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Bora’s Picks (September 13th, 2013)

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


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Guppies lie about mate choice to trick rivals by Anne-Marie Hodge:

When it comes to sex among guppies, competition is high for those at the top of the game. To get around this predicament, a recent study has shown, guppies use trickery. Competition in fish of the Poeciliidae family (fresh-water fish to which guppies belong) is especially intense, because members of the species commonly mimic each others’ choices. This creates a conundrum: what to do when everyone wants the same mate?…

A walk on the wild side: 7 fascinating experiments in rewilding by Jessica Gross:

George Monbiot begins today’s talk by recalling a time he was “ecologically bored.” “We evolved in rather more challenging times than these, in the world of horns and tusks and fangs and claws,” explains Monbiot, an investigative journalist who found himself deeply dissatisfied returning to the United Kingdom after years reporting in the tropics. “We still possess the fear and the courage and the aggression required to navigate those times. But in our comfortable, safe, crowded lands, we have few opportunities to exercise them without harming other people.” In his search for a solution to this stupor, Monbiot discovered his current passion: rewilding….

Fewer female soccer injuries on artificial turf: study by Kathleen Raven:

Female soccer players suffered fewer severe injuries while competing on an artificial surface called FieldTurf than when playing on natural grass fields, in a new study. Researchers found women’s college teams had an average of 7.7 injuries – both minor and serious – for every 10 matches played on FieldTurf, compared to 9.5 injuries per 10 matches on grass. Most competitive collegiate soccer seasons consist of 20 to 25 matches…

Found: The First Mechanical Gear in a Living Creature by William Herkewitz:

With two diminutive legs locked into a leap-ready position, the tiny jumper bends its body taut like an archer drawing a bow. At the top of its legs, a minuscule pair of gears engage—their strange, shark-fin teeth interlocking cleanly like a zipper. And then, faster than you can blink, think, or see with the naked eye, the entire thing is gone. In 2 milliseconds it has bulleted skyward, accelerating at nearly 400 g’s—a rate more than 20 times what a human body can withstand. At top speed the jumper breaks 8 mph—quite a feat considering its body is less than one-tenth of an inch long…

Into the Wild: Tracking Rescued Harbor Seal Pups’ Return to the Ocean by Nadia Drake:

Four small seals are crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, safely strapped into the truck in front of us. Tucked inside their crates, the quartet – three harbor seals and an elephant seal – are on a journey back to their ocean home. The destination: a beautiful, protected cove in Monterey Bay, bordered by a private beach….

What Can Thirty Years of the Times’ Wedding Section Tell Us About Marriage And Social Status? by Rose Eveleth:

Weddings are a personal affair —a gathering of the closest friends and family to celebrate love. But, for some couples, it’s also important to tell as many people about their wedding as possible. Enter the New York Times wedding section….

Monofilament in the Ocean by Alexis Rudd:

On my way home from work the other day I heard a story on the radio about a young sea turtle that had been found on the beach in Kauai. It had two broken flippers. In addition, both flippers had cuts slicing through both the scales and muscles, down into the bone. It wasn’t a knife or a fist that injured this gorgeous animal. It wasn’t even a predator, like a shark. No, the cause of the terrible injuries that led to the turtle’s death was a single fiber of plastic that was so tangled in its flippers that it sliced through muscle and snapped bones. …

Parasite-Swapping in Two Introduced Species: The Cane Toad Strikes Again by Anne-Marie Hodge:

Aliens are among us, and they don’t have to come in the form of little green humanoids to cause problems. Non-native species create major headaches, whether they are introduced intentionally or arrive at far-flung places as stowaways. These “alien” invasive plants and animals can (and often do) wreak havoc on native species, because local organisms often lack the adaptations to deal with a novel predator and/or competitor to which they’ve never before been exposed. Entire ecosystems have been disrupted as new arrivals simply overwhelm native communities, and this often has profound economic as well as ecological consequences….

Deadly Fungus Mates with Clones of Itself by Tanya Lewis:

A fungus that causes a deadly brain infection has a curious mating strategy, in which it reproduces with clones of itself, a new study finds. Most species that reproduce sexually produce offspring that are a genetic mix of two different parents. But the yeast Cryptococcus neoformans produces offspring “unisexually,” from two identical parents. These offspring have additional copies of certain chromosomes, or threadlike structures that carry DNA, creating genetic diversity from scratch, study researchers say….

Ever Wondered: Why is wild salmon a deeper red than farmed salmon? by Andrew P. Han:

It’s 1:30 AM at the New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, New York City. As forklifts zip pallets of seafood through ice-packed loading bays, the fishmongers of Lockwood & Winant are selling fresh Pacific King salmon right off the plane from Washington. Further down the large, cold, cavern, Montauk Seafood Co. has Coho salmon straight in from Alaska. These wild-caught fish glow a deep pink, fleshy ingots glistening on ice. Later today, they’ll be carved into sushi gemstones, gingerly set upon rice and seaweed settings at five-star restaurants in Manhattan….

Eight of the Ten Highest-Paying College Majors Include the Word “Engineering” by Rachel Nuwer:

If you’re struggling to chose a college major and are determined to make good money once you graduate, opting for a field of study with the word “engineering” in the title may be a safe bet. According to a new survey, released by Georgetown University, at $120,000 per year on average, petroleum engineering is the highest paying bachelor’s degree for recent grads, closely followed by a host of other flavors of engineering-related academic pursuits….

Vitamin D disappoints in trial for infant diarrhea by Kathleen Raven:

Heavy supplementation of vitamin D did not reduce diarrheal illnesses among children aged three and younger in a large trial conducted in Kabul, Afghanistan. The results are disappointing in light of a body of research that has consistently linked high vitamin D levels to improved immune system function and deficiency to a higher risk of infectious diseases, the researchers write in the journal Pediatrics….

Everyday environmental laws: How the EPA fits into the urban grid by Rebecca Burton:

Environmental laws in the United States help protect us every day. While they are not flawless, and are always improving, we may take for granted how much they affect our lives. In a way, they protect us from ourselves. As a high-consuming society we produce a ton of waste (well, millions of tons) and this waste can be dangerous if not monitored and controlled in a systematic manner. For this reason we have these laws to thank for one of the most vital life sources: clean drinking water….

Shifted Fishing Seasons Could Keep Shrimp on the Menu by Anne-Marie Hodge:

Pity the pandalid shrimp. Fisheries not only harvest this cold-water crustacean in ever growing numbers but also ignore critical details of its life cycle. Pandalid shrimp are protandric hermaphrodites: all juveniles develop testicular tissues and spawn by releasing sperm into the water for external fertilization. Each shrimp can live for up to five years, and during breeding seasons hormonal changes can transform the animal into an egg-bearing female….

Why We Don’t Need Pandas by Andrew Jonathan Balmer:

Now I know what you are thinking. Don’t need Pandas!? How dare he! On some days I might even be inclined to agree with you. Even now as I write this I feel I am getting some pretty judgmental looks from the stuffed panda toy at the other side of the room. Well calm down; I love pandas, perhaps even more than most. Pandas are among the most interesting, charismatic and culturally significant animals in the world and ones that need our protection if they are to survive. So why would I write such a thing? Well as much as I like pandas, I like conservation even more….

Striga hermonthica : a pretty plant and a nasty parasite by Sarah Shailes:

This month’s organism is Striga hermonthica, commonly known as purple witchweed. It is a good example of how looks can be deceiving. From above ground S. hermonthica looks fairly harmless with dainty purple flowers….

Our complicated relationship with cats by Pete Etchells:

It would seem that I’ve made an unforgivable error. Last week, I wrote about a new study that suggested a possible function for sleep. The research in question was a mouse study, so it seemed to make sense to stick up a picture of a mouse alongside the article. However, lots of commenters were outraged – OUTRAGED – that there wasn’t a picture of a sleeping kitten instead. So to make amends for my transgression, today I’m going to look at some of the psychological research that’s been conducted on cats and their owners. Don’t say I don’t do anything for you….

LHC Celebrates 5 Years of Not Destroying the World by Harry Cliff and Rupert Cole:

Five years ago, at breakfast time, the world waited anxiously for news from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The first nervy bunch of protons were due to be fired around the European lab’s latest and biggest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), as it kicked into action….

Tracking the Evolution of a Virus by Sedeer el-Showk:

Most of the articles on this blog have talked about evolution as though it were somehow distant, something that happens to unfamiliar organisms and doesn’t really affect our daily lives. Nothing could be further from the truth. Evolution didn’t just shape the world around us; it continues to mold that world, casting and recasting it as creatures thrive and perish in turn. Some of these stories may seem strange and foreign, but others strike closer to home. In that spirit, I’m planning to write a few posts about evolutionary stories that might affect our day-to-day lives. The first centers around research by an international team of scientists trying to understand where the H7N9 influenza virus came from….

Maternal PTSD linked to children’s trauma by Kathleen Raven:

The children of mothers with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be at high risk of being traumatized themselves, according to a small new study in urban U.S. neighborhoods. Inner-city kids whose mothers had PTSD experienced more traumatic events – such as neighborhood shootings, domestic violence, dog bites or car accidents – before age five than kids whose mothers were depressed or had no mental health issues, researchers found….

Excerpts From The Mad Scientist’s Handbook: So You’re Ready to Vaporize a Human by Kyle Hill:

As any successful mad scientist will tell you, energy ain’t free. Popular culture tends to forget this, instead focusing on the destructive capabilities of our finely crafted death rays without noting the massive energy expenditures required to use them. To conserve ergs, the efficient mad scientist knows the vaporization energies of his or her targets, as they may be deceptive. For example, did you know it takes more energy to vaporize a person than it does to accelerate a kilogram to Earth’s escape velocity? Set your phasers to “fun”, because in this chapter of The Mad Scientist’s Handbook you will learn just how many Joules it takes to turn your enemies (or interns) into atomic mist….





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