As we all know, natural automatically means good. Nothing in nature has ever hurt anyone, ever.
In the first part of my series deconstructing the term ‘natural’, I talk genetically modified organisms and domestication, and ask what is really natural, anyway?
Virtually all mammals wisely choose to avoid eating chilli pepeprs and other foods that taste ‘hot’. New research shows that Chinese tree shrews have evolved to eat large quantities of chillies in their diet by tuning down their taste buds to the chemical that makes these foods hot.
I’d like to talk about a very important issue, very close to my heart, and one that I think needs greater public awareness – the definition of the word ‘bug’. See, people think they can just throw the word bug around willy-nilly. Anything small, flying or irritating, is a bug. Any pest, is a bug. […]
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
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.
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.
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.
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!