Monday, June 29, 2020

stop the killing

Open Archive Day

We are already causing a mass extinction by taking up more space than any other species, but some people aren't content with that and feel the primeval urge to go out and kill some animals to speed the extinctiona along. I have had a couple of features on how humans are messing up biodiversity by killing the wrong kinds of animals (eg top predators like sharks and tunas) and how the industrialisation of the oceans is threatening the megafauna that survives there.

Last year's hunting feature was mainly an appeal to stop the killing, and to that purpose I rounded up examples of species threatened by hunting on land, in water and in the air. The feature is now in the open archives:

Hunting wildlife to extinction

Hunting of large animals continues to diminish the natural biodiversity with knock-on effects going far beyond the species targeted. (Photo: Save-Elephants/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).)

Saturday, June 27, 2020

according to Bach

In the fourth month of the Plague Year Bach Project I managed to memorise the Sarabande from the first suite. At 16 bars total length, this movement is reasonably gentle on the poor old brain cells, but I had to get my head around the chords, which are plentiful and essential. Turns out they are all fairly normal, inoffensive chords, such as G major, C major, A minor, D major. Nothing I can't handle. I'm not entirely sure I understand the concept of a sarabande though - to me it feels like a glacier sliding down a mountain slope, so I don't quite feel the beat or imagine people dancing to it.

So onwards to the Courante (1.3), which has a scary number of notes at a scary speed, but also a bit more of a catchy tune. Wish me luck.

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 (at the end of July, once I've learned the notes).

For a more engaging 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.

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

Loving the quarantine coiffure - picture taken in June.

Revision list (newest addition first)

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

science news 23.6.2020

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.


Life in the galaxy: maybe this is as good as it gets?
Researchers have found that rocky exoplanets which formed early in the life of the galaxy seem to have had a greater chance of developing a magnetic field and plate tectonics than planets which formed later. As both these conditions are considered favourable to the development of life, this means that if life exists in the Galaxy, it may have developed earlier than later, and that planets formed more recently may have less chance of developing life.

Evidence supports 'hot start' scenario and early ocean formation on Pluto


Undergraduate student discovers 18 new species of aquatic beetle in South America


Helping to protect the most illegally trafficked mammals in the world
i.e. pangolins:

This is a pangolin.
Credit: Tim Wacher, ZSL

food and drink

Not so robust: robusta coffee more sensitive to warming than previously thought


Study: Planting new forests is part of but not the whole solution to climate change

When planting trees threatens the forest

New study reveals use of antibiotics on crops is more widespread than previously thought

Human-derived mercury shown to pollute the world's deepest ocean trenches

Research in land plants shows nanoplastics accumulating in tissues


Climate change and the rise of the Roman Empire and the fall of the Ptolemies
The assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March in 44 B.C.E. triggered a 17-year power struggle that ultimately ended the Roman Republic leading to the rise of the Roman Empire. To the south, Egypt, which Cleopatra was attempting to restore as a major power in the Eastern Mediterranean, was shook by Nile flood failures, famine, and disease. A new study reveals the role climate change played in these ancient events.

A man who can't see numbers provides new insight into awareness


From the news media:

Smelly durian fruit forces evacuation of Bavarian post office, reports the Guardian

Monday, June 22, 2020

forests feel the heat

Around the world, people are planting trees and fighting to stop deforestation in the hope that the carbon capturing magic of forests might save us from the worst of the climate disaster we're causing. But what if the forests themselves can't stand the heat? In my latest forest-y feature I looked at a new paper that found some resilience but also a new tipping point for tropical forests, and also at forests that are already dying from causes related to climate change, eg in Germany.

The feature is out now:

Forests in a warming world

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 12, 22 June 2020, Pages R677-R679
FREE access to full text and PDF download

Dying forests in the Harz mountains, Germany, in 2019. (Photo: Hugh Llewelyn/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).)

Friday, June 19, 2020

science news 19.6.2020

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.


Are planets with oceans common in the galaxy? It's likely, NASA scientists find


New Argentine fossils uncover history of celebrated conifer group
Newly unearthed, surprisingly well-preserved conifer fossils from Patagonia, Argentina, show that an endangered and celebrated group of tropical West Pacific trees has roots in the ancient supercontinent that once comprised Australia, Antarctica and South America, according to an international team of researchers.


African lion counts miss the mark, but new method shows promise
The current technique used for counting lion populations for research and conservation efforts doesn't add up, according to a University of Queensland researcher. But UQ PhD candidate Mr Alexander Braczkowski has been investigating new methods of photographing and data analytics to count lions that could be more widely used. "African lions receive immense publicity and conservation attention," Mr Braczkowski said."Yet their populations are thought to have experienced a 50 per cent decline since 1994 - coincidentally the same year Disney's The Lion King was released."

A young male lion rests in the branches of a large euphorbia tree. These trees are cactus-like but contain a poisonous milky latex. It does not seem to bother the lions.
Credit: Alex Braczkowski


New research shows tiny, decoy 'sponges' attract coronavirus away from lung cells


The origins of measles: Virus diverged from cattle-infecting relative earlier than thought in history
The measles virus diverged from a closely related cattle-infecting virus in approximately the sixth century BCE - around 1,400 years earlier than current estimates - according to a new study of dozens of measles genomes.
Ooops. I always thought it was older than that, from early agriculture.

food and drink

Uncovering the genetic basis of hermaphroditism in grapes, the trait that allowed domestication
Plant experts at UC Davis have defined the genetic basis of sex determination in grapevines, one of the oldest and most valuable crops worldwide. In new research Dario Cantu and Mélanie Massonnet propose a novel model of sex evolution before and during grapevine domestication nearly 8,000 years ago. Their work could have broad application in breeding grapes and other plant species.


Neandertal genes in the petri dish
Protocols that allow the transformation of human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) lines into organoids have changed the way scientists can study developmental processes and enable them to decipher the interplay between genes and tissue formation, particularly for organs where primary tissue is not available. Now, investigators are taking this technology and applying it to study the developmental effects of Neandertal DNA.

Scientists decode how the brain senses smell


From the news media:

Thursday, June 18, 2020

science news 18.6.2020

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.


First egg from Antarctica is big and might belong to an extinct sea lizard
An analysis led by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin has found that a mysterious fossil discovered in 2011 is a giant, soft-shell egg from about 66 million years ago. Measuring in at more than 11 by 7 inches, the egg is the largest soft-shell egg ever discovered and the second-largest egg of any known animal.

Fish evolution in action: Land fish forced to adapt after leap out of water
See also my feature from January on the evolutionary switches of locomotion mechanism including transition of fish to land:


A changing mating signal may initiate speciation in populations of Drosophila mojavensis
When choosing a mate, females of different subspecies of Drosophila mojavensis recognize the right mating partners either mainly by their song or by their smell. New species apparently evolve when the chemical mating signal is altered and when, in turn, the signal is reinterpreted by the opposite sex in the context of other signals, such as the courtship song.

Red squirrels making comeback in Ireland as return of pine marten spells bad news for invasive grey squirrel

The number of red squirrels is on the increase in Ireland thanks to the return of the pine marten, a native carnivore, a new survey led by NUI Galway has found.
Credit: Poshey Aherne


Arctic Ocean acidification worse than previously expected

food and drink

Latest findings on bitter substances in coffee


A Neandertal from Chagyrskaya Cave
the 3rd high-quality Neanderthal genome

Envy divides society
Can class differences come about endogenously, i.e. independent of birth and education? Professor Claudius Gros from the Institute for Theoretical Physics at Goethe University pursued this issue in a game theoretical study. He was able to show that the basic human need to compare oneself with others may be the root cause of the formation of social classes.


From the news media:

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

science news 17.6.2020

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.


As many as six billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, according to new estimates


Australian fossil reveals new plant species
Fresh examination of an Australian fossil -- believed to be among the earliest plants on Earth -- has revealed evidence of a new plant species that existed in Australia more than 359 Million years ago.


Overlooked: The role of bacterial viruses in plant health
not quite overlooked, see my phages feature from 2011, featuring work of Britt Koskella and others.

Wildfires cause bird songs to change

Cattle vs. hippopotamus: Dung in rivers of the Savannah
In many regions of the world, populations of large mammalian herbivores have been displaced by cattle breeding, for example in Kenya the hippos by large herds of cattle. This can change aquatic ecosystems due to significant differences in the amount and type of dung input. Researchers from the University of Eldoret in Kenya, the University of Innsbruck and the Leibniz-IGB have therefore taken a closer look at the dung of hippopotamus and cattle.

Hippos in the Mara River in Kenya.
Credit: Gabriel Singer


Mangroves at risk of collapse if emissions not reduced by 2050, international scientists predict


Support drives fate of protected gold nanoclusters as catalysts

Scientists discover a long-sought-after nitrogen allotrope in black phosphorus structure

The smallest motor in the world
A research team from Empa and EPFL has developed a molecular motor which consists of only 16 atoms and rotates reliably in one direction. It could allow energy harvesting at the atomic level. The special feature of the motor is that it moves exactly at the boundary between classical motion and quantum tunneling -- and has revealed puzzling phenomena to researchers in the quantum realm.

A new family of nanocars ready for the next nano Grand Prix


Flushing toilets create clouds of virus-containing particles
Solution: close the lid (problem: there may not be a lid)


Seafood helped prehistoric people migrate out of Africa, study reveals

What do 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Macbeth,' and a list of Facebook friends all have in common?
A new study shows how vastly complex communication networks can efficiently convey large amounts of information to the human brain. Researcher found that works of literature, musical pieces, and social networks have a similar underlying structure that allows them to share information rapidly and effectively.


From the news media:

Monday, June 15, 2020

roots of religion

Open Archive Day

Last June's special issue of Current Biology was about cooperation and conflict - always a lot of that going on on this planet! - and my contribution was about the origins of religion, seeing that it has been the cause of both cooperation and conflict. Although right now, with so many other things to worry about, we hardly remember religious conflicts.

Anyways, my feature, along with the rest of this very interesting special issue is now in the open archives, which means free access for everybody, forever. Enjoy!

Uncovering the roots of religion

The Pancaraksa (five protections) is a Buddhist text written in Sanskrit. This copy in Ranjana script dates from 1653 CE. (Image: Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0).)

PS I was hoping to highlight a feature relevant to the recent historic events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, but both features that spring to mind have already had their spotlight in this series:

Why do people riot
? (2011)

Can we change our biased minds? (2017)

Will write a new one as soon as I can think of a new angle ...

Friday, June 12, 2020

science news 12.6.2020

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.


Looking up to the stars can reveal what's deep below
Using a new technique originally designed to explore the cosmos, scientists have unveiled structures deep inside the Earth, paving the way towards a new map revealing what Earth's interior looks like.

Utah's arches continue to whisper their secrets
Two new studies from University of Utah researchers show what can be learned from a short seismic checkup of natural rock arches and how erosion sculpts some arches -- like the iconic Delicate Arch -- into shapes that lend added strength.


New insight into the Great Dying
A new study shows for the first time that the collapse of terrestrial ecosystems during Earth's most deadly mass extinction event was directly responsible for disrupting ocean chemistry. The study highlights the importance of understanding the inter-connectedness of ecosystems as our modern environment struggles with the devastating effects of a rapidly warming planet.

New discovery of giant bipedal crocodile footprints in the cretaceous of Korea

3D image of Batrachopus grandis, the new name for the footprint of a large bipedal Cretaceous crocodilian
Credit: Martin Lockley

Sex-specific canary colors driven by simple molecular mechanisms


Tiny pump builds polyrotaxanes with precision
Northwestern University researchers have developed the most precise way to build polyrotaxanes by using two artificial molecular pumps to install rings onto each end of a polymer string.


Denisovan DNA influences immune system of modern day Oceanian populations

Female researchers majorly under-represented in COVID-19 research


From the news media:

We can no longer ignore the potential of psychedelic drugs to treat depression

said Robin Carhart-Harris in the Guardian on Monday. (David Nutt and colleagues have been saying such things for many years, see my feature from 2013, it's just that politicians carry on with the pointless war on drugs and don't listen ... )

Thursday, June 11, 2020

science news 11.6.2020

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.


Physics principle explains order and disorder of swarms
This looks like an exciting new development from the centre studying collective behaviour at Konstanz. See also my feature on their research from last October.

Bees? Please. These plants are putting ants to work
Authors claim it's the first example of plants adapting to enable pollination by ants. Is it? I had covered some plant-ant mutualism in my feature on insect success stories last year.


Roadkill study identifies animals most at risk in Europe


Ancient enzymes can contribute to greener chemistry
A research team at Uppsala University has resurrected several billion-year-old enzymes and reprogrammed them to catalyse completely different chemical reactions than their modern versions can manage. The method can be used to develop sustainable solutions within biotechnology, such as for enzyme bioreactors or to chemically degrade environmental toxins.


Study underlines importance of adequate PPE and training to prevent covid-19 infection

New recommendations on genetic testing for prostate cancer


Discovery of the oldest Chinese work of art
Carved from burnt bone, a miniature bird statuette is the oldest known Chinese work of art, according to an international team involving the CNRS. It was unearthed at Lingjing, a site in Henan Province, in an archaeological context dated to between 13,800 and 13,000 years ago. This discovery pushes back the origins of animal sculpture and representations in East Asia by more than 8,500 years.

Photo (top) and 3D reconstruction using microtomography (bottom) of the miniature bird sculpture. Its production combined four different techniques (abrasion, gouging, scraping and incision), which left 68 microfacets on the surface of the object.
Credit: © Francesco d'Errico and Luc Doyon

Mozart may reduce seizure frequency in people with epilepsy

Scientists predict the best strategy for lifting COVID-19 lockdown

Will lockdown loneliness make us loners?
Over the past months at least half of the world's population has been affected by some form of lockdown due to COVID-19. Many are experiencing the impact of social isolation. Loneliness affects both mental and physical health, but counterintuitively it can also result in a decreased desire for social interaction. To understand the mechanics of this paradox, UCL researchers based at the Wolfson Institute and the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre investigated social behaviour in zebrafish.


From the news media:

How to avoid a second wave - words of wisdom from Devi Sridhar

Barn owls back in the UK - my children had a book about a baby barn owl that was afraid to fly. I guess that's all I know about these birds, but maybe I should read up.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

oxford's black history

Today there is a STEM / academia strike going on in support of Black Lives Matter, and even Nature is supporting it. So I'm not doing any science news today. Instead I'll use this entry to collect some local (and possibly wider academic) issues relating to the matter. Let's see what I can find.


Rhodes Must Fall - the statue at Oriel College has been the focus of attention after the toppling of Colston at Bristol, but there is Rhodes House, the Rhodes scholarships and all that. (Although personally, I am more offended by the building hidden behind Rhodes House, the Vere Harmsworth Library of the Rothermere American Institute. Both were named after an actual fascist and his lovely family clan, and not in a distant past, but in this century.) Here is a comment from an Oriel alumnus.

The Codrington Library at All Souls. Endowed by Christopher Codrington (1668–1710) with the spoils of slave work on sugar plantations in the West Indies. Then again, it's a library accessible to all members of the university, so we don't really want to burn it down. Maybe a shift of collection emphasis could do the trick?

A 2015 campaign to decolonise Oxford's curriculum. Which is where I found out about Codrington. Bit disappointing though, surely there must be many more skeletons in Oxford's closets?


The Black Boy in Headington - I discovered this pub and hotel when I was looking for a new pub to hold Galician sessions near the London coach stops, so I specifically looked around Headington. While the Black Boy looks nice from the outside and has a great location, the name put me off so much that I didn't even look inside. This local history page tells me that the niche above the entrance had a sculpture of a black servant until it was destroyed in 1990. Then there was painting of a chimney-sweep to replace it, now the niche is empty and there is an image of a black horse above, in an attempt to pretend the name doesn't mean what everybody understands it to mean. The name is old (documented in 1805) but not the first name this pub had, and the current building only dates from 1937, so history isn't much of an argument for keeping the name.

Update: Oxford Mail reports the owners of the pub will not change the name.

further afield

I hear the De la Beche Society at Imperial College is going to get a new name, considering that the patron, geologist Henry de la Beche (1796-1855) owned slaves in Jamaica. However, I am also told that he "inherited slaves and wealth from plantations yes, but abolished corporal punishment, gave them better working conditions, was criticised by other slave owners, and was not opposed to abolition." I gave a talk at the De la Beche society many years ago (on Life on the Edge), and have to admit that I only remember the name because I was amused by the literal meaning "of the shovel" which was very fitting for a famous geologist.

And Tower Hamlets council have removed the statue of slave trader Robert Milligan that previously stood at West India Quay yesterday, sending Tory imperialists into convulsions ...

Photo: Caitlin Hobbs - via Wikipedia

The empty pedestal of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol, the day after protesters felled the statue and rolled it into the harbour. The ground is covered with Black Lives Matter placards.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

science news 9.6.2020

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 research shows how complex chemistry may be relevant to origins of life on Earth
Scientists would like to understand how life began on Earth. One popular model suggests life began when simple RNA molecules capable of copying themselves formed spontaneously in primitive environment. How this happened remains a vexing problem. New research by scientists from Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) at Tokyo Institute of Technology and the University of New South Wales suggests that simple organic compounds exposed to high energy radiation may be predisposed to form molecules like RNA.


Why the Victoria Plate in Africa rotates
The East African Rift System is a newly forming plate tectonic boundary at which the African continent is being separated into several plates. According to GPS data, one of those, the Victoria microplate, is moving in a counterclockwise rotation relative to Africa in contrast to the other plates involved. Now, researchers have found evidence that suggests that the configuration of weaker and stronger lithospheric regions controls the rotation of continental microplates and Victoria in particular.

Clouds reflecting in lake Magadi, Kenya, located in the Eastern Branch of the East African Rift System. The high rising flanks of the Rift's border faults can be seen in the background.
Credit: Corinna Kalich, University of Potsdam


International Consortium of Scientists Propose New Naming System for Uncultivated Bacteria and Archaea


Milkweed, only food source for monarch caterpillars, ubiquitously contaminated


Temperate insects as vulnerable to climate change as tropical species

Protection of seagrasses is key to building resilience to climate change and disasters


New study: Chemists at the University of Halle are able to induce uniform chirality
Chirality is a fundamental property of many organic molecules and means that chemical compounds can appear in not only one form, but in two mirror-image forms as well. Chemists at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg have now found a way to spontaneously induce chirality in crystalline, liquid-crystalline and liquid substances, without requiring any external influence. The findings could be significant for the development of new active substances and for materials science.


Entire Roman city revealed without any digging


From the news media:

Monday, June 08, 2020

living on leaves

It is now widely known and appreciated that the bacteria in our guts are making an important contribution to our metabolism and wellbeing. Similarly, we are aware that the space around plant roots, the rhizosphere, is hosting a whole network of organisms interacting with the plant and with each other.

What is relatively new, however, and was completely new to me, is that plants also have a microbiome above ground, and that this may be as crucial to their health as the one below ground. This isn't quite as comprehensively understood yet, but a few studies have emerged recently, which I have had a look at for my latest feature, which is out now:

Life on plants

Current Biology Volume 30, Issue 11, 8 June 2020, Pages R617-R619

FREE access to full text and PDF download

Experiments with tomato plants grown under controlled conditions have shown that they favour a core leaf microbiome among the wider diversity of environmental microbes. (Photo: _Alicja_/Pixabay.)

Saturday, June 06, 2020

the first 40,000

So the official deaths from Covid-19 in the UK passed 40,000 with those announced yesterday (the real death toll is more likely to be above 60,000, but let's stick with the official figures for now). As the mishandling of the crisis continues at full speed, I fear there will be many more to come.

According to yesterday's govt. briefing, there are now only 5,600 new infections per day - I don't believe a word of this. I follow the daily deaths announced and calculate the rolling 7-day average, which I think is the only halfway reliable figure. (Previous results and predictions here.) Unfortunately, this figure has remained roughly constant for the last ten days, probably as the result of the May 11 switch from "stay home" to "stay alert" messaging. It was 236 yesterday and 244 on May 26. (Update: Today, Saturday the figure stands at 235, the 13th day without significant decrease.) On June 2 and 3 it even appeared to be rising (by 10% and 5%, respectively) compared to the value a week earlier.

So when the govt. ministers and "scientists" are saying "it's not going down as fast as we would wish" this is misleading. In truth, it's not going down at all. And on the assumption that we are stuck on well above 200 daily deaths, that means that there must have been more than 20,000 new infections per day in recent weeks. Telling the public that we have 5,600 new infections per day without adding that this is only the tip of the iceberg and that we don't see the real figure due to insufficient testing, this is not only misleading but it gives people a false sense of security and thus contributes to producing a new wave of infections as people relax their protective measures and behaviours.

Oh and the fact that the health secretary, in the daily briefing of June 1, attempted to sweep 445 deaths under the rug and hoped that nobody would notice, that hasn't really helped to build trust. In case you missed it: the June 1 announcement had 39045 deaths including 111 new deaths. But the figure from the day before was 38489, so the difference was really 556. I tweeted about this while the briefing was still ongoing, but the govt. only "clarified" afterwards that the missing 445 deaths were "historic" ones that they had not included in the daily toll. As I haven't seen details of when these deaths happened, I'm not including them in my calculations. So I am now having to substract the 445 from the total each day for a week to get my rolling average right.

I have a nagging suspicion that the people in charge (i.e. DC, presumably) actually want the second wave to happen now. I reckon their calculation is that we got through peak one within three months, with 40k deaths, and without a total collapse of the health system. Give it four or five more rounds like this, they're thinking, and we have the infection numbers required for possible herd immunity. Fatal flaws in the argument are, of course,
1) we don't have confirmation that people are really immune after they have had the virus
2) running wild in such a huge host population, the virus could evolve into something else that may be more difficult to manage and that may not be covered by immunity produced by the initial version;
3) as I've calculated on March 13, when Vallance brought up herd immunity, this strategy would produce 400,000 avoidable deaths from Covid-19 plus additional ones from the impact it has on the health system.

But after the political fallout of the last 7 days it's clear that the govt doesn't care how many more people die. The important thing for them is to get back to their ideology-driven programme, including Brexit, privatisations etc.

In a way, it is understandable that they were caught out by the pandemic. The idea that a government might care for the wellbeing of the people was never ever on their radar, never mind their agenda.


Some recent pieces from the media

How can any scientists stand by this government now? Richard Horton wondered in the Guardian, after the scandal around Cummings' breach of quarantine. I've been wondering that for a while, which is why I now avoid to refer to the govt muppets as scientists, and have put scientists in quote marks above.

Also, read anything by Devi Sridhar that you can get hold of (not only in the Guardian, there have been pieces in other papers as well).

Friday, June 05, 2020

science news 5.6.2020

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 cracks beneath giant, methane gushing craters
250-million-year-old cracks in the seafloor feed greenhouse gas methane into giant craters in the Barents Sea. More than 100 craters, presently expelling enormous amounts of the greenhouse gas into the ocean, are found in the area.


Alien frog invasion wreaks havoc on natural habitat
Indiscriminate feeding by an alien population of the carnivorous spotted-thighed frog -- could severely affect the native biodiversity of southern Australia according to a new study by the University of South Australia.


Revealed from ancient sediment: Mangrove tolerance to rising sea levels
The growth and decline of mangrove forests during the final stages of Holocene deglaciation offers a glimpse into how the ecosystems will respond to the rapidly rising seas projected for the future, according to a new study.
For a more drastic conclusion from the same paper, consult this PR:

Mangrove trees won't survive sea-level rise by 2050 if emissions aren't cut

Mangroves in Tampa, Florida.
Credit: Kerrylee Rogers/University of Wollongong


Showtime for photosynthesis
Using a unique combination of nanoscale imaging and chemical analysis, an international team of researchers has revealed a key step in the molecular mechanism behind the water splitting reaction of photosynthesis, a finding that could help inform the design of renewable energy technology.

UCF's butterfly-inspired nanotech makes natural-looking pictures on digital screens


Use loss of taste and smell as key screening tool for COVID-19, researchers urge


Analysis of ancient genomes suggests Caribbean settled by three colonization events

Study shows some infants can identify differences in musical tones at six months

dystopian futures

'Artificial chemist' combines AI, robotics to conduct autonomous R&D
As a chemist, I don't like the sound of that (even though I don't do any R&D any more).


From the news media:

Vitamin K protects you from Covid-19, apparently. Oh, and it's contained in blueberries, so I'm good.

Monday, June 01, 2020

bird watching

Open Archive Day

Birds are all over the place at this time of the year, even in the latest feature to emerge from behind the great paywall, so if you want to read up about the evolution of the weirdness and wonderfulness of our feathered dinosaur friends, you can do so for free:

How birds evolved to be different

As the birds surviving the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous were small animals with fragile skeletons, very few fossils of this important phase in their evolution are known. This is an unidentified bird species from the Fossil Butte Member in southwestern Wyoming, USA. (Photo: Mira Mechtley (CC BY-SA 2.0).)