Monday, September 14, 2020

sharks in the open

Open Archive Day

There has been some exciting shark news in recent week at the biology front (eg about angel sharks or about giant sharks from the Cretaceous), but not so much in conservation issues, as the global slaughter carries on, so the hard work of raising awareness of shark conservation continues. My most recent feature about sharks and how they may end up on your dinner plate appeared a year ago, so it is now in the open archives:

Stop the global slaughter of sharks

The scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) is one of the shark species whose fins were identified in a barcoding study of fish products in the UK. It also appears on the EDGE of Existence list of unique and endangered rays and sharks. (Photo: © Simon Rogerson.)

Friday, September 11, 2020

science news 11.9.2020

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


66 million years of Earth's climate uncovered from ocean sediments

Understanding the 'deep-carbon cycle'
New geologic findings about the makeup of the Earth's mantle are helping scientists better understand long-term climate stability and even how seismic waves move through the planet's layers.


Coming up for air: Extinct sea scorpions could breathe out of water, fossil detective unveils


In the absence of otters, climate warming leads to Aleutian Reef decline
Sea otters prey on urchins and keep their population in check. When otters disappear, urchin populations explode, leading to overgrazing on kelp and a decline in kelp forests.


The surprising rhythms of Leopards: Females are early birds, males are nocturnal
After 10 months of camera surveillance in the Tanzanian rainforest, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have become the first to conclude that female and male leopards are active at very different times of the day. The discovery contradicts previous assumptions and could be used to help protect the endangered feline, whose populations have dwindled by 85 percent over the past century.


Antibody responses in COVID-19 patients could guide vaccine design
The results show that the neutralizing activity of antibodies from recovered patients is typically not strong, and declines sharply within one month after hospital discharge.


Multiphase buffering by ammonia explains wide range of atmospheric aerosol acidity
Anthropogenic ammonia emissions and the water content matter more than dry particle composition for the acidity of atmospheric aerosols in populated regions.


Tel Aviv University study confirms widespread literacy in biblical-period kingdom of Judah
based on the identification of 12 different handwritings? I'm not sure I follow that conclusion. They could have rounded up the only 12 people in the kingdom who were able to write?

Examples of Hebrew ostraca from Arad.
Credit: Michael Cordonsky, TAU and the Israel Antiquities Authority

Addicted to the sun? Research shows it's in your genes
Sun-seeking behaviour is linked to genes involved in addiction, behavioural and personality traits and brain function, according to a study of more than 260,000 people led by King's College London researchers.

dystopian futures

Experiments reveal why human-like robots elicit uncanny feelings


From the news media:

Thursday, September 10, 2020

science news 10.9.2020

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


Where rocks come alive: NASA's OSIRIS-REx observes an asteroid in action

In Ancient Giant Viruses Lies the Truth Behind Evolution of Nucleus in Eukaryotic Cells
An exchange of genetic material that occurred when ancient giant viruses infected ancient eukaryotic cells could have caused the nucleus of the eukaryotic cell--its defining feature--to form. This is what Professor Masaharu Takemura of the Tokyo University of Science, Japan, suggests in his recent review in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. His novel evolutionary hypothesis opens doors to new discussions on the subject, bringing us one giant step closer to the truth.


New insight on the impacts of Earth's biosphere on air quality
specifically, this is about the distribution of isoprene in the atmosphere.


At least 28 extinctions prevented by conservation action in recent decades

New tracking technology will help fight rhino poaching in Namibia
Interactive software that 'reads' and analyzes footprints left by black rhinoceroses can be used to monitor the movements of the animals in the wild, giving conservationists a new way to keep watch on the endangered species and help keep it safe from poachers, according to a Duke University-led study.

A black rhino and its calf; new technology that uses software to read unique features of rhino footprints will help protect this endangered species from poachers.
Credit: WildTrack


A chemist from RUDN developed a new type of one-molecule thick water-repellent film
... out of calixarenes, to be specific.


More cats might be COVID-19 positive than first believed, study suggests


Do as plants do: Novel photocatalysts can perform solar-driven conversion of CO2 into fuel


From the news media:

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

science news 9.9.2020

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


Deep channels link ocean to Antarctic glacier
meaning warm water can lick it away


New fossil ape is discovered in India
A 13-million-year-old fossil unearthed in northern India comes from a newly discovered ape, the earliest known ancestor of the modern-day gibbon. The discovery fills a major void in the ape fossil record and provides important new evidence about when the ancestors of today's gibbon migrated to Asia from Africa.

Skeletal study suggests at least 11 fish species are capable of walking
See also my feature on evolution of lineages gaining or losing their legs

Thailand's cave angel fish, Cryptotora thamicola, is famous for its ability to walk, using a salamander-like gait. But it may not be alone: At least 10 relatives share its unusual pelvic shape.
Credit: Zachary Randall/Florida Museum


International study gets at the root of what makes deer migrate
Researchers found that the dynamics of springtime plant growth, specifically whether green-up progresses like a wave or not, explain where deer migration occurs in many ecosystems.

Gulls pay attention to human eyes
Herring gulls notice where approaching humans are looking, and flee sooner when they're being watched, a new study shows.
For a moment I thought the gulls were checking if you're watching your food ...


Lost frogs rediscovered with environmental DNA
Scientists have detected signs of a frog listed extinct and not seen since 1968, using an innovative technique to locate declining and missing species in two regions of Brazil.


High-intensity focused ultrasound _treatment_ for prostate cancer: First US study shows promising outcomes
The title originally didn't make it clear, but this is a new method of treating the cancer, instead of radiation or chemotherapy. It's not about diagnostic ultrasound.

Recharging N95 masks for continued usage
N95 masks achieve 95% efficiency at filtering out 0.3-micron particles, while maintaining reasonable breathability, thanks to a layer of polypropylene fibers incorporating electrical charges to attract particles. Extended usage and decontamination, provoked by severe shortages during the pandemic, can easily remove the charges and degrade filtration efficiency. In Physics of Fluids, researchers share a method to restore the filtration efficiency of N95 masks to out-of-box levels, as long as the mask is not structurally compromised.

Could singing spread COVID-19?
wear a mask, skip the consonants


The oldest Neanderthal DNA of Central-Eastern Europe
A new study reports the oldest mitochondrial genome of a Neanderthal from Central-Eastern Europe. The mitochondrial genome of the tooth, discovered at the site of Stajnia Cave in Poland, is closer to a Neanderthal specimen from the Caucasus than to the contemporaneous Neanderthals of Western Europe. Stone tools found at the site are also analogous to the southern regions suggesting that Neanderthals living in the steppe/taiga environment had a broader foraging radius than previously envisaged.

Ancient hunters stayed in frozen Northern Europe rather than migrating to warmer areas, evidence from Arctic fox bones shows


From the news media:

Oxford Covid vaccine trial on hold after adverse reaction in one participant.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

science news 8.9.2020

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

Not much going on today, apparently:


Ancient bony fish forces rethink of how sharks evolved


A new twist on DNA origami


Producing leather-like materials from fungi


'Wild West' mentality lingers in modern populations of US mountain regions
Scientists looked at links between the personality profiles of over 3.3m US residents and the "topography" of 37,227 ZIP codes. Distinct psychological mix associated with mountain populations is consistent with theory that harsh frontiers attracted certain personalities. Researchers argue this may be residual from US frontier expansion during the 19th century, as personality pattern is strongest in the West.


From the news media:

the biggest bang since the Big Bang

and an essay written by a robot. Scary stuff.

Monday, September 07, 2020

value your vultures

Vultures are still suffering from image problems in many cultures, due to their association with death and decay. We should really appreciate them a lot more, however, as their removal of carcasses is an extremely important and valuable ecosystem service. India has lost large parts of its vulture population in recent decades and is already feeling the consequences which include opportunistic mammalian scavengers such as rats and feral dogs spreading diseases that also affect humans, such rabies and the plague. And now Africa is at risk of a similar decline in vulture populations, which could have even worse effects there.

In my latest feature I have looked at the causes and effects of vulture declines around the world, and also marvelled at the different cultural associations we have with various species. The Andean condor, for instance, is also a vulture but doesn't appear to have the same image problem as the other species.

The feature is out now:

Hard times for ecosystem cleaners

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 17, 7 September 2020, Pages R963-R966

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Vultures are having a hard time in the Lucky Luke comics, too - targeted by jokes if not by bullets ...

If reading the feature is too much work, there is a video about vulture conservation here.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Johann Benjamin Groß

browsing through the cello tag on tumblr, I was surprised to discover a cellist and composer who shares my last name (although unlikely to be related, as it's a name that originated in many places independently): Johann Benjamin Groß (1809-1848). His Wikipedia entry only exists in German, French and Russian so far, so I'll compile the basic info in English here(may expand on this later):

12.9.1809 Born in Elbing (West Prussia, today Elblag, Poland, a coastal city with some 120,000 inhabitants). Parents: Georg Groß, bell-ringer (was that a full-time job?) and Dorothea van Bergen (watch this space - there are genealogy records for families with both these names in nearby places so I might be able to find his grandparents etc.)

studies cello at Berlin with Ferdinand Hansmann, a pupil of Jean-Pierre Duport (that's the older Duport, not the one of Napoleon/Stradivarius fame).

1824 Cellist at the theatre of Königstadt near Berlin

1830 First solo cello at the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig.

1833 short stint at the orchestra of the Magdeburg theatre

1834 played in a quartet at Dorpat (today Tartu, Estonia)

1835 moved to St. Petersburg to become first cellist at the Imperial Court orchestra.
marries Catharina von Witte from Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia). They had three daughters.

There he composed more than 40 works, including several concertos and many chamber works for the cello.

1.9.1848 died in St. Petersburg of cholera.

2004 After a period of oblivion, his work is performed again at the Schumann Festival at Düsseldorf. First recordings are released from 2009 onwards.

Monday, August 24, 2020

wake-up call

Open Archive Day

If you missed my feature on the science of sleep last summer, here's your wake-up call: It is now in the open archives absolutely free to all. As I remember it, I learned many surprising things about how birds sleep with one half of the brain and even in flight, ducks lined up in a row with the terminal duck keeping one eye open for predators, and such like.

I also came away with the surprising impression that scientists are discovering complex sleep regulation in ever less complex animals, which re-ignites the debate what use it is and what advantage over a simple rest period regulated by the circadian clock. (A crucial difference: The circadian clock wouldn't care how much you slept the previous night, while sleep is budgeted and sleep deprivation can accumulate.)

Anyhow, everything you always wanted to know about the science of sleep is here:

The reasons of sleep

Birds display neural sleep signatures very similar to those of mammals, but also a whole range of behavioural adaptations to accommodate the need for sleep in challenging conditions. (Photo: sipa/Pixabay.)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

back to the beginning

On my crawl backwards through the first cello suite, I am now reaching the beginning, that famous Prelude. Which is to say I'm giving up on memorising the Allemande. While it isn't too difficult to play, I haven't managed to find a way of memorising more than the first seven bars (out of 32). I now think those brain cells are better used in completing movement 5 (the more memorable minuets) so I can play the second half of the suite completely from memory.

Moving on to the Prelude which is the most famous part of the suites, so there are even more performances and tutorials of this than of the other ones.

In addition to the trusted tutorial by Inbal Segev and the slow version from Cellopedia, there is also:

Yo-Yo Ma playing the Prelude at a Tiny Desk Concert and then talking about how he learned it as a child "one bar at a time" (inspired by this video, I tried that last year and got stuck in bar 10 - although back then I spent a lot less time on it than I do now). He started to learn it at age 4, apparently, Inbal Segev only at 6, maybe that's the number that determines your global success as a cellist?

Alisa Weilerstein deconstructing the prelude for an issue of the Vox Earworm series.

It has of course been played on many other instruments as well, as an example here is Ana Vidovic playing it on guitar which I think works really well. She has recorded all movements of the first suite but I feel the clarity of the guitar helps me more with the first three movements which I find harder on the cello.

I'm also adding these videos to my youtube playlist "cello repertoire".

I was about to record something in the garden, but then a neighbour started playing piano ...

Revision list (newest addition first)

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

PS where next after the first suite? I guess I'll do the tail end of the third suite (Gigue and Sarabande) to complement the Bourrees which I've learned already, but suggestions welcome.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

useful books

I've packed a box of books on applied sciences (energy, environment etc.) that may be more useful to others than they are to me. If anybody has a bright idea how they could be made to benefit a good cause (I'll accept educating yourself as a good cause), I'm all ears.

~ 22 books listed chronologically backwards:

Ethanol: Science and engineering
Editors: Angelo Basile, Adolfo Iulianelli, Francesco Dalena, T. Nejat Veziroglu
Elsevier 2018, ISBN: 9780128114582

Low Carbon Energy Transitions
Kathleen M. Araujo
Oxford University Press 2018

Gregory Chatel

Nanocomposite materials: synthesis, properties and applications
Jyotishkumar Parameswaranpillai, Nishar Hameed, Thomas Kurian, Yingfeng Yu (Editors)
CRC Press 2017, ISBN 978-1482258073

Fracking (Issues in Environmental Science and Technology, Vol. 39)
R.E. Hester, R. M. Harrison, eds.
Royal Society of Chemistry 2015, ISBN: 978-1-84973-920-7

Still only one Earth: Progress in the 40 years since the first UN Conference on the Environment.(vol 40 of the series: Issues in Environmental Science and Technology)
R. E. Hester and R. M. Harrison, eds.
RSC publishing, 2015, ISBN 978-1-78262-076-1

Matthias Rögner (Ed.)
Walter de Gruyter, 2015, ISBN 978-3-11-033645-0

Low cost emergency water purification technologies
Chittaranjan Ray, Ravi Jain
Butterworth Heinemann 2014, ISBN 978-0-12-411465-4

The burning answer: a user’s guide to the solar revolution
Keith Barnham
Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2014

The economic competitiveness of renewable energy - pathways to 100% global coverage,
Winfried Hoffmann.

Handbook of cellulosic ethanol
Ananda S. Amarasekara
Scrivener Publishing 2014, ISBN 978-1-118-23300-9

Introduction to Carbon Capture and Sequestration
(The Berkeley Lectures on Energy, Vol. 1)
Berend Smit, Jeffrey A. Reimer, Curtis M. Oldenburg, Ian C. Bourg
Imperial College Press, ISBN 978-1-78326-327-1

Hydrofracking: what everyone needs to know
Alex Prud'homme
OUP 2014

Polymers for energy storage and conversion
Vikas Mittal, ed.
Wiley / Scrivener 2013, ISBN 978-1-118-34454-5

Powering planet Earth: Energy solutions for the future
Nicola Armaroli, Vincenzo Balzani, Nick Serpone
Wiley-VCH 2013, ISBN: 978-3-527-33409-4

Physical gels from biological and synthetic polymers
Madeleine Djabourov, Katsuyoshi Nishinari, Simon B. Ross-Murphy
Cambridge University Press 2013 ISBN 978-0-521-76964-8

Functional materials from renewable sources
Falk Liebner and Thomas Rosenau, eds.
ACS Symposium series 2012
ISBN 978-0-8412-2788-0

Natural products in chemical biology
Natanya Civjan, ed.
J. Wiley & Sons, 2012

Advanced Oil Crop Biorefineries (RSC Green Chemistry 2012)
Self-assembly and nanotechnology systems: Design, characterization, and applications
Yoon S. Lee Wiley 2012 ISBN 978-1-118-08759-6

Chemistry for sustainable technologies: A foundation
Neil Winterton
RSC 2011

The physicochemical basis of pharmaceuticals
Humphrey Moynihan, Abina Crean
Oxford University Press 2009

Concepts of Nanochemistry
Ludovico Cademartiri and Geoffrey Ozin
Wiley-VCH 2009; ISBN 978-3-527-32597-9

(Back in the 00s, I used to carry or send books to Latin America, but I no longer travel that far without a very good excuse and the postage has become horrendously expensive, which is why I'm looking for alternatives.)

This was a lovely cover, but I found the content a bit disappointing ...

Friday, August 21, 2020

science news 21.8.2020

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

ancient climate

Past rapid warming levels in the Arctic associated with widespread climate changes
Using Greenland ice cores, new research is the first to confirm the longstanding assumption that climate changes between the tropics and the Arctic were synchronised during the last glacial period.

Fossil leaves show high atmospheric carbon spurred ancient 'global greening'
Scientists studying leaves from a 23-million-year-old forest have for the first time linked high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide with increased plant growth, and the hot climate off the time.

Anthropogenic CO2 increase is unprecedented
Even in earlier warm periods there were pulse-like releases of CO2 to the atmosphere. Today's anthropogenic CO2 rise, however, is more than six times larger and almost ten times faster than previous jumps in the CO2 concentration.


Discovery lays blame on supernova for extinction event nearly 360 million years ago
Between a decline in biodiversity and a series of extinction events, the Late Devonian period was not the most hospitable time on Earth. And then came one or more supernovae explosions whose resulting ionizing radiation was the final push that spelled the end for armored fish, most trilobites and other life.

Ichthyosaur's last meal is evidence of triassic megapredation
Some 240 million years ago, a dolphin-like ichthyosaur ripped to pieces and swallowed another marine reptile only a little smaller than itself. Then it almost immediately died and was fossilized, preserving the first evidence of megapredation, or a large animal preying on another large animal.

Dinosaurs' unique bone structure key to carrying weight
A unique collaboration between paleontologists, mechanical engineers and biomedical engineers revealed that the trabecular bone structure of hadrosaurs and several other dinosaurs is uniquely capable of supporting large weights, and different than that of mammals and birds.


Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads more indoors at low humidity

Contact tracing apps unlikely to contain COVID-19 spread
Contract tracing apps used to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are unlikely to be effective without proper uptake and support from concurrent control measures, finds a new study by UCL researchers. The systematic review*, published in Lancet Digital Health, shows that large-scale manual contact tracing alongside other public health control measures - such as physical distancing and closure of indoor spaces such as pubs - is likely to be required in conjunction with automated approaches.

Researchers show children are silent spreaders of virus that causes COVID-19
Is anybody counting how many studies say this and how many the opposite?


Archaeology: X-ray imaging provides unique snapshot of ancient animal mummification
Analysis of three mummified animals - a cat, a bird and a snake - from Ancient Egypt using advanced 3D X-ray imaging is described in a paper published in Scientific Reports. The technique provides insights into the conditions in which the animals were kept, their complex mummification process and their possible causes of death, without causing damage to the specimens.

Australia's wish list of exotic pets
Unsustainable trade of species is the major pathway for the introduction of invasive alien species at distant localities at higher frequencies. It is also a major driver of over-exploitation of wild populations. In a new study, published in the open-access journal Neobiota, scientists estimate the desire of Australians to own non-native and/or illegal pets and the major trends in this practice. In addition, the team suggests ways to improve biosecurity awareness in the country.

A juvenile ball python for sale at Repticon Trading Convention 2018 in Palm Springs, Florida.
Credit: Adam Toomes (CC-BY 4.0)

Genetics: Romantic relationship dynamics may be in our genes
Variations in a gene called CD38, which is involved in attachment behaviour in non-human animals, may be associated with human romantic relationship dynamics in daily life, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.


From the news media:

Record breaking ice loss from Greenland's glaciers reported for 2019. Your friendly reminder that a total loss of Greenland's ice sheet means six metres sea level rise.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

science news 20.8.2020

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


Sustained planetwide storms may have filled lakes, rivers on ancient Mars

Microbes living on air a global phenomenon
UNSW researchers have found their previous discovery of bacteria living on air in Antarctica is likely a process that occurs globally, further supporting the potential existence of microbial life on alien planets.


Lungfish fins reveal how limbs evolved


This cuttlefish is flamboyant on special occasions only!

The flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) in full flamboyant display, which it only uses on occasion (for male courtship rituals; or when males are fighting over a female; or to flash briefly at a threatening object when it approaches too close, presumably to scare it away).
Credit: Roger Hanlon Laboratory, MBL

Termite-fishing chimpanzees provide clues to the evolution of technology


Quest for quantum Internet gets a boost with new technique for making entanglement


COVID-19 cytokine storms may prevent a durable immune response


Partner selection ultimately happens in the woman's reproductive tract

Researchers predict deficits in female birth numbers in India over coming decades
Between 2017 and 2030, an estimated 6.8 million fewer female births will be recorded in India than would be by chance, due to sex-selective abortions, according to a new study published August 19, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Fengqing Chao of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), Saudi Arabia, and colleagues.

dystopian futures

Machine learning, meet human emotions: How to help a computer monitor your mental state
I very emphatically do not want a computer of any description to monitor my mental state.


From the news media:

Monday, August 17, 2020

whales of the plant kingdom

Don't tell anybody, but I'm mainly writing all these features to educate myself - everything else is collateral benefits. So this time round I learned that seagrasses are the whales of the plant kingdom - like the cetaceans, they migrated back into the oceans within the last 100 million years. That's the sort of unexpected connection I can get really excited about. In addition, seagrasses are also very useful in terms of carbon sequestration, coastal protection, and habitat, so at this point you've probably guessed that humanity is doing a great job at destroying them comprehensively and they need saving.

All these issues are covered in my latest feature which is out now:

Save our seagrasses

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 16, 17 August 2020, Pages R905-R907

Restricted access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Seagrass is known to stabilise the ground on which it grows, which helps both the sequestration of carbon and the defence of coastlines against erosion. (Photo: © Paul Lavery at Edith Cowan University.)

Sunday, August 16, 2020

a cello's century

Heinrich the cello has now been in our family for a century, so I've used the lockdown to write up his biography of sorts - a family history / memoir / general obsessing about all things cello-related - which is now almost finished. It's all written in German so far, but obviously if anybody wanted to publish it in English, I'd be happy to do a translation. Some bits and bobs have appeared on this blog before, so here's a table of contents with PDF links to sample chapters in German as well as cross-references to relevant blog entries in English.

1. Heinrich and his cello [PDF]
a railway man
story of an old cello
2. Frieda and her piano [PDF]
moonlight sonata
3. My musical miseducation
les chansons de mon enfance
Blue the guitar
my school recorder
4. The next generation
obscure composers
Beethoven for cello and flute
5. Late beginners
beginning to see some improvement
the dancers will fall over
6. Bach in quarantine
take a leap
stay home play Bach
jigging on
memorising Bach
according to Bach
running slowly
back to the beginning

I'll probably find a space where I can fit this one in as well:
a cellist lost

Also, other memoirs that inspired me in this project will be labelled with the memoir tag.

We have a grand total of two photos of Heinrich in his string quartet, dating from 1927. Only now did I notice that zooming in on one of the photos you can actually read what they're playing, it's Brahms. As Brahms only published three string quartets, we know almost exactly what was played ...

Thursday, August 13, 2020

russian riddles

The Anna Karenina fix

Viv Groskop

Harry N. Abrams, 2018
Penguin 2019

It may be an age thing, but I am finding myself reading memoirs a lot, and maybe even writing some. Obviously I’m not all that interested in reading how people got rich and famous or how they changed their diet, but there is a sub-genre that I find really exciting, balancing cultural issues I’m interested in (literature, languages, music, art) with the life experience. So it's about how people interacted with cultural things and it helped them find out who they really are.

An important example and possibly the reason for my new interest is Elena Lappin’s memoir about her family and her five languages (What language do I dream in?). Eric Siblin mixed 1/3 memoir with 2/3 biographies of more famous people (Bach, Casals) to paint a picture of the cultural monument known as The cello suites. Then again, I'll also accept an old house as a cultural asset, see Hancox by Charlotte Moore.

I recently noticed that Viv Groskop has a new book out about French literature, and as I am a bit careful about what Anglophones write about all things French, I opted to check her earlier book about Russian literature first. It turned out to be a fine addition to my new favourite memoir sub-genre. While discussing 11 works by 10 major Russian writers (Tolstoy gets the first and the last word), she applies the philosophical insights to be gained from these books to her own coming of age and finding her identity. In a nutshell, based on her unusual name she thought she might be of Russian origin and therefore went on to study Russian and aspired to become Russian, but in the end her migration background turned out to be something else entirely.

This is arranged as a clever little puzzle, or maybe as a set of Russian dolls. Can’t be quite sure as I read the chapters in the wrong order, first those about the books I’ve read (long ago), and then the rest, not necessarily in the right order, as I was more curious about some of the works discussed than about others. But in the end it was all exciting enough to make me read all the chapters so all good and riddle solved. (Here is a photo of the Groskop family of 1915 including info about their origins, if you want to find out without reading the book.)

At some point, I think I’ll read the French book too. Another book-related memoir is Lucy Mangan’s book about children’s literature, Bookworm. And I need to read Hadley Freeman's House of Glass.

I like the cover, too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

science news 12.8.2020

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


New species of dinosaur discovered on Isle of Wight
A new study by Palaeontologists at the University of Southampton suggests four bones recently found on the Isle of Wight belong to new species of theropod dinosaur, the group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and modern-day birds.

Primate voice boxes are evolving at rapid pace

Gorilla skull and larynx
Credit: Copyright Dr Jacob Dunn, Anglia Ruskin University (ARU)


For bacteria, a small genome means some serious decluttering -- even in the ribosome
Researchers have studied the genomes of some 200 strains of bacteria to determine which proteins in the ribosome, part of the key cell machinery, can be safely lost and why. Research showed that frequently lost ribosomal proteins tend to be placed on the ribosome surface, where they usually have fewer contacts to other ribosome components. Yet since ribosomal proteins are in the cell's essential toolkit, they are generally among the last to leave a 'downsizing' bacterial genome.
Funny though that in mitochondria we see the opposite - new proteins being added to a ribosome that has become virtually useless, producing fewer proteins than it needs for its own assembly. See my recent feature here.


Malaria discovery could expedite antiviral treatment for COVID-19
New research into malaria suggests targeting enzymes from the human host, rather than from the pathogen itself, could offer effective treatment for a range of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

COVID-19: Herd immunity in Sweden fails to materialize

food and drink

Gluten in wheat: What has changed during 120 years of breeding?
spoiler: authors find no evidence that breeding has caused rise in gluten sensitivity problems.


What violin synchronization can teach us about better networking in complex times


From the news media:

Underneath its skin, dwarf planet Ceres is an ocean world
, according to the Dawn results reported in the Guardian.

Monday, August 10, 2020

planting trees

Open Archive Day

Planting some trees is (almost) always a good idea, but if we want them to help us out with stopping the climate catastrophe, we should do a bit of thinking before reaching for the shovel.

In my feature last August I rounded up some good and bad examples of reforestation, to give an impression of the complexities involved. The feature is in the open archives now:

How to bring back our planet's forests

If humans weren’t interfering, around two thirds of the ice-free land surface would be covered by trees. Restoring a fraction of the missing natural forests would sequester enough carbon to keep climate change within the limit of the Paris accord. (Photo: jarmoluk/Pixabay.

Friday, August 07, 2020

science news 7.8.2020

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


Hubble uses Earth as proxy for identifying oxygen on potentially habitable exoplanets
Taking advantage of a total lunar eclipse, Hubble used the Moon as a mirror to study sunlight that had passed through Earth's atmosphere. As a result, Hubble detected Earth's own brand of sunscreen - ozone - in our atmosphere. The technique simulates how scientists will search for evidence of life on planets around other stars.

New insight into the evolution of complex life on Earth
This is about the proteasome being involved in the cell division of archaea (as well as in eukaryotes).


Fossil mystery solved: Super-long-necked reptiles lived in the ocean, not on land
By CT scanning crushed fossilized skulls and digitally reassembling them, and by examining the fossils' growth rings, scientists were able to describe a new species of prehistoric sea creature. Tanystropheus hydroides, named after mythology's hydra, was a twenty-foot-long animal with a ten-foot-long neck.

The digitially reconstructed skull of Tanystropheus, using CT scans of the crushed skull pieces.
Credit: Stephan Spiekman et al.


Researchers hope to save seabirds by calculating the value of their poop


Chemists build natural anti-cancer compound with lean new process


New science behind algae-based flip-flops
a bit of seasonal science ...


Completing the set: 'Coupon-collection behavior' reduces sex-ratio variation among families
A new analysis of sibling records from more than 300,000 individuals suggests that some parents continue to reproduce until they have children of both sexes.


From the news media:

Tanystropheus (see picture above) is also reported in the Guardian.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

science news 6.8.2020

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


New study reveals lower energy limit for life on Earth
An international team of researchers led by Queen Mary University of London have discovered that microorganisms buried in sediment beneath the seafloor can survive on less energy than was previously known to support life. The study has implications for understanding the limit of life on Earth and the potential for life elsewhere.


The curious genome of the tuatara, an ancient reptile in peril

International scientists and Ngātiwai, a Māori tribe, teamed up to sequence the genome of a rare reptile, the tuatara, uncovering some unique aspects of the tuatara's evolution. The genome sequence will enable comparative studies to better understand the evolution of the tuatara and its distant relatives: other reptiles, birds, and mammals. Shedding light on the tuatara's biology will help protect this vulnerable species.
Credit: Bernard Spragg (Flickr, CC0)


Herbivores, not predators, most at risk of extinction
One million years ago, the extinction of large-bodied plant-eaters changed the trajectory of life on Earth. The disappearance of these large herbivores reshaped plant life, altered fire regimes across Earth's landscapes, and modified biogeochemical cycling in such a way that Earth's climate became slightly colder.

Bird nests attract flying insects and parasites due to higher levels of carbon dioxide

Algal symbiosis could shed light on dark ocean
New research has revealed a surprise twist in the symbiotic relationship between a type of salamander and the alga that lives inside its eggs. A new paper in Frontiers in Microbiology reports that the eggs compete with the algae to assimilate carbon from their surroundings - a finding that could inform similar processes in the dark ocean.

New Guinea has the world's richest island flora


Drivers from poor cities can be exposed to 80% more air pollution


An iconic Native American stone tool technology discovered in Arabia
A new paper published in the journal PLOS ONE examines fluted projectile points from southern Arabia, detailing production methods and technical aspects that indicate differences in function from the technology of the Americas, despite similarities in form. Findings from experimentation and comparative analysis suggest that highly-skilled, convergent technologies can have varying anthropological implications.

Men scoring higher on 'man box' scale are prone to violence, mental illness


From the news media:

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

science news 5.8.2020

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


Stars rich in phosphorus: Seeds of life in the universe

Surprisingly dense exoplanet challenges planet formation theories
New detailed observations with NSF's NOIRLab facilities reveal a young exoplanet, orbiting a young star in the Hyades cluster, that is unusually dense for its size and age. Weighing in at 25 Earth-masses, and slightly smaller than Neptune, this exoplanet's existence is at odds with the predictions of leading planet formation theories.

VLBA finds planet orbiting small, cool star
Precision measurements made with the VLBA have revealed that a small, cool star 35 light-years from Earth is orbited by a Saturn-sized planet once every 221 days.


Between shark and ray: The evolutionary advantage of the sea angels


Studies shed new light on how biodiversity influences plant decay

Small trees offer hope for rainforests
Small trees that grow up in drought conditions could form the basis of more drought-resistant rainforests, new research suggests.

Scientists discover new penguin colonies from space

Are vultures spreaders of microbes that put human health at risk?

A new analysis published in IBIS examines whether bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that are present in wild vultures cause disease in the birds, and whether vultures play a role in spreading or preventing infectious diseases to humans and other animal species.
Credit: Jorge de la Cruz


Nanostructures modeled on moth eyes effective for anti-icing
Researchers have been working for decades on improving the anti-icing performance of functional surfaces and work published in AIP Advances investigates a unique nanostructure, modeled on moth eyes, that has anti-icing properties. Moth eyes are of interest because they have a distinct ice-phobic and transparent surface. The researchers fabricated the moth eye nanostructure on a quartz substrate that was covered with a paraffin layer to isolate it from a cold and humid environment.


'Price of life' lowest in UK during COVID-19 pandemic, study finds
The price the UK government was prepared to pay to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic was far lower than in many other developed nations, a study has revealed.
Confirming my suspicion that we have deatheaters in charge.

Easy to overdose on paracetamol if you're selenium deficient, says research


Key brain region was 'recycled' as humans developed the ability to read

dystopian futures

Consumers don't fully trust smart home technologies
Not fully? People shouldn't even buy any of these things. Opening your home to surveillance and hackers is the opposite of smart.


From the news media:

A remarkably well preserved mammoth skeleton from a Siberian lake.

Oh and the penguin colonies spotted from space are also in the Guardian. Disappointingly, the sattelites only saw vast areas of ice discoloured by guano - not vast huddles of actual penguins.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

science news 4.8.2020

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


ALMA captures stirred-up planet factory
Planet-forming environments can be much more complex and chaotic than previously expected. This is evidenced by a new image of the star RU Lup, made with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

Iron-rich meteorites show record of core crystallization in system's oldest planetesimals

Early Mars was covered in ice sheets, not flowing rivers


Malignant cancer diagnosed in a dinosaur for the first time

Study: Oriole hybridization is a dead end
A half-century of controversy over two popular bird species may have finally come to an end. In one corner: the Bullock's Oriole, found in the western half of North America. In the other corner: the Baltimore Oriole, breeding in the eastern half. Where their ranges meet in the Great Plains, the two mix freely and produce apparently healthy hybrid offspring. But according to scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, hybridization is a dead end and both parent species will remain separate.

Bullock/Baltimore Oriole hybrid.
Credit: Bryan Calk, Macaulay Library, Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Scientists discover secret behind Earth's biodiversity hotspots

Identifying the blind spots of soil biodiversity

Study calls for urgent plan to manage invasive weed which threatens livelihoods in Africa


Speech processing hierarchy in the dog brain

Humans and flies employ very similar mechanisms for brain development and function

Energy demands limit our brains' information processing capacity


The art of making tiny holes
It sounds like a magic trick: A highly charged ion penetrates several layers of a material. It creates a big hole in the top layer, but travels through the next layer without damaging it. This new technique can be used to modify surfaces with extremely hight precision.


Ancient shell llama offering found in lake Titicaca
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dystopian futures

Novel magnetic stirrer speaks to lab equipment
A small device, called "Smart Stirrer", performed a function of a conventional laboratory stir bar, has an integrated microprocessor and various sensors capable of wireless and autonomous report the conversion of properties of a solution. Results are sent to a computer over Bluetooth, and any changes notify the user wirelessly.


From the news media:

Monday, August 03, 2020

colourful characters

I spotted an interesting book review in Current Biology - Thinking like a parrot - and realised that this was a topic about which I haven't written a feature yet, so I closed that gap with a little help from Nicky Clayton (who starred in this feature) and her colleagues. Oh, and I should mention that I found a lot of inspiration on the ecology/conservation of parrots in the grrlscientist blog.

After the cats and mice, another fun topic, but world-saving services will resume soon.

Clever and colourful characters

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 15, 03 August 2020, Pages R841-R844

Restricted access to full text and PDF download

(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access
(first seven weeks only)

Parrots as companion animals require substantial amounts of attention — as does the threat to surviving parrot populations in the wild. (Photo: Michael Clarke/Unsplash.)

Monday, July 27, 2020

sniff it out

Open Archive Day

I am currently reading a book about smell, which I'll need to review when I'm through, so it may be useful for me to reread my smelly feature from last year, which was all about odour space, and is now on open access, so sniff it out:

Odour space - the final frontier

Beetroot is becoming popular thanks to a trend towards more vegetarian and vegan options, but one of its odorants can spoil the pleasure for many. (Photo: © Marco Verch/Flickr (CC BY 2.0).)

Sunday, July 26, 2020

running slowly

A courante is a running dance, of course, supposed to be played fast. In my effort to learn the Courante from the first cello suite, however, I don't think I'm getting past walking speed. Works for me - more time to appreciate the music - but don't try dancing to it.

The other problem with the courante is that it has more notes than I can memorise in a month, so I got about half way with memorising it. So I can play the movement at half the required speed and can play half of it from memory. Count it as a half-way success. Incidentally, I note that the person who used the score before me also made fewer annotations to the courante than to the other movements I have played so far. May have been running out of steam too.

Well, anyway, moving on, or rather backwards within the first suite, we now come to the Allemande.

Resources for this movement:

A slow version from Cellopedia is a helpful starting point as the fingerings are clearly visible at all times. And he plays at a speed that even I can manage (judging by the length of the video, it appears to be 2/3 the normal speed).

For a performance at the proper speed, try this recording from Denise Djokic.

And then consider the helpful hints from Inbal Segev. She's done a short tutorial (or two in some cases) for every single movement.Underneath this one there is also a list of helpful links and resources regarding the suites in general which I hadn't seen before.

Bonus material: A lovely arrangement for guitar played by Ana Vidovic

I'm also adding these videos to my youtube playlist "cello repertoire".

(Not our cello this time but an artwork I saw at a Frieze sculpture exhibition in Regent Park, London, last September)

Revision list (newest addition first)

1.3 Courante
1.4 Sarabande
1.6 Gigue
1.5 Minuet I&II
3.5 Bourree I&II

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Telemann's dozen

Two years (and a bit) ago I learned to play Telemann's fantasia No. 2 in a minor, which must have flicked a switch in my flute brain, as I have been playing a lot of unaccompanied baroque pieces ever since. In May, with the lockdown going on and flute lessons being off, I decided on an exploratory run through the remaining 11 fantasias, trying each one for a week, to see if I find one I want to spend more time with. I'm now in the last week of the project, so I have played every note in this lovely book, although not necessarily at the right time:

Oh, and I have added a version of each to my YouTube playlist with flute repertoire.

I have already earmarked No. 11 G major for further study, might also consider 6, 8 or 9. Number 9 is in E major (4 sharps, ####) but what I learned from it is that the fourth #, namely D#, is actually making life easier compared to playing ###, as you don't have to lift the little finger coming down from the E to play the note below. (Obviously, I haven't practiced all of my scales, otherwise I would have known that.)

Here are some interesting thoughts on the fantasias from Rachel Brown, who also has released a CD with the complete set.

Any flute players out there, tell me which one is your favourite?

PS Various artists have identified dance forms in the movements. None of them is marked in the score so I'll add to the list here whatever I can find:

1. Fantasia in A major (Vivace – Allegro=Passepied)
2. Fantasia in A minor (Grave – Vivace – Adagio – Allegro)
3. Fantasia in B minor (Largo – Vivace – Largo – Vivace – Allegro=Gigue)
4. Fantasia in B-flat major (Andante – Allegro=Polonaise – Presto)
5. Fantasia in C major (Presto – Largo – Presto – Dolce – Allegro – Allegro=Canarie)
6. Fantasia in D minor (Dolce – Allegro – Spirituoso=Hornpipe/Rondeau)
7. Fantasia in D major (Alla francese=including a Rondeau – Presto=Folk dance?)
8. Fantasia in E minor (Largo=Allemande – Spirituoso – Allegro=Polonaise)
9. Fantasia in E major (Affettuoso=Sarabande – Allegro – Grave – Vivace=Bourrée)
10. Fantasia in F-sharp minor (A Tempo giusto=Corrente – Presto – Moderato=Minuet)
11. Fantasia in G major (Allegro – Adagio – Vivace – Allegro)
12. Fantasia in G minor (Grave – Allegro – Grave – Allegro – Dolce – Allegro – Presto=Bourrée)

PDF sheet music is freely available, eg from, from where I also nicked the bourrées and rondeaus that weren't specifically assigned in Rachel Brown's essay about the fantasias.

Monday, July 20, 2020

playing cat and mouse

After the Covid communications feature, I needed a little bit of light relief and was very grateful to discover through the twitter feed of French newspaper Libération a recent paper about how mice became associated with human settlements. Obviously, once we had mice in our houses eating all our grain provisions, we also needed cats. Libération referenced an ancient story about cat domestication from the 00s, but I was sure I had seen something more recent elsewhere, and I found it, and so I could close the circle of life: humans - grains - mice - cats - humans. That was very satisfying, and it fits in really nicely with lots of earlier features I wrote about things like the evolution of agriculture, the Indoeuropean languages, dogs, Bronze Age civilisations, and more.

So, great fun, and I hope you enjoy it too.

Of mice and men, cats and grains

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 14, 20 July 2020, Pages R783-R786

Restrictied access to full text and PDF download
(will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access

(first seven weeks only)

New analyses of ancient rodent remains suggest that the house mouse moved in with Neolithic humans even before they started storing grain. (Photo: Chris Game/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).)

PS It just dawned on me that this was my 222nd feature in this format, published on July 20, 2020. Also, if you're on instagram (I'm not), you can find the feature here, and like, share, comment, or whatever people do on instagram.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

les chansons de mon enfance

In my pre-teens, i.e. before I began to control what music I wanted to expose myself to, I spent a lot of time in France and got accidentally exposed to a lot of French popular music, much of which I then never heard again for decades. And some of that buried stuff comes back now, as musicians famous in the sixties die, as youtube recommends videos to me, or by some other random coincidence.

So here and in a new playlist on youtube I'm collecting French songs that I haven't heard in decades between my early childhood and say the last ten years. Obviously, that rules out the French music that I have consciously explored and chosen to listen to in the interim, such as the works of Brassens, Brel, Moustaki, Piaf, etc.

Work in progress, as I'm sure other musical memories will resurface.

So, here goes, in chronological order (some of the songs are older than me):


Richard Anthony, J’entends siffler le train
(French version of 500 miles written by Hedy West)
A video made with the original sound recording.

Françoise Hardy, Tous les garçons et les filles de mon age
Rediscovered when Pomme recorded a cover. In this case I can't rule out that I may have heard it being used in some film - at least I was aware of the title and knew it was by Françoise Hardy.


Charles Aznavour (1924-2018), Hier encore
A poignant performance from 2016, in Armenia.


Charles Aznavour, La Boheme

Christophe (1945-2020), Aline
When he died I saw the newsclip on TV5 Monde and I was so sure I had never heard of him, and then they played Aline ...

Hervé Vilard, Capri c’est fini


Françoise Hardy, Comment te dire adieu
I'm following the very amazing Pomplamoose on YouTube and they did a stunning cover of this song, which I am positively sure I haven't heard since 1973.


Michel Legrand (1932-2019), Les moulins de mon coeur
Windmills of your mind was composed by Michel Legrand for the soundtrack of the film The Thomas Crown Affair, then recorded by him in a French version. The very catchy circular part of the tune comes from Mozart's Sinfonia concertante, K 364.
I think what happened was that I had watched couple of videos from the French/Arabic cultural interface and the YouTube bots concluded that I should watch the clip of Hiba Tawaji singing this on the French edition of The Voice, starting in French and switching to Arabic in the middle of the first verse (watch out for Mika's reaction which is priceless). If you prefer proper concert performance of the Arabic version without the Voice nonsense, click here. Legrand died last year too, but I think the YouTube bots found me before that.


Michel Sardou, La maladie d'amour
In the movie La famille Belier, music by Sardou was featured prominently. I recognised a few songs, of which this was the earliest.

Monday, July 13, 2020

sloths set free

Open Archive Day

Last year I wrote a feature about the very fascinating (if slightly slow) lifestyle of sloths, and then I spent a year doing nothing, hanging around and waiting for it to come to the open archives, and here we are, the sloths have now been set free and you can read them for free (in your own time):

How sloths got their sloth

A young two-fingered sloth feeding on leaves. (Photo: Proyecto Asis/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).)

Friday, July 10, 2020

science news 10.7.2020

Just some covid-19 news today (from zoonotic sources to human behaviour issues), there doesn't seem to be much else:

A global system for monitoring wildlife pathogens to prevent zoonotic disease spillover
In a Perspective, Mrinalini Watsa argues that a rigorous decentralized system for global wildlife disease surveillance is needed to address the looming potential for outbreaks of novel zoonotic diseases.

Bats offer clues to treating COVID-19
Bats carry many viruses, including COVID-19, without becoming ill. Biologists at the University of Rochester are studying the immune system of bats to find potential ways to "mimic" that system in humans.

Bats--the only flying mammals--are highly mobile, constantly bringing new pathogens into their communities. According to University of Rochester biologists, that's one reason they have evolved to have immunity to so many viruses that plague humans, who have only recently (in evolutionary terms) come to be highly mobile and more likely to live in densely populated centers.
Credit: Getty Images photo

For background for these two, see my recent feature on the zoonotic sources of Covid-19 (Open Access).

New study supports remdesivir as COVID-19 treatment

Distorted passage of time during the COVID-19 lockdown
A survey conducted in the U.K. suggests that social and physical distancing measures put in place during the Covid-19 pandemic significantly impacted people's perception of how quickly time passed compared to their pre-lockdown perceptions. Ruth S. Ogden of Liverpool John Moores University, U.K., presented these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on July 6, 2020.

Our itch to share helps spread COVID-19 misinformation
A study co-authored by MIT scholars contains bad news and good news about Covid-19 misinformation -- and a new insight that may help reduce the problem.
See also my feature on covid communications, which is out now and on open access.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

science news 7.7.2020

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


Study: Dying stars breathe life into Earth
As dying stars take their final few breaths of life, they gently sprinkle their ashes into the cosmos through the magnificent planetary nebulae. These ashes, spread via stellar winds, are enriched with many different chemical elements, including carbon. Findings from a study published today in Nature Astronomy show that the final breaths of these dying stars, called white dwarfs, shed light on carbon's origin in the Milky Way.


First direct evidence of ocean mixing across the gulf stream


A tiny ancient relative of dinosaurs and pterosaurs discovered
I'd just call it a tinysaur.

Illustration of Kongonaphon kely, a newly described reptile near the ancestry of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, in what would have been its natural environment in the Triassic (~237 million years ago).
Credit: Alex Boersma


Desert algae shed light on desiccation tolerance in green plants

Colony-level genetics predict gentle behavior in Puerto Rican honey bees

light and life

New study resolves mystery surrounding unique light-harvesting structures in algae
specifically: a supercomplex consisting of PSI with specific FCPs (PSI-FCPI) from a marine centric diatom Chaetoceros gracilis.
The paper is on open access

To quench or not to quench: Understanding the role of a cyanobacterial photosystem protein


Common hypertension medications may reduce colorectal cancer risk
People who take angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-i) or angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) for conditions such as high blood pressure were less likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer after having a normal colonoscopy. This is the first study to show potential benefits on colorectal cancer development from these commonly prescribed hypertension medications, based on a study of more than 185,000 patients.

dystopian futures

New research reveals privacy risks of home security cameras

Researchers foresee linguistic issues during space travel
This is about subsequent interstellar travel groups shifting their languages in transit such that at the destination they won't understand each other. I don't think this is ever going to be a real problem - we'll have a babelfish (universal translation technology) long before we are able to travel to other stars.


From the news media:

The Guardian also has the story of the tinysaur

Monday, July 06, 2020

covid communications

Covid-19 challenges the whole world in multiple ways, but possibly the most important crunch points are at the science communication / policy interface, because this is where failures lead to bad decisions, and bad decisions cost lives. Many thousands of lives.

I'm trying not to be parochial, ie not to give the UK perspective undue preference when writing about global issues, but in this case the UK happened to be one of the most outstanding examples, namely on how not to do communications in a public health crisis. So I'm afraid there is quite a lot about the UK's bungled Covid-19 response and science/policy/communications muddle in my feature, but other countries are also mentioned sometimes. And positive examples of good communications also get a shoutout.

As all the content of Cell Press journals relating to Covid-19, this is appearing on open access, but I have also been sent a magic link. So if open access doesn't work for you or stops working within the first seven weeks, try that.

Communicating science in a crisis

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 13, 06 July 2020, Pages R737-R739

Free access to full text and PDF download
(Should be open due to Covid-19 publication policy, but if this changes, it will become open access again one year after publication)

Magic link for free access

(first seven weeks only)

When to wear face protection has been one of the many issues on which conflicting and changeable information has been given to the general public. (Photo: Engin_Akyurt/Pixabay.)
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