I’d like to talk about a problem. It might seem like quite a small problem, but it’s a pervasive one. That problem, is salad. Yes, that’s right, I said salad. Not high on the list of major world perils, but perhaps it should be. I mean, for starters, it’s everwhere. Lurking in every supermarket-bought sandwich, […]
New gene editing technologies have revolutionised genetic science, but social insects like ants have proved difficult to genetically modify because of their complex lifecycle and social structure. Now, two separate labs have succeeded in using the CRISPR-CAS9 system to genetically modify two unusual ant species, switching off genes and disrupting their social behaviour in the […]
A team of scientists from Denmark and Sweden revived dinoflagellates from cysts in sediments cores taken from Koljö fjord in Sweden, spanning 9 decades. Using DNA microsatellite analysis they reconstructed their population genetics, and found two sub-populations that alternated in frequency, linked to cyclical changes in ocean conditions.
Question: Can bees only sting me once?
Answer: Honeybees are generally killed by stinging you, but most other stinging insects can survive to sting you again.
It’s a common urban myth that bees can only sting once, but it’s partially based in truth. Honeybees have a barbed stinger, and if they sting a thick-skinned mammal like a human, the barbed hook gets stuck as they try to pull away, ripping their insides out and killing the bee within a few minutes. But if they were to sting another insect, or a vertebrate with thinner skin, they’d probably live to tell the tale.
You might have heard of the #360papers challenge – to read one journal article a day for a whole year – you might be less familiar with the related #230 papers challenge. This makes the more realistic goal of reading one journal article each working day of the year, which is apparently 230 days in total (I haven’t checked their maths). This is a record of my feeble attempt to reach this lofty goal – I will update every ten articles or so and try to give a one sentence summary (or link to an article or a longer blog).
Last updated: 19.08.17
Colour exists on a continuum, and yet human language is surprisingly consistent in how it categorises colours.
Previous studies have found that infants at the age of four months old can distinguish the basic colour categories common to many languages (e.g. blue, red, yellow), suggesting there is a biological basis to our color categories. However, these studies have focussed on just a few color categories that are important in English.
Infant mongooses rely on adults to escort them as they learn to forage. A new study from the University of Exeter reports that adult mongooses show no preference for their own offspring when choosing a pup to escort, and the authors suggest they may not be able to tell their own kin apart.
House mice outcompeted their wild relatives to become domesticated as soon as long-term human settlements appeared, some 5000 years before agriculture took hold.
The advent of farming marks a huge change in human populations – a change in diet, social structure and a switch to a more sedentary lifestyle. Agriculture also had a profound impact on wild animals, and is thought to have led to the domestication of many species, from wolves to cattle and chickens. But other species became domesticated accidentally – as humans started storing grain for lengthy periods of time, the house mouse adapted to thrive in this new ecosystem. Now, a new study shows that it was our sedentary lifestyle, not agriculture, that domesticated one of our most prolific pests.
Study identifies seven new loci associated with high-altitude living.
Tibetan populations have evolved at least nine specific genetic variants to help them survive the extreme conditions of the Tibetan Plateau. Living permanently at over 4,000 m above sea level, these populations have been coping for millennia with 40% less oxygen and 30% stronger UV radiation, as well as exposure and limited food.
Mountains tend to have more species than valleys, and new research provides support for the theory that mountain formation itself might be responsible.
Yaowu Ying and Richard Ree from The Field Museum in Chicago compared regional rates of plant colonisation and speciation in the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, a high-altitude biodiversity hotspot. Within the QTP, the Hengduan mountain region is the most biodiverse, harbouring an astonishing 12,000 species in just 500,000 km2. The authors used published datasets to compare the spread of over 4,500 plant species across Hengduan, the Central Asian Mountains and the Himalayas.
The first skeletons evolved multiple times independently because of unusually chalky seas, later becoming essential for survival even when chalk became scarce.
Calcium-based skeletons appeared suddenly in the fossil record around 550 million years ago, fundamentally changing the global carbon cycle and introducing a wealth of new predatory strategies to the sea.
It has become something of an annual tradition that I produce an advent calendar each year with facts, interesting links and videos. Consider it a little festive treat for your brain :) Here is your 2016 advent calendar – check out the doors that are already open, and come back each day for a new treat!
The spread of non-native species across the globe is a major concern – species out of their natural range can cause millions of pounds of damage, spread diseases to humans and livestock and threaten native wildlife. They are a huge financial burden to control, but almost impossible to eradicate. New invasive species reach foreign lands by hitching a ride on our trade routes, so changes to global trade could have serious implications for our economies and our ecosystems.