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Bora’s Picks (September 27th, 2013)

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


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Tibetan Uplift Fools Taxonomists: An Identity Crisis Solved by Anne-Marie Hodge:

The Tibetan ground tit (Parus humilis) is a drab, unassuming little songbird. It makes its quiet living exclusively in the highlands of the Tibetan plateau. Although the bird doesn’t look like a troublemaker, it has been an ongoing source of taxonomic controversy for over a quarter century. The ground tit was first thought to be the world’s smallest living member of the jay family (the Corvidae; Hume 1871). Due to a suite of morphological features that it shares with other Asian ground jays (genus Podoces), it was known as either the Hume’s ground-jay or the Tibetan ground-jay for over 100 years, and was even granted its very own genus, Pseudopodoces within the Corvidae. “Pseudopodoces” was indeed very similar to the jays . . . yet still distinctive enough that dissension about its true identity began to brew in the late 1970’s (Borecky 1978). …

Dance to Your Body’s Own Music by Rose Eveleth:

If you’ve ever been told to “march to the beat of your own drum,” here’s your chance to do that as literally as possible. A company called Sensum based in in Belfast, U.K., had developed a system that creates music from a user’s heart rate, movement and even DNA….

Tannosomes and the trickle-around effect: a new cell organelle is discovered by Kathleen Raven:

…..After untold hours in the lab experimenting with different transmission electron microscopy (TEM) imaging methods, the team found a new organelle inside the plant cell: the tannosome. It’s responsible for churning out tannins, the naturally occurring molecules belonging to the polyphenols class of organic chemicals. If you’ve ever sipped wine, tasted tea, or paddled around in the tannic acid waters of the Florida Everglades, then you know what tannins are: bitter compounds. These important molecules are found in tree bark, vascular plant leaves and not-yet-ripe fruit. Tannins are nature’s way of saying, “Hey, back off” to would-be predators. They also offer UV protection…..

Astronaut nutrition: staying healthy for a year in space by Julianne Wyrick:

When NASA astronaut Scott Kelly leaves the earth for his International Space Station mission in 2015, he won’t walk the aisles of a grocery store for a year. To ensure he and other long-term astronauts stay healthy, NASA must make certain they have the proper food in tow….

Synthetic Spider Silk Capsules Assemble Themselves by Nadia Drake:

In addition to snaring dinner and protecting spider babies, spider silk makes a pretty good shield for bioreactive enzymes. Even when it’s not made by the spiders themselves. Turns out, self-assembling spider silk capsules, crafted by colonies of bacteria, are pretty good at keeping reactive molecules calm….

The New Eves: Women Writing Science Fiction, Saving the World by Shannon Palus:

It might be a bit apples and oranges to compare the current comic-book-blockbuster landscape to the last century of science fiction magazines. Nonetheless, as I worked my way through New Eves, an anthology of lady-penned science fiction from decades past, this is the comparison that came to mind….

Eat, love and die. The short, but meaningful lives of love “bugs” by Rebecca Burton:

Miss Plecia is all dolled up. She has been stuffing herself full of organic material and nectar in her swampy-syle pad for the past 20 days with hopes of finding her lifelong mate. It’s 4 p.m., the sun is blistering and “happy hour” is about to start. Happy hour lasts around four hours in the summertime and is when Plecia and all of her girlfriends gather to find their dream guy. It’s usually in a warm and muggy place, which is ideal for mating. Plecia was buzzing with her friend Diptera on the way to find their swarm of potential mates when Diptera detected a warm air current and departed from the crowd…..

GM bacteria ‘could eliminate’ sleeping sickness by Richa Malhotra:

Releasing tsetse flies that carry genetically modified bacteria resistant to the parasite that causes sleeping sickness could eliminate the disease in Africa under certain conditions, a modelling study has shown….

Overcome fears by manipulating memory as you sleep by Douglas Heaven:

Whether it is snakes, flying or injections that give you the willies, it may one day be possible to simply snooze these fears away. A new study shows that fear memories can be manipulated while people sleep to be interpreted as less scary. The study is a step towards a less stressful alternative to exposure therapy, in which an individual must repeatedly confront their fear….

Could a Sand Storm on DUNE Flay Your Flesh? by Kyle Hill:

Science fiction’s epic opus—Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel DUNE—tells a story of politics, betrayal, and sandworms on a vast desert planet called Arrakis. So arid and unforgiving is Arrakis, the natives there value water above all else. The Fremen, as they are called, have even evolved hyper-coagulating blood to preserve fluids in the event of injury. And injury is likely. With corporate assassins and sandworms the size of highways constantly hunting travelers, there isn’t a moment of respite on Arrakis. Even the weather is against you. It is said the sandstorms there are strong enough to remove flesh from bone. But in an otherwise fantastically realized universe, could a sandstorm really be so deadly?…

Imagine the Early You as a Sperm, Swimming Your Way To Fame by Gayil Nalls:

When you think of fame, you probably picture Hollywood A-listers, big-time political players, or triumphant athletes, the people who routinely see photos of themselves when they glance at magazine and newspapers. But we are each of us an exemplar of the biology of fame. Consider some recent scientific findings the substantial genetic uniqueness packed into tiny individual sperm. …

How to Clone Yourself, Part 1: Start Small by Eric Sawyer:

It’s a dark and stormy night, and you find yourself alone in your basement, cobweb-strewn lab. Wouldn’t it be nice to whip up a companion, someone just like you who you can relate to?—A clone of yourself! Sure, but it’s not very likely. Yet sometimes I think that’s the image that pops into people’s heads when I say that I am cloning as part of my research. When molecular biologists use the term “cloning,” they are usually referring to the process of cloning a gene, not an organism. If you want to clone yourself, start small by cloning a gene. You might find something interesting….

Prosopagnosia: Why Some are Blind to Faces by Jordan Gaines Lewis:

A few months ago, I had an hour-long conversation with Professor P in his office discussing his course that had just wrapped up. We veered off-topic toward the end of our talk, broaching the subjects of his grad school days, scuba diving hobby, and my blogging. Less than an hour later, I was loitering around the college’s entrance in my coat, ready to go home for the day. I spotted Dr. P locking up his office and gave him a wave….

Antibiotics and Applied Evolution by Sedeer el-Showk:

The emergence of antibiotic resistance in bacteria has become a textbook example of evolution in action, as well as a major problem for medical practice. The conventional solution has been to “hit early and hit hard”, attacking the bacteria with a cocktail of drugs in the hope of knocking them out before resistant strains appear. The idea is that it’s harder to become resistant to several different drugs, and the best approach is supposed to be a “synergistic” combination which is more potent than either drug alone. Recent research challenges this notion, however, and even suggests that such a combination may be the least effective in the long term….

Body fat tied to heart risks in normal-weight adults by Kathleen Raven:

New evidence suggests older adults with a healthy weight but high percentage of body fat are at increased risk of heart-related diseases and death. Looking at data on 1,528 people with a normal body mass index (BMI) – a measure of weight in relation to height – researchers found one in five men and nearly one in three women had a body fat percentage above what is considered healthy….

Neural Conspiracy Theories by Rebecca Schwarzlose:

Last month, a paper quietly appeared in The Journal of Neuroscience to little fanfare and scant media attention (with these exceptions). The study revolved around a clever and almost diabolical premise: that using perceptual trickery and outright deception, its authors could plant a delusion-like belief in the heads of healthy subjects. Before you call the ethics police, I should mention that the belief wasn’t a delusion in the formal sense of the word. It didn’t cause the subjects any distress and was limited to the unique materials used in the study. Still, it provided a model delusion that scientists Katharina Schmack, Philipp Sterzer, and colleagues could study to investigate the interplay of perception and belief in healthy subjects. The experiment is quite involved, so I’ll stick to the coolest and most relevant details….

How Cheeky: Fossil Fish Is Oldest Creature With a Face by Tanya Lewis:

A newly discovered fish fossil is the earliest known creature with what might be recognized as a face. Entelognathus primordialis was an ancient fish that lived about 419 million years ago in the Late Silurian seas of China. The finding, detailed today (Sept. 25) in the journal Nature, provides a link between two groups of fishes previously thought to be unrelated, challenging long-held notions of how vertebrate faces evolved….





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