- Published on Saturday, 13 April 2013 10:13
The giant squid isn't exactly easy to study. Live specimens are never seen at the surface and much of what we know of their behaviour comes from the sucker mark scars that they leave behind on sperm whales. Even so, a team collected genetic information from giant squid remains that have washed up all around the world and they made a rather shocking discovery, all giant squid on Earth are so closely related that they constitute just a single species. Perhaps more importantly their genetics indicate that they nearly went extinct in the not too distant past. Read on in my article in Nature.
- Published on Monday, 08 April 2013 10:02
While it is nowhere near as problematic as arsenic and lead, caffeine is a pollutant. At high levels it messes up plant growth and can be highly destructive to both forests and agricultural lands. Thus, coffee factories cannot just dump all of their caffeinated waste just anywhere. They must pay to put it in specialised location where it cannot cause harm and then, they of course, pass this cost on to the consumer. Yet change is afoot as a team demonstrates that it might be possible to decaffeinate coffee factory waste quickly and easily using genetically modified bacteria. Read on in my article in The Economist.
- Published on Sunday, 17 March 2013 02:47
- Published on Sunday, 10 March 2013 02:32
The relationship between the clown fish and the anemone is so iconic that even Pixar has picked up on it, yet in spite of how well known their interactions are, little is known about why they stick together.
The story has long been that clown fish fend off hungry anemone predators in return for refuge, but researchers have long wondered if there might be more to this unconventional collaboration.
Keen to find out, a team studied clown fish behaviour and noticed something odd. At night, they become incredibly active. They twirl around, push tentacles on the anemone up and down, fan their tales about. It was almost like a little dance. This led the team to study oxygen levels in the waters of anemones with and without clown fish guests.
They knew that oxygen levels in reefs at night would go low with the absence of photosynthesis, but they were stunned to discover that clown fish activities increase the levels of oxygen in the water around anemones. Read more about this in my article in The Economist.
- Published on Tuesday, 19 February 2013 09:53
In my experience as a journalist, nothing draws people to science better than sex and within that little category, the penis seems to reign supreme. My editors at Nature seem to have a real love of the penis and, in my years, I have written about the organ quite a lot for them. I always thought the super-fast erections of ducks would be the pinacle of penis strangeness that I would encounter, but this week has proved me wrong. Scientists have discovered a spineless marine animal known as the nudibranch that sticks its penis in a mate and then discards it after use. Yes, you got that right, it discards the sexual organ and then grows a new one within twenty-four hours. It is rather wild stuff. Read on in my article in Nature.
- Published on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 10:14
Using a combination of sediment core studies and pollen analysis, a team of geologists and palaeontologists is challenging long-held beliefs about the world in which our ancestors took shape. For the past 100 years, a leading theory for how we came to walk on two feet has suggested that early human ancestors began walking upright between 4 and 6 million years ago in response to savannahs encroaching on shrinking rain forests in northeast Africa. In effect, the theory has argued that the ever-increasing plains lured/drove our ancestors out of the trees and that this forced them to start walking.The new research in this paper suggests this cherished idea is wrong by providing evidence that thick rain forests in Africa had already disappeared millions of years before human ancestors started walking around. Read on in my article in The Economist.
- Published on Thursday, 07 February 2013 10:05
For decades, avian biologists at Cornell University have known that even the most expert homing pigeons from their labs could not find their way home when released from an area in New York state. Birds released in this place consistently took a wrong turn when departing and ended up vanishing into oblivion. Yet now the mystery behind this place is finally being solved, not by an avian scientist, but by a geologist. The new work circles around examination of a single historic exception to the effects of the "birdmuda triangle." In a Cornell run experiment conducted with the homing pigeons on the 13th August 1969, all of the birds actually did make it home. This led the geologist behind the new work to explore what was happening on Earth on that day so long ago. The results are astounding. Read on in my article in The Economist.