CRISPR MutAnts Lose Interest in Socialising

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 process.
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July Editorial

Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the Curious Meerkat newsletter.

I know there have been a few hiccups with the first few RSS newsletters – thanks for sticking around and bearing with me while I get it right! The problem was that a free account on the great site automatically deletes RSS feeds that aren’t accessed once a week. So I think I’ve fixed the problem now, but if not you can catch-up on my writings elsewhere on the web by visiting Contently.

There’s been some lively debate in the comments sections of some of my older blog posts this month – thanks to those who’ve taken the time to comment, I value your thoughts, so please keep commenting!

I’d love to know what you think about the newsletter, or any of my articles – feel free to drop me an email at: That’s also a great place to send your science questions – simple, complex, silly, a little bit out there – I want to here them all.

Thanks for reading

Plankton Brought Back from the Dead

Scientists bring marine plankton back to life to study past climate change

Phytoplankton such as are responsible for half the global primary production (GPP), and some form resting cysts that can lie dormant in marine sediments for up to a century. Earlier this year, scientists succeeded in making use of these cellular time-capsules to understand changing ocean conditions in a Swedish fjord.

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Dinoflagellates are single-celled marine organisms, many of which are able to photosynthesis. They can be useful indicators of environmental change because they are abundant, have short life cycles and are highly sensitive to temperature, salinity and the availability of nutrients and / or sunlight.

June Editorial

Hello, and welcome to the third editions of my newly updated, RSS-driven newsletter. I hope you’re enjoying the new system.

This month we’re back up in full swing, so I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

I’d love to know what you think of the new newsletter – feel free to drop me an email at:

The five colours we don’t learn

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.

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My #230 Papers Challenge

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: 30.05.17

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Sedentary hunter-gatherers domesticated mice

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.

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May Editorial

This is the second month of my brand new, RSS-driven newsletter. What do you think so far? It’s certainly more reliable than my old system… ;)

Last month I turned 30, and to mark the milestone I’ve taken some time off. This means I haven’t been able to write as much for the blog as usual, but rest assured that normal service will return next month. In the mean time, here are the articles I’ve released this month, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed researching and writing them.

I’d love to know what you think of the new newsletter – feel free to drop me an email at:

April Editorial

I’m trying something a bit different with the newsletter for the rest of the year – an automated RSS-driven newsletter that means you get your news every month, and I can write a short editorial in wordpress rather than faffing about copying across all my posts for you into a bespoke newsletter each month, which, let’s be frank, I clearly don’t have time to do every month.

I’m also experimenting with including some of my content from elsewhere on the web – don’t worry this will always be clearly marked as such, so you know what content comes direct from Curious Meerkat and what was published first elsewhere.

I’d love to know what you think of these changes, feel free to drop me an email at: