Deep sea spawning
- Published on Saturday, 25 October 2014 21:57
The deep ocean has long been viewed by biologists as a land of banishment. Species that are out-competed in the intense shallow water environments go there when they can get by nowhere else. Then, when those species go extinct, their place is filled by another loser from the shallows. At least, that has been the theory but a new finding is suggesting that things actually work the other way around and that the shallows have largely been populated by species that came to be in the mysterious fathoms below! Far from a land of banishment, the depths look to be the nurseries of the sea. Read on in my article in The Economist.
- Published on Wednesday, 15 October 2014 18:55
Oil spills kill a lot of animals off immediately as the oil clogs up their gills, soaks into feathers and poisons ecosystems. However, what their longer term effects are has been more of a mystery. It is hard to set up an experiment with two healthy populations and then have one hit by a million gallons of oil since spills are, by their nature, random catastrophes. Yet a team interested in exploring the long term ecology of spills has found an intriguing way around this problem by tapping into data from an experiment studying bird populations for other reasons just as an oil spill took place in the region. Roughly half the birds were hit by oil why the other half were not. Quite interesting stuff. Read on in my article on this in Nature.
Image courtesy of The Marine Photobank.
Know when to fold'em
- Published on Sunday, 05 October 2014 19:06
In the world of gambling a lot of winners believe that their "hot hand" or winning streak will continue once it starts. Similarly, those suffering a losing streak expect such streaks to reverse. Curious about why people would believe such nonsense, a team of psychologists analysed gambler behaviour and found something astonishing. The phenomenon of the "hot hand" appears to actually be real. Winners truly do appear to enter winning streaks. Losers also tend to hit the same sort of thing, running into large patches of bad luck. Both it seems are effects created by the gamblers themselves. Read on in my article in The Economist.
Something glowing on...
- Published on Thursday, 25 September 2014 16:19
After twenty-five years of hell, birds living in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone show the scars of their suffering. Hideous cataracts, tumors, and dramatically shortened lifespans are all too common. Many species that once lived in the area have experienced dramatic declines or vanished entirely. Yet, some populations have endured and a few have even managed to thrive. Surprised by this, a team of biologists has braved the zone to study these survivors and discovered something remarkable: they have evolved radiation resistance. Read on in my article in The Economist.
Better with beer
- Published on Friday, 05 September 2014 16:06
Lots of studies have shown an association between substances that form when meats are cooked at very high temperatures on a grill and a high incidence of colorectal cancer. Beer, wine and tea have all shown some ability to destroy carcinogens like these and reduce the harm that they can cause, but little has been known about how different sorts of beer marinades on meats might affect the formation of these nasty substances in the first place. Curious, a team of researchers went about the arduous task of grilling samples of pork marinated for four hours in various sorts of beers. It is a tough life being a scientist sometimes... Read on in my article in The Economist.
Image courtesy of Oddjob.
Reprogramming the enemy
- Published on Monday, 15 September 2014 16:12
The bacterium E. coli makes a lot of people violently ill but, like something out of a science-fiction film, a team of scientists have just reprogrammed a batch of this nasty bacterium to do their bidding. More specifically they reprogrammed E. coli to sense another harmful species of bacterium that readily forms impenetrable biofilms and causes infections in hospital patients that are almost impossible to treat. They tested their reprogrammed bacteria out in the lab and made a number of fascinating discoveries. Read on in my article in The Economist.
Caffeinated golden bullet
- Published on Monday, 25 August 2014 15:07
Gold is precious for a reason. When worked in the hands of a master artisan it can be shaped into a thing of splendour. This, along with the metal’s relative rarity, has been behind its value for centuries. The coffee bean is not much different. When grown properly and prepared by an expert, the result is divine. Beyond this, the two would seem to have nothing in common but chemists are rapidly proving otherwise. Gold and caffeine both have the potential to attack cancer cells and a new report in Inorganic Chemistry is demonstrating that when these two materials are merged they can pack a particularly effective punch.