This week on Picks: Bacteria that cause pain, slimy salamanders, balance of the sexes, and more!


Bacteria can cause pain on their own by Cristy Gelling

Bacteria can directly trigger the nerves that sense pain, suggesting that the body’s own immune reaction is not always to blame for the extra tenderness of an infected wound. In fact, mice with staph-infected paws showed signs of pain even before immune cells had time to arrive at the site, researchers report online August 21 in Nature.

Slimy Signals Save Salamanders by Anne-Marie Hodge

Everyone has experienced it: you hear a scream or shout of alarm coming from someone nearby, and instantly you feel your own blood pressure rise. Your metabolism revs up, you scan the area around you, and you might even physically jolt.

Previously Unknown Mammal Spent Decades Hiding in Plain Sight by Arielle Duhaime-Ross

As fans of the TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation know, skulls and teeth can provide excellent forensic clues. Yet any taxonomist will tell you that hard-boiled detectives and forensic scientists are far from the only ones to appreciate the investigative powers of craniums and pearly whites. The most recent proof of their taxonomic utility is the discovery of a new species of carnivore in South America—a discovery that was made possible, in part, by the teeth and skulls of previously misidentified museum specimens. Moreover, the excitement surrounding this species is amplified by the fact that the newly named olinguito (pronounced “oh-lin-GHEE-toe”) is the first new carnivorous mammal to earn the title in the Western Hemisphere in over three decades. The discovery was published in the journal ZooKeys in August.

Shaping the Balance of the Sexes by Sedeer el-Showk

We tend to think that offspring are just as likely to be male as female, but that's not necessarily true. In many reptiles, for example, sex isn't randomly determined, but depends on the temperature at a specific stage of development. Social insects like ants and bees often don't produce even numbers of males and females; the odds depend on a host of environmental and demographic factors [...]

Keep it simple, stupid: maths doesn’t have to be ‘complex’ by Adam Kucharski

When we go to the cinema, we expect certain things of big-screen scientists. Most of us will get annoyed if a film gets its basic facts wrong, for example. Directors are aware of this, so generally try to avoid schoolboy errors. After all, nobody wants to get pulled up on accuracy by a young child.

New insights into creating ball lightning in the lab by Suzi Gage

US researchers say they have developed a more efficient way to produce a kind of ball lightning in the lab. The Colorado team made brilliant clouds of plasma emerge from a specially prepared solution and maintained them for nearly half a second. In nature, ball lightning has been seen to float across land or through buildings and to even bounce down the aisles of aircraft. But its rarity has made it extremely hard to study and to understand.

One step closer to effective personalised medicine? by Eliana Tacconi

Research published in Science this month has shown that pluripotent cells can be generated from skin cells using nothing but a cocktail of chemicals. The scientists from Peking University, Beijing, are amongst the many researchers who have been working towards this goal for several years. Patient-specific pluripotent cells have the ability to differentiate into any cell type and could be used in diverse medical applications, from treating degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s to use in transplantation therapies.