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Bora’s Picks (March 8th, 2013)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Another amazingly plentiful week. Enjoy the weekend!

A Plague of Locusts Descends Upon the Holy Land, Just in Time for Passover by Rachel Nuwer:

Locusts have plagued farmers for millennia. According to the Book of Exodus, around 1400 B.C. the Egyptians experienced an exceptionally unfortunate encounter with these ravenous pests when they struck as the eighth Biblical plague. As Exodus describes, “They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt.”…

The Universal laws behind growth patterns, or what Tetris can teach us about coffee stains by Aatish Bhatia:

The morning after a big snowstorm swept through the US northeast, I sat in my car, ready to brave hazardous road conditions and drive to the local coffee shop. My home in New Jersey was outside of the storm’s central path, so instead of piles of snow, we were greeted with a delightful wintry mix of sleet and freezing rain. And sitting in my car, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by these strange patterns of ice particles forming on my windshield. Here’s what I saw:…

Gluten Sensitivity: What Does It Really Mean? by Julianne Wyrick:

“Are you the nurse? You look so young,” I said to my mom as I slowly emerged from my anesthesia-induced slumber, apparently not coherent enough to know who she was (but thankful that my drugged speech was so complimentary). I’d just undergone an endoscopy, meaning a doctor had inserted a small, flexible tube through my mouth down into my small intestine. After sampling the intestinal tissue, he’d be able to tell me whether I had celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which eating gluten-containing food causes the destruction of the small intestine’s inner lining….

National parks and seashores in NC face budget cuts by Kelly Poe:

North Carolina is home to some of the most visited national parks and seashores in the country, but the 25 million people who visited the state’s most popular sites in 2011 wouldn’t have access to the same services this year if federal budget cuts go through as scheduled….

Jellyfish and Comb Jellies by Hannah Waters:

Jellyfish and comb jellies are gelatinous animals that drift through the ocean’s water column around the world. They are both beautiful—the jellyfish with their pulsating bells and long, trailing tentacles, and the comb jellies with their paddling combs generating rainbow-like colors. Yet though they look similar in some ways, jellyfish and comb jellies are not very close relatives (being in different phyla—Cnidaria and Ctenophora, respectively) and have very different life histories…..

Carnivorous Plants Glow to Attract Prey by Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato:

Carnivorous plants have an arsenal of tricks to entice insects into their clutches. These predatory plants have been known to use bright colors, delicious nectars, and appealing smells to make quick meals of the bugs that come to investigate—but no one knew they could also glow a bright blue….

New sensor for testing food freshness could spell the end of expiration dates by Arielle Duhaime-Ross:

European researchers have developed a sensor that can determine if your food is still good to eat or should be thrown in the trash—regardless of what the expiration date says. The plastic sensor circuit measures the food’s “environmental vitals” from within the packaging, and the resulting judgment on freshness can be read with a mobile phone. The researchers claim the cost is less than one eurocent per unit, much less than any similar sensor technology, but say it will take at least five years before the technology finds its way to grocery stores….

One-Two Punch of Infection, Stress May Lead to Schizophrenia by Emily Underwood:

No single cause has yet been discovered for schizophrenia, the devastating neuropsychiatric syndrome characterized by hallucinations, disordered thoughts, and other cognitive and emotional problems, typically beginning in early adulthood. Although schizophrenia runs in families, in many cases no genetic risk is apparent, leading many researchers to look for environmental explanations. Now, research in mice provides support for a long-held hypothesis: that the syndrome, and other neurological disorders, can emerge when multiple environmental insults such as prenatal infection and adolescent trauma combine. …

A nutritionist’s dream: Healthy school lunches that students really like by Jodi Murphy:

Cole Cook stands out among his peers. At 17, he’s already 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 228 pounds. The high school junior is a tight end on the Carrollton High football team and being aggressively recruited by some of the best college programs in the country. Not surprisingly, Cook has a healthy appetite. But in this era of “lighter” school meals, does a fast-growing teenager in a calorie-burning sport get enough to eat in the lunchroom? Or does he leave the table still hungry?…

Sperm swim against the current by Meghan Rosen:

Mammalian sperm just don’t go with the flow. The little swimmers use head-on currents to guide themselves up fallopian tubes toward an egg, a new study suggests. Sex triggers fluids to spurt from the fallopian tubes, where tiny bristles called cilia sweep the fluid from the ovaries to the uterus. The moving fluid hands sperm a map to their target, researchers report online February 28 in Current Biology. …

Resurrecting the Rainbow Colors of Insect Fossils by Nadia Drake:

After squeezing and baking beetle wings, or soaking them in mud to let them decay, scientists think they’re closer to being able to reconstruct the original brilliant hues of some fossilized insects. Some insects keep their colors after they become fossils, in some cases for millions of years. But others turn varying shades of brown and black. Scientists interested in the evolution of insect colors — and their role in things like camouflage, mating, and defense — want to better understand how colors change after fossilization….

SpaceX Dragon Capsule Suffers Glitch After Launch to Space Station by Miriam Kramer:

A privately built unmanned spacecraft launched for NASA by the commercial spaceflight company SpaceX blasted into orbit Friday (March 1), but has experienced some sort of malfunction after separating from its rocket, the company says….

Disrupted sleep – the link between ageing and memory decline by Frida Printzlau:

Structural brain changes, disrupted sleep, and impaired memory function have each been independently associated with ageing. However, a study recently published in Nature Neuroscience by Bryce Mander and colleagues suggests that these phenomena are causally linked: structural brain changes associated with ageing interfere with sleep quality, which in turn impairs memory retention. Such findings may have important applications in preventing age-related cognitive decline!…

Why do you want to be a journalist? by Tamsin Rutter:

The media industry is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to ambition. Jobs in the media are highly coveted. It isn’t too difficult to see why: journalism and other media jobs can provide opportunities to travel, to meet fascinating people, to do some social good or to write about what interests you….

Mississippi Baby Might Have Been Cured of HIV by Rose Eveleth:

Worldwide, 42 million people live with HIV. Every year, five million are infected, and 800,000 of those new infections are children. But children who are born with or contract HIV at a young age, the condition might no longer be a death sentence. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say they have cured a baby of HIV using standard HIV drugs very early in life…

Frac sand industry faces DNR violations, warnings by Kate Prengaman:

Nearly a fifth of Wisconsin’s 70 active frac sand mines and processing plants were cited for environmental violations last year, as the industry continued to expand at a rapid clip….

Invasive Asian needle ants thriving, spreading in U.S. by Mary Bates:

There’s a new invasive ant species on the block and it could mean big trouble for people and the environment. The Asian needle ant has been in the U.S. since the 1930s, but their population has exploded in the past 8 years. These stinging ants are spreading rapidly and displacing another invasive ant species, the aggressive Argentine ant, in forests and backyards across the country….

Lake Mead’s retreat leaves Nevada ghost town high and dry by Kate Shaw:

Looking down on a Nevada valley from a rocky ledge near the edge of Lake Mead, it was hard to believe that the bustling town of St. Thomas had ever thrived here. A woman shielded her eyes from the October sun and asked our guide, “Is this it?”…

We hide behind vague words for fear of not living up to specific ones by Shara Yurkiewicz:

“Your hands feel like velvet,” the 94-year-old woman told me as I pushed on her abdomen in the emergency department on a Friday night.

“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me all day,” I told her.

“That’s pretty sad,” she said, and her abdomen quivered as she suppressed a laugh….

Flight Behavior: A critique on the climate conversation? by Kate Prengaman:

I recently read Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, Flight Behavior. I’m a longtime fan, especially because I enjoy the way she write about the natural world and the complex relationships between people and place. I don’t make much time to read fiction these days- too busy trying to keep up with the news and the constantly expanding universe of great science writing, so when I finally found time to dive into this novel, I devoured it. To my surprise, it’s a story about climate change. Not just climate change, but how we as different communities of people are dealing with climate, including a scathing critique of how journalists have handled the issue. …

The Violent History Of Mauritia: Birth, Oblivion, Renaissance by Khalil A. Cassimally:

Walking on the Mauritian beach at sunset is a humbling experience. A patchwork of colours from pink, yellow, gold, orange and red manifests on both sea and sky. But it’s not only the sunset on the horizon that’s humbling. As my feet plunge into the white sand, I cannot help but think that here, right here beneath my feet, are tiny remnants from another world entirely: Mauritia, a now submerged continent billions of years old…..

Will plain packaging of cigarettes work? A look at the current evidence by Suzi Gage:

Earlier this week an article announced that the UK is to bring in legislation that will force tobacco companies to sell their products in standardised plain packaging. This is similar to legislation Australia brought in last year…

Peering Into the Early Universe by Natalie Wolchover:

From the properties of dark matter to how the universe took shape shortly after the Big Bang, some of the universe’s oldest and best-kept secrets could soon be exposed as construction moves forward on three “extremely large telescopes,” each with an expanse of mirrors bigger than a basketball court….

A Glimpse of Channels Hidden Under Mars’ Surface by Rachel Feltman:

Channels that run beneath the surface of Mars, evidence of a time when the planet was full of water, have mostly remained mysterious to NASA researchers. For instance, Marte Vallis, a 1000-kilometer (621-mile) channel near the planet’s equator, has been impossible to study because it is buried beneath some of the youngest lava flows on the planet…

Why “Survival of the Fittest” Is Wrong by Robert T. Gonzalez:

You’ve probably heard it a million times in descriptions of evolution and natural selection. Charles Darwin even liked to say it. But the phrase “survival of the fittest” is wrong, and understanding why can help us better understand what it means to be human….

Inequality quantified: Mind the gender gap by Helen Shen:

Female scientists have made steady gains in recent decades but they face persistent career challenges. US universities and colleges employ far more male scientists than female ones and men earn significantly more in science occupations….

Geneticists may have just solved a 320-year-old evolutionary mystery by Robert T. Gonzalez:

The Falkland Islands wolf is a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a tawny fur coat. For starters, it’s not even a wolf (more on that in a minute); but far stranger is the fact that, when it was first encountered on the South American archipelago for which it’s named, it was literally the only terrestrial mammal in sight….

Foetal genome sequencing by Alice Jacques:

Last Summer, researchers led by Jacob Kitzman at the University of Washington sequenced the entire genome of a human foetus, triggering one of the most emotionally loaded debates of the year. The results promise a single non-invasive test to diagnose a broad range of genetic diseases as early as eight weeks into a pregnancy….

Being a New Journalist and Mixed Messages by Rose Eveleth:

I’m not going to talk about Nate Thayer, because I think that case is dumb. Olga Khazan made a mistake in her first two weeks of a job (Olga, I don’t know you, but if I ever do meet you I will buy you a drink because damn the internet sucks some times) and Nate Thayer feels the need to turn everything into an investigative take-down. Whatever. I’m over it. What I want to talk about is being a new journalist. Because I have some confessions. I am a professional journalist. I am also brand new at being one. And, most shockingly, I have worked for free….





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