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Khalil’s Picks (10 May 2013)

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


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As usual, it’s been a great week on the writing front from up-and-coming science writers. This week’s selection has the horrifying, the less horrifying, the beautiful and the wow and important. From wasps that sorta kinda impregnate cockroaches after controlling their minds to Killer Whale attacks to the notorious politics in the “green energy” sector.

This blog post by Sedeer El-Shwok on his blog Inspiring Science is fascinating for horrible reasons. Reading about cockroaches is one thing but reading about wasps that manipulate cockroaches, drain off their hemolymph (essentially the insect’s blood) and lay eggs on them so that the larvae can eat the cockroaches from the inside… that’s… that’s… I’m lost for words…

The wasp and the cockroach: a zombie story

The world of parasites is full of incredible tales of manipulation and mind-control as these creatures twist their hosts to their needs.  Ever since I first heard of parasitoid wasps, I’ve been drawn to them by a delicious mixture of schadenfreude and intellectual fascination.  (Technically, parasitoids are slightly different from parasites, but that’s not important right now.)  Some of the examples of manipulation by parasitoid wasps are just wonderfully, horribly macabre.  I briefly mentioned the emerald cockroach wasp in a previous post; this time I’ll give a few other examples and explain the emerald wasp more thoroughly [...]

Moving swiftly on, young blood can keep an old heart in a healthier and younger state—at least in mice. Douglas Haven in New Scientist covers a new study which shows that GDF11, a protein present in larger quantities in young blood, may be responsible for this rejuvenating effect.

Young blood reverses heart decline in old mice

Out with the old, in with the new. Pumping young blood around old bodies – at least in mice – can reverse cardiac hypertrophy – the thickening and swelling of the heart muscle that comes with age and is a major cause of heart failure. Previous studies have shown that an infusion of blood from young mice has rejuvenating effects on the brain of old mice, prompting new cell growth and reversing some of the effects of cognitive decline.

Stunning piece about eyes by Rose Eveleth in new science magazine Nautilus. Filled with stunning closeup photos of stunning eyes obviously.

Humanizing Animals With the Most Human Eyes

People place incredible importance on their eyes. They’re arguably our default tool for perceiving the world, and one of the primary ways we remember and describe one another. Your eye color is on your birth certificate, driver’s license, and online dating profile. Those who make eye contact are considered more competent, friendlier, and more professional. Online commenters forced to make eye contact with others while writing leave nicer comments. Audiences favor musicians who look at the crowd, and children who don’t make eye contact are flagged as troubled.

Great journalism by Rachel Nuwer this one. The role of politics in solar energy technology, or lack thereof. For Ensia.

Breaking the Solar Logjam

Politics and society, not science and technology, are preventing solar energy from shining. The sun has long been seen as one of the most promising power sources of the future. Plentiful, clean and free, solar energy tantalizes with the promise of solving the global energy crisis and alleviating climate change.

In a post at io9 that’s surely going to ruffle some feathers, Robert Gonzalez gives five tasty reasons as to why wine tasting is not very tasty. After reading the post, you’ll probably need some wine. Why? You’ll see… er taste… er…

Wine tasting is bullshit. Here’s why.

The human palate is arguably the weakest of the five traditional senses. This begs an important question regarding wine tasting: is it bullshit, or is it complete and utter bullshit? There are no two ways about it: the bullshit is strong with wine. Wine tasting. Wine rating. Wine reviews. Wine descriptions. They’re all related. And they’re all egregious offenders, from a bullshit standpoint.

A very informative writeup by Nadia Drake over at Wired about a Killer Whale attack on a dolphin—captured on photos.

Photographer Captures Stunning Killer Whale Attack on Dolphin

When capturing prey, killer whales use a number of chilling tactics. Some of these, like repeatedly ramming into a pod of sperm whales, are seldom seen. Others, like stunning and flipping a creature out of the water and then eating it, are more frequently reported, but seldom captured in eerie detail. Earlier this year, a pod of killer whales in the Monterey Bay was on the hunt for dolphins. Aboard a boat following the pod was photographer Jodi Frediani. Over roughly 45 minutes, she and the others observed the killer whales pursuing and catching a long-beaked common dolphin, with Frediani taking some stunning photographs of the high-speed hunt.

Some more great 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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