Friday, November 29, 2019

buy nothing day

I hear that yesterday was Thanksgiving in the US, which means that today there's very little science news in my inbox, which is just as well as I can use today's entry to rave about my favourite holiday of the year, namely


BUY NOTHING DAY


Buying nothing is guaranteed 100% cheaper than everything you might have bought otherwise.

Buy Nothing Day is increasingly observed around the world and in many languages, so we have:

Dia de no comprar res

KAUF-NIX-TAG

Día de no comprar nada

Journée sans achat

Giornata del non acquisto

Niet-Winkeldag

Dia mundial sem compras

День без покупок

(Only including languages that I can read sufficiently to check I'm not promoting the wrong entry. Looks like I'll have to write the Galician entry myself.)

Below are some imaginative examples of promoting and observing this holiday which I discovered during the day. Let's do it all again next year.



source

The Guardian, disappointingly, fuels the black friday hype with a live blog but has also run a couple of opinion pieces warning against consumerism:


Before you jump on the Black Friday sales train ask yourself: do you need this?
Eva Kruse



Mass consumerism is destroying our planet. This Black Friday, let’s take a stand
Alan Bradshaw


I hear Aberdeen Social Centre had a stall with free books to take, bring or swap.

And Extinction Rebellion in New York wheeled empty shopping carts around.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

science news 28.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.



evolution

Puffins stay cool thanks to their large beak


ecology

Shrewd savannah species choose friends with benefits on the African plains
Obviously a good idea to stay close to a species with an efficient alarm call or to those that taste better / can't run as fast as you can?


conservation

Nearly 40% of plant species are very rare and are vulnerable to climate change

Bad news for Nemo

The beloved anemone fish popularized by the movies 'Finding Nemo' and 'Finding Dory' don't have the genetic capacity to adapt to rapid changes in their environment, according to a new study.




If high-quality anemones remain healthy, the clownfish population will persist. However, if the anemones and coral reefs they call home are impacted by climate warming, clownfish are in trouble.
Credit: Photo by Simon Thorrold, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


sustainability

Scholars find that irregularly shaped parks reduce mortality risk
Intriguing - linked to the fractal geometry of their interface with the rest of the city?

Animals could help humans monitor oceans
that's already happening though, as far as I know (see my ecotech feature a few years ago).


humans

Ostrich eggshell beads reveal 10,000 years of cultural interaction across Africa

Molière most likely did write his own plays



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


From the news media:

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

science news 27.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.



earth

Extra-terrestrial impacts may have triggered 'bursts' of plate tectonics


evolution

Hibernating mammals arouse hope for genetic solutions to obesity, metabolic diseases


ecology and behaviour

Woody plants with undesirable tendencies

Fire ants' raft building skills react as fluid forces change



Spinning fire ant raft.
Credit: Hungtang Ko



environment

McMaster researcher warns plastic pollution in Great Lakes growing concern to ecosystem


food and drink

Industrial bread dough kneaders could use physics-based redesign

We love coffee, tea, chocolate and soft drinks so much, caffeine is literally in our blood
Sadly, this is not about recognising caffeine as a normal part of our physiology, but about contaminations found in blood donations.


sustainability

Leftover grain from breweries could be converted into fuel for homes

Saving bats from wind turbine death


humans

Human migration out of Africa may have followed monsoons in the Middle East

Unique sledge dogs helped the Inuit thrive in the North American Arctic

Prayers can crowd out donations for disaster victims


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


From the news media:

Most bottlenosed dolphins are righthanded, reports the Guardian.




Tuesday, November 26, 2019

science news 26.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.



evolution

Fossils reveal swimming patterns of long extinct cephalopod

16-million-year-old fossil shows springtails hitchhiking on winged termite

Unravelling the venomous bite of an endangered mammal
This is about solenodons (see also the endangered mammals feature now in the open archives), which look like this:



This is a Hispaniolan solenodon.
Credit: Lucy Emery


ecology

How mantis shrimp make sense of the world
A new study provides insight into how the small brains of mantis shrimp - fierce predators with keen vision that are among the fastest strikers in the animal kingdom - are able to make sense of a breathtaking amount of visual input.

Researchers report first recording of a blue whale's heart rate


nanoworld

Carbon soccer ball with extra proton probably most abundant form in space


climate change

The heat is on
Climate change is reorganizing the life in our oceans in a big way: as waters warm, cold-loving species, from plankton to fish, leave the area and warm water species become more successful. So say an international group of scientists in the most comprehensive assessment of the effects of ocean warming on the distribution fish communities.


Forests face climate change tug of war
Increased carbon dioxide allows plants to photosynthesize more and use less water. But warmer temperatures drive plants to use more water and photosynthesize less. So, which force, CO2 fertilization or heat stress, wins this climate tug of war? It depends on whether forests and trees are able to adapt to their new environment.



bio-inspired

Drag can lift birds to new heights, Stanford researchers find


sustainability

Forest farms could create market for ginseng, other herbs
A transition from wild collection of herbs to forest farming needs to occur in Appalachia to make the opaque, unstable and unjust supply chain for forest medicinal plants such as ginseng sustainable, according to a team of researchers who have studied the market for more than a decade.


humans

Babies in the womb may see more than we thought



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From the news media:


A sample-return mission to Mars is being planned, reports the Guardian

Monday, November 25, 2019

mammals on the edge

Open Archive Day

I am a great fan of the ZSL Edge of Existence website, which lists threatened species in major groups according to their EDGE (Evolutionary Distinctiveness / Global Endangerment) rating. I first discovered it when the reptiles list came out in early 2018. Later in the year, a piece of research analysing how fast mammalian diversity could evolve back after an extinction provided an excuse to have a closer look at the EDGE list of mammals.


My feature is now in the open archives:


Can vanishing wildlife evolve back?




Pangolins are hunted for meat as well as for their skin and scales, which are used in traditional medicine. They are therefore the most trafficked mammals, and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) may be the most endangered among them. (Photo: Ms. Sarita Jnawali of NTNC – Central Zoo.)

Saturday, November 23, 2019

a little light chemistry

The chemistry of life fundamentally depends on light - without photosynthesis there wouldn't be much worth reporting. In contrast, chemistry as a discipline from fundamental research through to industrial applications doesn't use light all that often. The most common way of making things react is to heat them, add a catalyst, or even put pressure on. The science of light-induced reactions, aka photochemistry has remained a poor relation.

I am picking up signals that this may be about to change for a variety of reasons. We now have a much better understanding of how photochemistry works in natural systems so we could borrow an idea or two there. Also, in the quest to make chemistry more sustainable and "green", using light instead of high temperatures and pressures may often be a better solution.

I wrote a feature about various recent developments in photochemistry which is out now:

Let there be light

Chemistry & Industry 83, No. 10, pp 30-33.

access via:

Wiley Online Library (paywalled)

SCI (members)

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




Source: Wikipedia: By Masohe - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


In the same issue, page 38, you can find my review of the book

Modern thermodynamics for chemists and biochemists


Oh, and it appears that I forgot to blog about my previous feature in C&I, which appeared in issue 8 and was about developing new kinds of magnets depending less on rare earth elements.

Mining for ideas

Chemistry & Industry 83, No. 8, pp 26-29.

access via:

Wiley Online Library
(paywalled)

SCI (members)

Friday, November 22, 2019

science news 22.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


astrobiology

Life under extreme conditions at hot springs in the ocean


ecology

New disease hits corals

Almost a third of tropical Africa's flora faces extinction


plant development

Nature's secret recipe for making leaves


climate change

Fish in California estuaries are evolving as climate change alters their habitat

Study: Wildfires in Oregon's blue mountains to become more frequent, severe due to climate change


bio-inspired

Bone breakthrough may lead to more durable airplane wings


art-inspired

Escher's angels and demons woodcut predicts how matter deforms


(hotlinked to the image on the official mcescher.com website)


humans

Human songs share universal patterns across world's cultures




Thursday, November 21, 2019

science news 21.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


astro

Outback telescope captures Milky Way center, discovers remnants of dead stars


evolution

New fossils shed light on how snakes got their bite and lost their legs

How plants handle stress


climate change

Vanishing ice puts reindeer herders at risk



A domesticated reindeer from northern Mongolia.
Credit: O. Batchuluun



sustainability

New hybrid device can both capture and store solar energy


sound

How the brain detects the rhythms of speech

Musicians at serious risk of tinnitus, researchers show


vision

Walking changes vision

Beauty in the biased eye of the beholder
When looking at paintings, we don't assess each one on its own merits. Instead, we carry a bias, according to a new study in Psychology at University of Sydney.


dystopian futures

Are hiring algorithms fair? They're too opaque to tell, study finds




Wednesday, November 20, 2019

science news 20.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


astrobiology

NASA's TESS helps astronomers study red-giant stars, examine a too-close planet

Exoplanet axis study boosts hopes of complex life, just not next door


ecology

Deep-sea bacteria copy their neighbors' diet
new ways of marine carbon fixation


conservation

Bats in attics might be necessary for conservation
see also my bats feature which came out on Monday

Endangered whales react to environmental changes


nanoworld

A remote control for everything small
Special light beams can be used to manipulate molecules or small biological particles. However, these optical tweezers only work with objects in empty space. Any disturbing environment would deflect the light waves and destroy the effect. This is a problem, in particular with biological samples. Now, a special method was developed to calculate the perfect wave form to manipulate small particles in the presence of a disordered environment, even if they cannot be touched directly.

Scientists use catalysts to destroy cancerous cells from within


environment

New danger for corals in warming oceans: Metal pollution


humans

Scientists use modern technology to understand how ochre paint was created in pictographs



This is one of the pieces of rock art found at Babine Lake. It is representative of the rock art that was analyzed in the study.
Credit: University of Missouri


'Face blindness' may involve a failed brain network, and could shed light on autism

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

From the news media:

We're on track to produce twice as much fossil fuel as we can afford if we want to meet the 1.5 C target of the Paris Agreement, the Guardian reports




Tuesday, November 19, 2019

science news 19.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


evolution

Are hyoliths Palaeozoic lophophorates?
Today's new vocabulary: Hyoliths are extinct invertebrates with calcareous shells that were common constituents of the Cambrian fauna and formed a minor component of benthic faunas throughout the Palaeozoic until their demise in the end-Permian mass extinction. ... recent discoveries of a tentaculate feeding apparatus ('lophophore') and fleshy apical extensions from the shell ('pedicle'), have resulted in hyoliths being placed within the lophophorates


ecology


Study measures impact of agriculture on diet of wild mammals

Mantis shrimp vs. disco clams: Colorful sea creatures do more than dazzle



A disco clam shows off its red appendages and flashing tissue.
Credit: Lindsey Dougherty


nanoworld

Protein imaging at the speed of life
A team of physicists from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have completed the first molecular movie of the ultrafast movement of proteins at the European XFEL facility. Their findings mark a new age of protein research that enables enzymes involved in disease to be observed in real time for meaningful durations in unprecedented clarity.

Structure of a mitochondrial ATP synthase


climate change

Climate change could double greenhouse gas emissions from freshwater lakes


bio-inspired


Antibiotics from the sea


Living bridges

Dense, humid broadleaf forests, monsoon-swollen rivers and deep ravines -- in the Indian state of Meghalaya wooden bridges easily decay or are washed away in floodwaters. Bridges made from steel and concrete are pushed to their limits here as well. But bridges made of living tree roots can survive here for centuries. Prof. Ferdinand Ludwig of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has investigated these special structures and proposes integrating this extraordinary building technique in modern architecture.


sustainability

Boosting wind farms, global winds reverse decades of slowing and pick up speed
In a boon to wind farms, average daily wind speeds are picking up across much of the globe after about 30 years of gradual slowing. Research led by a team at Princeton University shows that wind speeds in northern mid-latitude regions have increased by roughly 7% since 2010.

Get over it? When it comes to recycled water, consumers won't

Switching to renewable energy could save thousands of lives in Africa

How much energy do we really need?
Two fundamental goals of humanity are to eradicate poverty and reduce climate change, and it is critical that the world knows whether achieving these goals will involve trade-offs. New IIASA research for the first time provides a basis to answer this question, including the tools needed to relate basic needs directly to resource use.


dystopian futures

Researchers bring gaming to autonomous vehicles
They must have thought AI image recognition wasn't enough of a gamble yet. Russian roulette springs to mind.

Measuring online behavioral advertising: One more step to protect users
Whose bright idea was that, anyway? If there's any use for ads it's to tell me about things I wasn't aware of, not to rehash the thoughts I had an hour ago.

Monday, November 18, 2019

in praise of bats

Back in July I took part in a guided bat-watching tour in Düsseldorf (run throughout the summer holidays by fledermaus.nrw), and learned so many things that I thought I really should do a feature about bats. Add to that the seasonal bat obsession in the run-up to Halloween and a few recent research papers, and the feature came to life. It is out today in Current Biology:


Why we should care about bats

Current Biology Volume 29, issue 22, R1163-R1165, November 18, 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)




image source

Thursday, November 14, 2019

science news 14.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.

(My laptop is broken, can I do the science news on an ancient MacBook? Let's find out)


ecology

Chitin-binding proteins override host plant's resistance to fungal infection


sustainability

Chemistry -- Five-fold boost in formaldehyde yield
I'm struggling to believe the "5-fold" - did the industry really make such a basic feedstock chemical with less than 20% yield until now? To me, the important bit here is that it can be made from carbon dioxide, of which we are producing too much right now ...



Turning (more) fat and sewage into methane





humans

World's oldest glue used from prehistoric times till the days of the Gauls
By studying artefacts that date back to the first 6 centuries AD through the lens of chemistry, archaeology, and textual analysis, french researchers have discovered birch tar was being used right up to late antiquity, if not longer. The artefacts in question -- found in a region where birch is scarce, thus raising the question of how it was procured -- are testimony to the strength of tradition among the Gauls.


Climate may have helped crumble one of the ancient world's most powerful civilizations
New research suggests it was climate-related drought that built the foundation for the collapse of the Assyrian Empire (whose heartland was based in today's northern Iraq)--one of the most powerful civilizations in the ancient world. The Science Advances paper, led by Ashish Sinha at California State University, Dominguez Hills and coauthored by CIRES affiliate Adam Schneider, details how megadroughts in the 7th century BC triggered a decline in Assyria's way of life that contributed to its ultimate collapse.
The people responsible for this PR are definitely helping to crumble our civilisation and buiding the foundation for its collapse. One to keep as an example for writing workshops.

Ancient Egyptians gathered birds from the wild for sacrifice and mummification
... as opposed to domesticating ibises for these rituals.



dystopian futures


Can 'smart toilets' be the next health data wellspring?
Wearable, smart technologies are transforming the ability to monitor and improve health, but a decidedly low-tech commodity -- the humble toilet -- may have potential to outperform them all.
Here they go closing the last gap in the complete 24/7 surveillance scheme.


Saturday, November 09, 2019

ra ra rasputin

I only recently discovered the Ayoub sisters, when somebody shared Ya Mariam El Bekr somewhere. Looking up their back catalogue, I was intrigued by their adaptation of Boney M's Rasputin even though I generally feel that I have heard too much of this band in the 70s/80s and am not that keen to revisit their work.



I did however enjoy the string duo version of Rasputin, and then watched the making of video, and then wondered where the tune actually comes from. Turns out half of it is an old Turkish folk song (there are also Arabic versions of it, so I don't really know which of the two is the original).

The Turkish song is called Kâtibim (sheet music here) and I really love the Turkish / Urdu mashup you can watch here (just ignore the blatant Coke advertising).

The Arabic version is called Ya Banat Iskandaria, and searching for this title I found a lovely version for flute, harp, percussion, here.

Other versions:
Charbel Rouhana (instrumental: oud)
Sung in Turkish and Arabic, with belly dancer.


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PS I'm really excited about these discoveries, and I think this warrants a new tag, let's call it #folk mash, for unearthing folk influences behind famous pop / rock / classical music. (next up, probably: a very famous Led Zeppelin track)

Friday, November 08, 2019

science news 8.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


earth

Investigation of oceanic 'black carbon' uncovers mystery in global carbon cycle
An unexpected finding published today in Nature Communications challenges a long-held assumption about the origin of oceanic black coal, and introduces a tantalizing new mystery: If oceanic black carbon is significantly different from the black carbon found in rivers, where did it come from?


evolution

Mammals' complex spines are linked to high metabolisms; we're learning how they evolved


ecology and climate


Plants and fungi together could slow climate change

Arctic sea ice loss may facilitate disease spread in marine mammals



An adult male ribbon seal lays on the ice.
Credit: NOAA Fisheries, Polar Ecosystems Program


conservation

Study finds sex bias in bird conservation plans
After pairing up and raising chicks, males and females of some bird species spend their winter break apart. At the end of their journey to Central or South America, you might find mostly males in one habitat, and females in another. Yet conservation strategies have typically overlooked the habitats needed by females, putting already-declining species in even more peril.

Unless warming is slowed, emperor penguins will be marching towards extinction


light and life

UCI-led study reveals non-image light sensing mechanism of circadian neurons
University of California, Irvine researchers reveal how an ancient flavoprotein response to ultra violet (UV), blue and red light informs internal circadian processes about the time of day.


environment

Satellite observations show shifting trends in nitrogen oxide lifetimes over North American cities


humans

Stanford scientists link Neanderthal extinction to human diseases

The medieval Catholic church's influence on psychology of Western, industrialized societies

Stanford researchers lay out first genetic history of Rome


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


From the news media:

Thursday, November 07, 2019

science news 7.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


conservation

The importance of Madagascar's lowland rainforest for lemur conservation



A new Mammal Review study shows that the few remaining patches of lowland rainforest host the highest levels of lemur abundance for several species.
Credit: Marco Campera



nanoworld

Structural and biochemical studies clarify the methylation mechanism of anticodon in tRNA
These studies look like nerdy little details to most people, but I do believe that the clues to the origin of life (ie how did RNA begin to make protein) is encoded in there somewhere.

A solution to a hairy problem in forensic science
In an effort to make hair comparison a more useful technique for investigating crimes, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a new way to dissolve hair proteins without destroying them. Once in solution, the protein molecules from two hairs can be analyzed and compared, yielding objective, quantitative results.


food and drink

How hot (and not-so-hot) compounds in chili peppers change during ripening


sustainability

Nature might be better than tech at reducing air pollution
doesn't seem to work indoors though, compare and contrast:

Study: Actually, potted plants don't improve indoor air quality


humans

Autistic adults thought they were 'bad people'



The reproductive function of the clitoris



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


From the news media:


The film 2040 - a documentary about how we can still save the world from climate collapse, reviewed by Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

science news 6.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


evolution

Jaw-some wombats may be great survivors
Flexible jaws may help wombats better survive in a changing world by adapting to climate change's effect on vegetation and new diets in conservation sanctuaries. An international study, co-led by The University of Queensland's Dr Vera Weisbecker, has revealed that wombat jaws appear to change in relation to their diets.



Wombat skulls seem to be changing to match their diets.
Credit: The University of Queensland


conservation

To save biodiversity, scientists suggest 'mega-conservation'
While the conservation of charismatic creatures like pandas, elephants and snow leopards are important in their own right, there may be no better ecological bang-for-our-buck than a sound, science-based effort to save widespread keystone systems. And the majestic aspens could be a perfect start for such an endeavor.


nanoworld

Scientists probe the limits of ice
The smallest nanodroplet of water in which ice can form is only as big as 90 water molecules -- a tenth the size of the smallest virus. At those small scales, according to University of Utah chemistry professor and study co-author Valeria Molinero, the transition between ice and water gets a little frizzy.


sustainability

Satellite tracking shows how ships affect clouds and climate


humans

Study reveals that humans migrated from Europe to the Levant 40,000 years ago

What we can learn from Indigenous land management


dystopian futures

'Crowd-diagnosis' thousands seek out diagnoses from strangers on social media



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


From the news media:

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

science news 5.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.


astrobiology

Deep sea vents had ideal conditions for origin of life


ecology and behaviour

Shark skin microbiome resists infection

Complex society discovered in birds
The guineafowl study I mentioned in my recent feature on collective behaviour is now out.


conservation

Extinction of lowland tapir and white-lipped peccary would impair forest diversity



Study suggests these two species of large herbivores have complementary ecological functions, favoring seed dispersal and growth of adult trees.
Credit: Mauro Galetti


light and life

What drives circadian rhythms at the poles?


biomedical

From cone snail venom to pain relief
Conotoxins are bioactive peptides found in the venom that marine cone snails produce for prey capture and defense. They are used as pharmacological tools to study pain signalling and have the potential to become a new class of analgesics. Scientists from the University of Vienna and the University of Queensland in Australia are experts in the field of venom drug discovery and have now provided an overview on the status quo of conotoxin research.


sustainable technology

Scientists create 'artificial leaf' that turns carbon into fuel For a bit of background, see my feature (open access) Closing the carbon cycle (2014).



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


From the news media:

Voyager 2 has phoned home from interstellar space, reports the Guardian (with link to a photo gallery).



Monday, November 04, 2019

six legs good

We human tend to think that we are important residents of our planet, and indeed in the last 200 years we have been causing some fairly significant environmental damage to it, but if you look at the evolution of animals since some of them first crawled onto dry land, we are insignificant. The big evolutionary success story of the last 400 million years is insects. Although right now we may be in the process of putting an end to that.

I was really looking for something about plants, and found some new papers about the co-evolution of insects with plants, and from that grew a feature with various recipes for the success of insects, some involving plants and others not so much. Anyhow, I learned a few interesting things which you can read about here:


Six-legged success stories

Current Biology Volume 29, issue 21, pages R1105-R1108, November 4, 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)


Oh, and the strange-looking birds on the cover of the issue are the guineafowl from the paper by Damien Farine's group which I mentioned in my previous feature, Reading the hive mind.




The tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) has adapted to cope with the plant-produced insecticide nicotine, providing an example of a complex evolutionary relationship between plants and insects. (Photo: http://www.peakpx.com.)

Saturday, November 02, 2019

x is for ...

All our instruments series, episode 18

... no not for xylophone, we've had that already, and I only have one (not counting silly toy versions). X is for xaphoon, and here's my xaphoon story:

In July 2002, I was heading to Paris for a microbiology conference, via Germany to deposit various kids with various grandparents. At the start of the journey, however, I put my back out moving luggage around on trains, and the extended travels over three days didn't help, so I arrived in Paris not being able to sit. Instead of attending the conference, I spent the first few days dividing my time between walking around (a bit) and lying flat on my back (a lot) on the nice slope along the side of the Centre Pompidou (Beaubourg).

Arriving at my lying down place one day I was puzzled to hear somebody playing a saxophone very loud and clear but not seeing any saxophone. Following my ears while wondering what was wrong with my eyes I found a guy who was selling this new invention, the pocket sax, aka Xaphoon, out of his bag and demonstrating it in the street. Another customer attracted by the sound tried it and also produced a very convincing sax sound from this recorder-size instrument. So I bought one - I think it cost me 25 euros, and nowadays Hobgoblin sells them for £109, so it was a good investment. Although in my hands it doesn't really sound like a saxophone. But then again, in my hands a saxophone doesn't sound like one either.



Looking up the Wikipedia entry, I found out it really was quite a new invention when I bought it. The instrument molded from ABS resin was only made from the spring of 2000. Previously, the inventor, Brian Wittman, had made bamboo xaphoons at his home in Hawaii.

I do like it but never really got the hang of playing it properly. I'm facing two problems, firstly I don't really like the pressure of a reed on my lower lip, which limits each practice session to five minutes, and secondly, while the right hand is straight recorder fingering (German system, so very simple), the left hand fingering is weird. Unlike a recorder, the xaphoon wants four fingers on the left hand put down for G, and lifting fingers off one at a time you then get A Bb (!) and C, and then the thumb comes off before the index finger for D and E. Which is probably to do with the fact that the thumb hole is located at the height where recorders have the first finger hole and vice versa. So very confusing if you're used to recorders.

Anyhow. As I haven't had much practice, this video is really just a demonstration of what the xaphoon sounds like when it is played badly. Enjoy.










Friday, November 01, 2019

science news 1.11.2019

Today's selection of science news. Links are normally to press releases on EurekAlert (at the bottom end I may also add a couple of newspaper stories). I include quotes from the summary in italics in cases where the title alone doesn't reveal what the story is about. My own thoughts appear without italics if I have any.



astrobiology

Even 'Goldilocks' exoplanets need a well-behaved star


ecology and behaviour

After release into wild, vampire bats keep 'friends' made in captivity



This picture shows a tagged desmodus rotundus bat in the wild.
Credit: Sherri ad Brock Fenton


nanoworld

Electrifying science: New study describes conduction through proteins


humans

Important gene variants found in certain African populations
In the first decade of sequencing individual human genomes, researchers completely ignored the fact that most of human diversity is found within Africa, which severely limited the scientific value of those first 1000 genomes, as I reported in my African genomes feature back in 2011. Glad to see that people are now doing something about this.


Ground penetrating radar reveals why ancient Cambodian capital was moved to Angkor
The largest water management feature in Khmer history was built in the 10th century as part of a short-lived ancient capital in northern Cambodia to store water but the system failed in its first year of operation, possibly leading to the return of the capital to Angkor.


People with autism have a more symmetrical brain
I can never remember which side of the brain is supposed to be for what, so maybe mine's a symmetrical one too ...


And finally ...


Simple injection of air proves successful in releasing child's tongue trapped in bottle, inspired by opening a wine bottle
I have so many questions


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From the news media:

Measles can erase the immune system's memory of other infections, reports the Guardian.

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