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Khalil’s Picks (26 April 2013)

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


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This week we have barcoded ants, 3D printing fetuses, seals’ teeth, pseudoscience in the filter bubble and more.

Let’s do this!

We’ve done it, people. We have barcoded ants. For science! The research is fabulously cool. Recounted by Kate Prengaman for Ars Technica.

Barcodes let scientists track every ant in a colony

For creatures with very small brains, ants build strikingly complex societies. How a colony of hundreds or thousands of ants maintains order remains poorly understood, but new high tech research methods might be able to shed some light on the complexity of the colony.

A short but very sweet piece by Rose Eveleth for Smithsonian’s Smart News blog about bringing the joy of the sonogram to blind mothers thanks to 3D printing.

For Blind Moms, 3-D Prints of Fetuses Stand in For Sonogram Images

One of the greatest joys of pregnancy for many women is seeing the little blob growing inside on a sonogram—the black and white images of little heads and feet and noses the first of many pictures to make it to Facebook or a privileged place on the fridge. Now, one company is trying to give blind women who miss out on this experience a tactile equivalent, by 3-D printing their fetuses for them.

Looking at a leopard seal’s dentition reveals a whole lot about its diet. Sara Myott, on the blog Green tea and Velociraptors, reveals the stunning ways by which the leopard seal adapted to a diet of small (krill) and large (penguins ):).

Feeding at both ends of the food chain

In terrestrial environments, predator body size is largely correlated with prey body size. The opposite is found for many predators in the marine environment – baleen whales in particular comprise some of the world’s largest mammals and yet they feed on something far smaller (plankton). The leopard seal is unusual in that it feeds both at the top and at the bottom of the food chain, consuming large prey, such as penguins and other seals, and small prey, such as krill, an abundant basal component of the Antarctic food web [...]

When I think of dinosaurs, I see those large fearsome creatures. I don’t think about how their ancestors look like or where they came from. Thankfully Jon Tennant does—and he blogged about it in his EGU blog, Green tea and Velociraptors.

The early evolution of dinosaurs

Dinosaurs. What springs to mind when they’re mentioned? Colossal, towering sauropods? Packs of feisty feathered fiends? Or huge herds of hadrosaurs, chomping their way across the plains of long-lost worlds? Most, including myself, will automatically default to any one of these images when dinosaurs come up in conversation (what, you mean it’s not that frequent for normal people?) But we often neglect to think the earliest dinosaurs, spectacular organisms that gave birth to the most successful, and on-going, terrestrial vertebrate radiation of all time.

Sean Treacy has a very interesting, albeit troubling, article in ScienceNOW about combining antibiotics. This strategy can attack bacteria more effectively although, they can also lead to a rapid explosion of more resistant ones as the natural flora is decimated.

Combining Antiobiotics May Backfire

You might think that combining two antibiotics would be a great strategy to take down a nasty disease fast. Think again. A new study suggests that such a two-pronged attack can backfire badly by giving super-resistant bacteria the opportunity they need to come out on top in the struggle for resources.

An important piece by Neurobonkers who postulates that because of the filter bubble, the need to debunk pseudoscience in all online avenues (including your friend’s unwise Facebook status) is now even more important.

Achieving herd immunity against pseudoscience in the age of the filter bubble and the social news revolution

Last night Ben Goldacre appeared on BBC Newsnight (viewable from UK ip addesses or portals only, for the next 7 days) discussing the ongoing havoc caused by the MMR scare in the form of a major outbreak in the UK of a disease that was on its way to being eradicated. Ben Goldacre once again described the intriguing fact that anti-vaccine fears are traditionally (thankfully) localised within local and cultural boundaries.

More good stuff:

Khalil A. Cassimally About the Author: Khalil A. Cassimally is the Community Coordinator of The Conversation UK. He's also a science blogger. He hails from a tropical island and is a happy geek. Subscribe to his updates on Facebook and Google+. Follow on Twitter @notscientific.

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





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