Friday, January 31, 2020

science news 31.01.2020

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.




ecology

Trees struggle when forests become too small



Researcher Emma-Liina Marjakangas in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in Brazil. Marjakangas was first author on a paper that explored how forest fragmentation affected seed dispersal, among other factors.
Photo: Antti Miettinen


conservation

Near caves and mines, corrugated pipes may interfere with bat echolocation
Corrugated metal pipes have been installed at cave and mine entrances to help bats access their roosts, but a new study from Brown University researchers suggests that these pipes may actually deter bats.


nanoworld

A quantum of solid
Researchers in Austria use lasers to levitate and cool a glass nanoparticle into the quantum regime. Although it is trapped in a room temperature environment, the particle's motion is solely governed by the laws of quantum physics. The team of scientists from the University of Vienna, the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published their new study in the journal Science.

Nanotechnology: Putting a nanomachine to work


sustainability

In Cuba, cleaner rivers follow greener farming
For the first time in more than 50 years, a joint team of Cuban and US scientists studied the water quality of twenty-five Cuban rivers and found little damage after centuries of sugarcane production. They also found nutrient pollution in Cuba's rivers much lower than the Mississippi River. Cuba's shift to conservation agriculture after the collapse of the Soviet Union -- and reduced use of fertilizers on cropland -- may be a primary cause.

Can wood construction transform cities from carbon source to carbon vault?

If it takes a hike, riders won't go for bike sharing
Even a relatively short walk to find the nearest bicycle is enough to deter many potential users of bike sharing systems, new Cornell research suggests.
That's weird. What would put me off is the children's size of the dockless bikes, the cost (compared to walking for free) and the big data strings attached. In a city where I don't have my own bike, I'm happy to walk for hours ...


humans

New study identifies Neanderthal ancestry in African populations and describes its origin
see also yesterday's news media link.



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From the news media:

Where would we be without EU environmental laws?
A study from the Netherlands provides some clues, the Guardian reports.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

science news 30.1.2020

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.


evolution

The 'firewalkers' of Karoo: Dinosaurs and other animals left tracks in a 'land of fire'

Blind as a bat? The genetic basis of echolocation in bats and whales


ecology

Microscopic partners could help plants survive stressful environments

Prescribed burns benefit bees

Drug lord's hippos make their mark on foreign ecosystem
Pablo Escobar's hippos making a mess in Colombia. Wild story.



At Pablo Escobar's former hacienda, tourists are warned about the dangerous presence of an expanding hippo population.
Credit: Courtesy of the Shurin Lab, UC San Diego


nanoworld

Biophysicists find 'extra' component in molecular motor
Researchers discovered an additional component in ATP synthase, a molecular machine that produces the energy-conserving compound. They obtained a first-ever high-resolution structure of the C ring from spinach chloroplasts. As the 3D computer model of it was taking shape, the biophysicists spotted additional circle-shaped elements inside the C ring. While the discovery is interesting in and of itself, researchers have yet to determine why the C ring hosts quinones and how they get there.


light and life

Guardian angel of the eye
The lens of the human eye comprises a highly concentrated protein solution, which lends the lens its great refractive power. Protective proteins prevent these proteins from clumping together throughout a lifetime. A team of scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has now uncovered the precise structure of the alpha-A-crystallin protein and, in the process, discovered an important additional function.


sustainability

New way of recycling plant-based plastics instead of letting them rot in landfill


valentine's science

Sex pheromone named for Jane Austen character alters brain in mouse courtship


humans

Ancient skulls tell new story about our first settlers
An analysis of four ancient skulls found in Mexico suggests that the first humans to settle in North America were more biologically diverse than scientists had previously believed. The skulls were from individuals who lived 9,000 to 13,000 years ago, in the late Pleistocene and early Holocene eras.


Cycling to work? You may live longer


dystopian futures

Siri, help me quit -- what does your smart device say when you ask for help with addiction?


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From the news media:

Flow of Neanderthal genes back into Africa has been detected for the first time
, reports The Guardian.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

science news 28.1.2020

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.



astrobiology

Tiny, ancient meteorites suggest early Earth's atmosphere was rich in carbon dioxide



These tiny meteorites, about half a millimeter across, fell into the ocean and were collected from the deep sea. Like the samples used in the new study, these more recent micrometeorites are made of iron.
Credit: Donald Brownlee/University of Washington


evolution

Finely tuned nervous systems allowed birds and mammals to adopt smoother strides
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, authored by a New York Institute of Technology anatomy professor, suggests that neuromuscular adaptations in mammals and birds may have allowed them to become more nimble than reptiles and amphibians.


ecology and behaviour

Prairie plants need fiery romance
In a new study, researchers found that prescribed, expert-controlled fires are critically important to successful reproduction in prairie plants. Fires cause prairie plants to flower at the same time, which increases mating opportunities and seed production.

19th-century bee cells in a Panamanian cathedral shed light on human impact on ecosystems

Wasps learn to recognize faces


nanoworld

Nanoparticle chomps away plaques that cause heart attacks


food and drink

Wine regions could shrink dramatically with climate change unless growers swap varieties


sustainability

Buildings can become a global CO2 sink if made out of wood instead of cement and steel


humans

Driven by Earth's orbit, climate changes in Africa may have aided human migration

New study debunks myth of Cahokia's Native American lost civilization


dystopian futures

The great e-scooter hack
New research out of UTSA finds e-scooters have risks beyond the perils of potential collisions. Computer science experts at UTSA have published the first review of the security and privacy risks posed by e-scooters and their related software services and applications.

APS tip sheet: Network dynamics of online polarization
Interaction dynamics reveals the mechanisms behind online polarization and social media echo chambers.

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From the news media:

An alternative theory of gravity could fix the dark energy problem, suggests this report in the Guardian. I shared this on twitter and got lots of replies I didn't understand, but I gather it's very much a hypothesis.

Monday, January 27, 2020

bugs are a feature

Open Archive Day


As I never get tired of bugs/feature puns, I'm hopping at this opportunity to bug you again about my bugs feature, featuring bugs. Which aren't quite as bad as their reputation. Now freely accessible to all in the open archives:

Beneficial bugs




This is an assassin bug of the family Reduviidae. The family includes the kissing bugs of the southern parts of North America, which spread Chagas disease. (Photo: Rachel Skinner.)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

o perfume da memória

So now YouTube has started helping me with the slightly neglected films_not_shown tag. It recommended to me the Brazilian movie "O Perfume da Memória" (2016) by Oswaldo Montenegro, which was so good I now seriously need to watch more random videos to confuse the algorithm.

I had never heard of Oswaldo Montenegro before (and Wiki tells me he is mainly a musician), but the impression from this film is that he managed to create stylish movies on a negligible budget by doing everything himself (with two actors and two musicians and probably a small technical staff), in a flat, and it turns out amazing. Oh, and then he makes the film available on YouTube on his official channel. Clearly committed to bypass capitalism.

So, the movie. My theory is that Montenegro saw Julio Medem's Room in Rome (2010) and decided to do a fully clothed response to it. Which is hilarious in that Room in Rome itself is a response to an Argentinian film, En la cama (2005), so this subject of one night in a room is playing ping-pong across the Atlantic. Next stop Stockholm?

Art is important in Medem's movie, but Montenegro adds a bit of poetry, and the two musicians playing his score on cello and flute (Madalena Salles y Janaina Salles - are they mother and daughter?). And a fairly serious plot twist. So not a remake, but I stand by my theory that Medem's film inspired Montenegro's.

Oh, and Montenegro also does the voiceover. He literally tells the story and you can hear his voice. I watched the version with Spanish subtitles (YouTube seemed to know that I don't want to be dragged out of romance language heaven by English ones), but a version with English subtitles is also available on his channel.





Saturday, January 25, 2020

capricious Quantz

After more than a year of bouncing back and forth between Bach father and son (CPE), I felt ready for a different composer, so tried some unaccompanied Quantz pieces for the first time. I found them in the collection "Die Soloflöte" edited by Mirjam Nastasi (CF Peters 1991). They were selected from a volume with 24 unaccompanied caprices by Quantz.



For this year's Festival, I prepared a short fantasia in e minor, and Alla Francese. (The other piece I had also worked on but didn't select for the festival was the capriccio in G.)


For the Alla francese, I really like this recording by Zoe Sorrell, where it appears first in a set of four Quantz pieces.

For the fantasia, there isn't much choice - this video by "tuning fork music" appears to be the only video on Youtube where you can see somebody play the piece (as opposed to audio tracks presumably ripped off some CD).

For a separate Festival class I have also prepared the Bach Badinerie (with the minuet, the movement that precedes it in the suite), about which I raved earlier. The amazing vocal version by Sheila Blanco arrived just in time to give me an extra push for this one.

----

Update 28.1.20:
The main thing I learned from performing the Quantz pieces on Sunday morning: don't schedule performances for 9:30am. Within the preparation time (building opened at 9am) I had a real struggle to get one of the trickier bits in the pieces to work. Clearly my flute isn't a morning person. Which amused me as it doesn't have any problem playing all night until 5 am.
Also, I created a YouTube playlist of the repertoire pieces I have attempted to play since 2016.

Update 15.2.20:
Only after completing my YouTube playlist did I discover that the editor of the work, Mirjam Nastasi, has recorded her own version of many of the pieces in the book. CDs are available from her website, and some of the tracks are on a playlist on Youtube. From her website, I also learned that she has just published volume 5 of "Die Soloflöte", covering 1960 to 2000. I'm still happily stuck in the baroque volume though.

Friday, January 24, 2020

science news 24.1.2020

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.



ecology

Turtle tracking reveals key feeding grounds

How moon jellyfish get about
With their translucent bells, moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) move around the oceans in a very efficient way. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now used a mathematical model to investigate how these cnidarians manage to use their neural networks to control their locomotion even when they are injured. The results may also contribute to the optimization of underwater robots.


The picture was taken in the joint aquarium of the Institutes of Genetics and Zoology of the University of Bonn.
Credit:(c) Photo: Volker Lannert/Uni Bonn


light and life

Brilliant iridescence can conceal as well as attract
A new study shows for the first time that the striking iridescent colours seen in some animals increase their chances of survival against predators by acting as a means of camouflage. Rather than reveal it seems these dynamically changing shades are used to conceal, according to the University of Bristol study published today in Current Biology.


biomaterials

The secret of strong underwater mussel adhesion revealed


biomedical

Exposure to diesel exhaust particles linked to pneumococcal disease susceptibility

Venom-producing snake organoids developed in the lab


sustainability

Plane travel destroys polar bear habitat
which isn't news, but researchers hope that this is a more relatable metric than tons of CO2.

Science magazine special issue: Chemistry for Tomorrow's Earth
I do need to look at that, so more a note to self than anything else.


humans

Engineering: 3D-printed vocal tract reproduces sound of ancient mummy
I've already seen that reported in several media outlets - I still prefer the ancient April's fool story I heard on radio way back in the 20th century. The report broadcast one April 1 suggested researchers had discovered the accidentally recorded singing of a potter in a decoration running around some kind of clay vase. Using grammophone technology they could play back the potter's song. I'm still waiting for this to happen.


maths

The easy route the easy way: New chip calculates the shortest distance in an instant
Combinatorial optimization problems are problems that arise in everyday situations, involving the puzzle of determining the shortest route that can be taken between multiple points. Researchers at the Tokyo University of Science have developed a new chip that uses special components to calculate the shortest distance between up to 22 cities in a very short time.
I seem to remember that back in the 90s we were promised that quantum computers would be able to do this in the future (ie now).


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From the news media:

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

science news 22.1.2020

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.



astrobiology


The salt of the comet
Under the leadership of astrophysicist Kathrin Altwegg, Bernese researchers have found an explanation for why very little nitrogen could previously be accounted for in the nebulous covering of comets: the building block for life predominantly occurs in the form of ammonium salts, the occurrence of which could not previously be measured. The salts may be a further indication that comet impacts may have made life on Earth possible in the first place.

Mars' water was mineral-rich and salty


earth

Arctic sea ice can't 'bounce back'
based on analysis of past climate shifts.


evolution

Walking sharks discovered in the tropics
see also my feature about evolution gaining and losing legs, out this week.



ecology

Caterpillar loss in tropical forest linked to extreme rain, temperature events
slightly more complex story than the headline suggests:
Using a 22-year dataset of plant-caterpillar-parasitoid interactions collected within a patch of protected Costa Rican lowland Caribbean forest, scientists report declines in caterpillar and parasitoid diversity and density that are paralleled by losses in an important ecosystem service: biocontrol of herbivores by parasitoids.


Vomiting bumblebees show that sweeter is not necessarily better

Mosquitoes are drawn to flowers as much as people -- and now scientists know why


conservation

Platypus on brink of extinction



UNSW Sydney's Centre for Ecosystem Science leads new research into the extinction risk of the platypus.
Credit: Tahnael Hawke



nanoworld

Let the europium shine brighter
A stacked nanocarbon antenna makes a rare earth element shine 5 times more brightly than previous designs, with applications in molecular light-emitting devices.


light and life

Blue light triggers memory and emphatic fear in mice via a non-invasive approach

Fat cells can sense sunlight -- not getting enough increases metabolic syndrome risk


health

University of Barcelona study links weekend eating jet lag to obesity


sustainability

Plants absorb lead from perovskite solar cells more than expected

Feeding the world without wrecking the planet is possible


humans

'Love hormone' improves attachment issues in people with autism



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From the news media:

I have a news story about huge aromatics out in Chemistry World today.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

science news 21.1.2020

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.


NB not much science news today, for some reason, but I'm loving the fish rubbing, so I'm still posting it today rather than keeping it for tomorrow.


climate change

Want to know what climate change will do in your back yard? There's a dataset for that


art and science

On the edge between science and art: Historical biodiversity data from Japanese 'gyotaku'

Japanese cultural art of 'gyotaku,' which means 'fish impression' or 'fish rubbing,' captures accurate images of fish specimens. It has been used by recreational fishermen and artists since the Edo Period. Distributional data from 261 'Gyotaku' rubbings were extracted for 218 individual specimens, roughly representing regional fish fauna and common fishing targets in Japan through the years. The results of the research are presented in a paper published by Japanese scientists in open-access journal Zookeys.



Gyotaku rubbing from Chiba Prefecture.
Credit: Yusuke Miyazaki


health

Health of poor Brits worse than that of those born a century ago



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From the news media:


A compound from cannabis fights MRSA superbugs
, reports The Guardian.





Monday, January 20, 2020

how the snake lost its legs

Evolution moves in many and mysterious ways, but it struck me recently that I was seeing quite a few papers on animals losing legs, from snakes to whales. So I rounded these up in a feature about gaining and losing legs, which is out now:


Step changes in evolution


Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 2, 20 January 2020, Pages R51-R53

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)




In the Devonian period (419–359 million years ago), the first land-living vertebrates evolved from fish ancestors. (Photo: Dmitry Bogdanov/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).)

Friday, January 17, 2020

science news 17.1.2020

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.



evolution

Scientists uncover how an explosion of new genes explain the origin of land plants

Fossil is the oldest-known scorpion

A sea monster's genome
The giant squid is an elusive giant, but its secrets are about to be revealed. A new study led by the University of Copenhagen has sequenced the creature's entire genome, offering an opportunity to throw some light on its life in the depths of the sea.



These are giant squid sucker rings.
Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London


ecology
Cyanobacteria in water and on land identified as source of methane


conservation

Mobile protected areas needed to protect biodiversity in the high seas


nanoworld

Pretty with a twist
Nanoscience can arrange minute molecular entities into nanometric patterns in an orderly manner using self-assembly protocols. Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have functionalized a simple rod-like building block with hydroxamic acids at both ends. They form molecular networks that not only display the complexity and beauty of mono-component self-assembly on surfaces; they also exhibit exceptional properties.


humans

Math that feels good
Mathematics and science Braille textbooks are expensive and require an enormous effort to produce -- until now. A team of researchers has developed a method for easily creating textbooks in Braille, with an initial focus on math textbooks. The new process is made possible by a new authoring system which serves as a 'universal translator' for textbook formats. Based on this new method, the production of Braille textbooks will become easy, inexpensive, and widespread.


dystopian futures

'PigeonBot's' feather-level insights push flying bots closer to mimicking birds


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From the news media:

CNN about xenobots
, ie microrobots made from xenopus laevis stem cells. Sounds a bit worrying to me.


Thursday, January 16, 2020

science news 16.1.2020

... back to business:

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

Is there a second planet orbiting the nearest star to the sun?

Astronomers reveal interstellar thread of one of life's building blocksPhosphorus is an essential element for life as we know it. But how it arrived on the early Earth is something of a mystery. Astronomers have now traced the journey of phosphorus from star-forming regions to comets using the combined powers of ALMA and the European Space Agency's probe Rosetta. Their research shows where molecules containing phosphorus form, how this element is carried in comets, and how a particular molecule may have played a crucial role in starting life on Earth.


evolution

New dinosaur discovered in China shows dinosaurs grew up differently from birds
A new species of feathered dinosaur has been discovered in China, and described by American and Chinese authors in The Anatomical Record. The one-of-a-kind specimen preserves feathers and bones that provide new information about how dinosaurs grew and how they differed from birds.


ecology

'The blob,' food supply squeeze to blame for largest seabird die-off

Glimpses of fatherhood found in non-pair-bonding chimps
Although they have no way of identifying their biological fathers, male chimpanzees form intimate bonds with them, a finding that questions the idea of fatherhood in some of humanity's closest relatives, according to a study of wild chimpanzees in Uganda.

Male songbirds can't survive on good looks alone, says a new study


sustainability

Bacteria and sand engineered into living concrete


environment

Air pollution from oil and gas production sites visible from space

NASA, NOAA analyses reveal 2019 second warmest year on record


humans

Neandertals went underwater for their tools



General morphology of retouched shell tools, Figs C-L are from the Pigorini Museum.
Credit: Villa et al., 2020


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From the news media:

Monday, January 13, 2020

the real Americans

Open Archive Day


It is always interesting to hear US residents of recent European heritage calling themselves Americans and railing against immigrants. If anybody has the right to do both of these things, it's the descendants of the first arrivals, who came in from the Bering strait and spread out across to the entire length of the two continents less than 20,000 years ago.

Details of this enormous migration movement were very sketchy until recently, but ancient DNA sequencing work has now added some interesting detail to the picture, identifying unsuspected population movements and connecting genome characteristics to archaeological finds. Intriguingly, the family tree of the Native American languages has remained elusive so far.

My feature about all of this, published in the last issue of 2018, is now in the open archives:


Ancient genomes of the Americas




Ancient American populations settled in the Andean highlands more than 8,000 years ago, including the surroundings of Lake Titicaca, shown here. (Image: Bobistraveling/Flickr.)




Monday, January 06, 2020

the future is now

So the year that was the focus of so many prophetic visions for a bright future is actually here now and in the cold hard light of reality it looks a lot bleaker than expected. I've taken this underwhelming occasion as an excuse to write about predictions for the next stages of our future, and about the future after humans stop messing up the planet.

My feature is out now in the first issue of Current Biology:

Life after the Anthropocene

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 1, 6 January 2020, Pages R1-R3

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)



Life on Earth is likely to persist and reclaim its space after human civilisations disappear. (Photo: Gayle Karen/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).)
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