list of rides and check with local organisers)

If you missed one near you, the dates are also a reasonable approximation re. at what time in the season the ride may repeat next year.


Oh and next year's London WNBR (the 17th) has already been announced for Sat 13.6.2020 (TBC). Don't miss.

Friday, June 14, 2019

science news 14.6.2019

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

Migratory hoverflies 'key' as many insects decline
"up to four billion migrate to and from Britain each year. " - The Brexiteers will be up in arms ...

The surprising reason why some lemurs may be more sensitive to forest loss
"Scientists have given us another way to tell which endangered lemurs are most at risk from deforestation -- based on the bacteria that inhabit their guts. Researchers compared the gut microbes of 12 lemur species across the island of Madagascar, where thousands of acres of forest are cleared each year. The team found that some lemurs harbor microbes that are more specialized than others for the forests where they live."



Researchers report that the microbes living in the guts of leaf-eating lemurs like this one are largely shaped by the forests where they live, a finding that could make some species less resilient to deforestation.
Credit: David Haring, Duke Lemur Center




marine biology

The power of a love song: Dopamine affects seasonal hearing in fish and facilitates mating
"Scientists at "The Graduate Center of The City University of New York and Brooklyn College have discovered seasonal changes in dopamine levels in the female plainfin midshipman fish's inner ear helps hearing sensitivity grow in the summer mating season, making her better able to hear the male's mating calls."


climate change

Warming waters in western tropical Pacific may affect West Antarctic Ice Sheet


environment

Bitcoin causing CO2 emissions comparable to Hamburg


nanoworld

Research reveals liquid gold on the nanoscale
quite literally, from melting gold nanoparticles




cycling

On your bike?
"A James Cook University researcher says a lack of suitable roads is a big reason why cycling participation rates in Australia and Queensland are so low."
Which confirms one of many reasons why we have WNBRs this month - although in the southern hemisphere they were in March




Thursday, June 13, 2019

science news 13.6.2019

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

Table salt compound spotted on Europa
aka sodium chloride

Jupiter-like exoplanets found in sweet spot in most planetary systems


ecology

Monkeys face climate change extinction threat


neuroscience

The brains of birds synchronize when they sing duets
this has been shown for human musicians too, a few years ago.


sustainable technology

Scientists develop a chemocatalytic approach for one-pot reaction of cellulosic ethanol


humans

The short life of Must Farm
"Extraordinarily well-preserved Late Bronze Age settlement in Cambridgeshire provides exceptional opportunity to investigate the everyday lives of people in the final decades of the Bronze Age in Britain."

Diet at the docks: Living and dying at the port of ancient Rome
"Analysis of plant, animal and human remains from Portus, the maritime port of Imperial Rome, has reconstructed for the first time the diets and geographic origins of its inhabitants, suggesting a shift in food resources following the Vandal sack of Rome in AD 455."


The Wikipedia gender gap
"In a recent University of Washington study, researchers interviewed women 'Wikipedians' to examine the lack of female and non-binary editors in Wikipedia."

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

science news 12.6.2019

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

Skinny cod and grey seal reveals troubling changes to food web in the Baltic Sea
"The prime predators of the Baltic Sea at the top of the food web are losing weight, according to a new study that links the deteriorating health of gray seals and cod with changes in bottom-living crustaceans, isopods and amphipods."

Why Noah's ark won't work
"Many species will need large population sizes to survive climate change and ocean acidification, a new study finds."
You don't say ...

Love songs from paradise take a nosedive
"The Galapagos Islands finches named after Charles Darwin are starting to sing a different tune because of an introduced pest on the once pristine environment. New research shows that Darwin's finch males whose beaks and nostril (naris) have been damaged by the parasitic invasion are producing 'sub-par song.'"



Fledgling tree finches may be infested in the nest.
Credit: Dr Katharina Peters, Flinders University


environment

Catalog of north Texas earthquakes confirms continuing effects of wastewater disposal

Marine oil snow
"Marine snow is the phenomena of flakes of falling organic material and biological debris cascading down a water column like snowflakes. But an oil spill like Deepwater Horizon will add oil and dispersants to the mix, making marine oil snow that is can be toxic to organisms in deep-sea ecosystems."


bio-inspired

'Shield' of sea creature inspires materials that can handle their own impact


nanoworld

Tiny light box opens new doors into the nanoworld
"Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have discovered a completely new way of capturing, amplifying and linking light to matter at the nanolevel. Using a tiny box, built from stacked atomically thin material, they have succeeded in creating a type of feedback loop in which light and matter become one. The discovery, which was recently published in Nature Nanotechnology, opens up new possibilities in the world of nanophotonics."


archaeology

21st century archaeology has rediscovered historical Cordoba
"University of Cordoba researcher Antonio Monterroso Checa applied aerial laser LiDAR technology to draw out the ancient geomorphology of the city of Cordoba"

Breakthrough in the discovery of DNA in ancient bones buried in water
"Fresh evidence rewrites the understanding of the most intriguing archaeological burial site in western Finland. New DNA technology gives significant information on the bones buried in water. The DNA matches present day Sámi people, who nowadays live far from the site. The question why the bones were buried in water remains a mystery and demands further investigation."


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


from the news media:

by 2040 most "meat" will not be from slaughtered animals, reports the Guardian.



Tuesday, June 11, 2019

science news 11.6.2019

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 study dramatically narrows the search for advanced life in the universe
"... a buildup of toxic gases in the atmospheres of most planets makes them unfit for complex life as we know it."

Mass anomaly detected under the moon's largest crater
Wasn't that the place where Jeff Bezos wants to build his second home? A massive metal mine could be handy for that.


ecology

Past climate change pushed birds from the northern hemisphere to the tropics

Life in Antarctica's ice mirrors human disease
"Mapping tens of thousands of genes from a group of Antarctic fishes called notothenioids, a team of researchers has discovered that the massive amount of genetic change required for life in the Antarctic occurred long before the Antarctic cooled. These genetic changes not only have major implications for understanding the evolution of Antarctica's unusual animals, but also highlight that some key adaptations used by fishes mirror the genetics of human bone diseases such as osteoporosis."



Gobionotothen gibberifrons, a common Antarctic notothenioid fish.
Credit: A. Dornburg


scorpions

What's your poison? Scrupulous scorpions tailor venom to target

Stanford researchers synthesize healing compounds in scorpion venom



food and drink

Dramatic change in ancient nomad diets coincides with expansion of networks across Eurasia
"Strengthening of political networks coincided with the intensification of agricultural production, resulting in the widespread adoption of millet by populations across Eurasia."


Ancient DNA from Roman and medieval grape seeds reveal ancestry of wine making
"A grape variety still used in wine production in France today can be traced back 900 years to just one ancestral plant, scientists have discovered."

Structuring sweetness: What makes Stevia 200 times sweeter than sugar
"New research from Washington University in St. Louis reveals the molecular machinery behind the high-intensity sweetness of the stevia plant. The results could be used to engineer new non-caloric products without the aftertaste that many associate with sweetener marketed as Stevia."
Note though that it's not all that difficult to be 200 times sweeter than sugar, as sugar isn't a good ligand for the sweet taste receptor.


humans

The Neolithic precedents of gender inequality
"Inequality between men and women was not generally consolidated in Iberia during the Neolithic. However, situations progressively appeared that indicate dominance of men over women. Four important lines in which inequality between men and women can be investigated through successive historical periods are their access to funeral rites, the material conditions of their existence, the appearance of specific social roles for each of the genders and the growing association of men with violence."

Millennials are 'canaries in the coalmine' for toxic economic trends
"A new report by Stanford scholars lays out the problems US millennials face as a result of decades-long rising inequality. Problems they experience include rising mortality rates and increased poverty among those without college degrees."

Monday, June 10, 2019

city life

Open Archive Day

I'm interested in cities, ecology and evolution, so a feature on urban ecology and evolution had to happen at some point, and it did materialise a year ago. Obviously, apart from the interest and enthusiasm, I also need some scientific results to fill the pages, and, particularly for the evolution part of the topic these have improved in recent years, so it is a growing and emerging field at least on that side.

My feature on life in the cities is in the open archives now:


Adapting to life in the city





A few animal species, including rodents and pigeons, have lived in cities throughout human history. (Photo: © Alfer van Rossum, with permission.)

Friday, June 07, 2019

science news 7.6.2019

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

Study shakes up sloth family tree
"A pair of studies published June 6, 2019 have shaken up the sloth family tree, overturning a longstanding consensus on how the major groups of sloths are related. According to the results, the three-toed sloth is more closely related to a large family that included ancient elephant-sized ground sloths; meanwhile, the two-toed sloth appears to be the last survivor of an ancient lineage previously thought extinct."


ecology

Just a phage? How bacteria's predators can shape the gut microbiome
"A phage can have a profound impact on the dynamics of the gut microbiome, not only affecting certain species directly but also having a cascading effect on others. Phage may also be impacting their human host by modulating metabolites, including chemical substances found in the brain."

Two new species of 'tweezer-beaked hopping rats' discovered in Philippines
looks like a rat to me:


This is a Rhynchomys labo illustration.
Credit: Original by Velizar Simeonovski, Field Museum


zoology

Bird personalities influenced by both age and experience, study shows
aren't we all?

Are penguins righties or lefties?
handedness that is, not political inclination ...


bio-inspired

A polar-bear-inspired material for heat insulation


humans

Decoding Beethoven's music style using data science
Analysis only covers his string quartets though - in the age of big data I would expect such an analysis to take in all of the composer's work ...



Thursday, June 06, 2019

science news 6.6.2019

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.


conservation

Analysis: World's protected areas safeguard only a fraction of wildlife


environment

Estimating microplastic consumption

Microorganisms on microplastics


biomaterials


First-ever spider glue genes sequenced, paving way to next biomaterials breakthrough

Researchers discover what makes deep-sea dragonfish teeth transparent
"A team of researchers led by the University of California San Diego have discovered what's responsible for making the teeth of the deep-sea dragonfish transparent. This unique adaptation, which helps camouflage the dragonfish from their prey, results from their teeth having an unusually crystalline nanostructure mixed with amorphous regions. The findings could provide 'bioinspiration' for researchers looking to develop transparent ceramics."


fluid dynamics

Making a splash is all in the angle
"Making a splash depends on the angle of a liquid as it hits and moves along a surface, according to a new study from Queen Mary University of London."
I'm sure Jackson Pollock worked that out already ...



Splash.
Credit: Queen Mary University of London


humans

Ancient DNA sheds light on Arctic hunter-gatherer migration to North America ~5,000 years ago
"New research reveals the profound impact of Arctic hunter-gathers who moved from Siberia to North America about 5,000 years ago on present-day Native Americans. Although this group is well-known from archaeology and ancient DNA, previous genetic studies suggested that they may have been largely replaced by the groups that gave rise to present-day Arctic peoples such as the Inuit, Yup'ik, and Aleuts. The present study proves that many present-day North Americans derive significant heritage from this ancient population."

Research reveals how the Internet may be changing the brain
"An international team of researchers from Western Sydney University, Harvard University, Kings College, Oxford University and University of Manchester have found the Internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in specific areas of cognition, which may reflect changes in the brain, affecting our attentional capacities, memory processes, and social interactions."


Wednesday, June 05, 2019

science news 5.6.2019

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

Building blocks of the Earth
"Geologists from the Universities of Cologne and Bonn gain new insights regarding the Earth's composition by analysing meteorites. They conclude that the building blocks that brought volatile elements to Earth have a chemical composition similar to that of primitive carbonaceous chondrites."

Exomoons may be home to extra-terrestrial life
A modelling study aiming to work out how exomoons may affect the rings of planet J1407b, which are 200 times larger than those of Saturn. Sadly, not a discovery of exomoons as such.



Exoplanets also have moons - however, the image here displays Saturns rings, which differ from those studied but are a good visualization.
Credit: NASA


ecology

Frogs find refuge in elephant tracks

'Citizen scientists' help track foxes, coyotes in urban areas


chemistry

Deep learning techniques teach neural model to 'play' retrosynthesis


humans

Gene mutation evolved to cope with modern high-sugar diets

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

science news 4.6.2019

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

New mineral classification system captures Earth's complex past
"A system of categorization that reflects not just a mineral's chemistry and crystalline structure, but also the physical, chemical, or biological processes by which it formed, would be capable of recognizing that nanodiamonds from space are fundamentally different to diamonds formed in Earth's depths."


evolution

Feathers came first, then birds
"New research, led by the University of Bristol, suggests that feathers arose 100 million years before birds -- changing how we look at dinosaurs, birds, and pterosaurs, the flying reptiles."
See also my feature on bird evolution.


ecology

Sponges collect penguin, seal, and fish DNA from the water they filter
A very exciting way of getting DNA evidence on marine biodiversity. Also, one of the cases where I read the headline and thought that must be in Current Biology. And indeed it was.



This is a sponge specimen, Aplysina aerophoba.
Credit: A. Riesgo


humans

Oldest flaked stone tools point to the repeated invention of stone tools
More than 2.58 million years old


Hearing through your fingers: Device that converts speech
"A novel study published in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience provides the first evidence that a simple and inexpensive non-invasive speech-to-touch sensory substitution device has the potential to improve hearing in hearing-impaired cochlear implant patients, as well as individuals with normal hearing, to better discern speech in various situations like learning a second language or trying to deal with the 'cocktail party effect.' The device can provide immediate multisensory enhancement without any training."

Six fingers per hand
"A congenital additional finger brings motor advantages."
(I found no mention re. whether it helps or hinders piano playing)

Monday, June 03, 2019

cooperation and conflict

Today's issue of Current Biology includes a special theme section on cooperation and conflict. In my contribution to the section, I looked at a phenomenon that has the remarkable ability to cause both cooperation and conflict on a massive scale, namely religion. Starting from a recent investigation into the timing of the origins of religions with moralising high gods, and also going deeper into the past, where religious beliefs were somewhat less intrusive, I've tried to explore when, how and why humans started to evolve religions.

The resulting feature is out now:

Uncovering the roots of religion

Current Biology Volume 29, issue 11, pages R426-R429, June 03, 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)




Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque: Colonade and Reflecting Pool (photo: Andrew Moore)

Sunday, June 02, 2019

caterpillar book

After books with platypus, gecko, and raccoon as their mascots, the next one will star an insect, namely the tobacco hornworm / tobacco hawk moth (Manduca sexta), which has a remarkable resistance to nicotine. I have a strong suspicion that Lewis Carroll had this species in mind when he invented the hookah-smoking caterpillar that confuses Alice with unhelpful answers in Alice's adventures in Wonderland, so I suggested to use an Alice illustration for the cover, which will now look like this:




The book is the second collection of my regular fun-poking pieces in Nachrichten aus der Chemie covering roughly the second decade of this activity. The first is in the volume: 9 Millionen Fahrräder am Rande des Universums.

I've started building a new page on my website for the new book, where further details will emerge with time. Watch this space.
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