When I was young, Pluto was still a planet and nine was my lucky number, so I really liked that we had nine planets in our solar system – it made it easy for me to remember. My love of astronomy out-lasted Pluto’s status as a planet, and as I write this I am actually wearing a solar system necklace; each planet is represented, yet it only has eight planets on it.
Imagine an alien. If you’ve been influenced by movies and television at all, the creature you’re picturing is probably two-legged, two-armed, bipedal and with a reminiscently human layout – head, eyes and mouth somewhere near the top. And while most of us recognise that this vision of extra-terrestrial life is a bit silly, conversations about life elsewhere in the universe are often still painfully unimaginative.
Genetically modified organisms, especially plants, get a lot of hate. People – even some very environmentally conscious people – seem to fear or hate GM crops. Yet, as someone who is very worried about climate change, very worried about the human-induced mass extinction event that is happening before our eyes, and worried about the livelihoods of farmers and about those people that have so little food they go to bed hungry every night…
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.
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.
A fatty diet could change your genetic make-up, priming the immune system and causing clogged arteries.
Epigenetic changes – which often involve adding methyl to particular DNA sequences in a process known as DNA Methylation – can alter gene expression in response to environmental stimuli. The field of epigenetics has excited biologists because it allows animals to adapt their genetics to fit the environment, while also passing some of that experience on to the next generation.