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Like the clever and many-armed cephalopod, Inkfish reaches into all areas of science and brings you interpretations of the newest stories.
You might expect NBA players to know when and where to take their shots. They get paid millions of dollars a year to work out, avoid hitting their heads on door frames, and put the ball in the basket. Yet even years of training can't overcome a basic human superstition about our own behaviors: We believe that whatever just happened is about to happen again. If we stopped trusting in streakiness, we might all score more points.
Tal Neiman and Yonatan Lowenstein, researchers in Israel with........ Read more »
Neiman, T., & Loewenstein, Y. (2011) Reinforcement learning in professional basketball players. Nature Communications, 569. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1580
Aesop told the fable of a thirsty crow that came upon a nearly empty pitcher of water and discovered that by dropping pebbles in, he could raise the water to a drinkable level. The moral is "Little by little does the trick"--or was that "Necessity is the mother of invention"? Either way, scientists have enjoyed testing non-fictional members of the clever corvid family with this puzzle. Most recently, wild crows showed scientists they're smart enough for a whole barr........ Read more »
Taylor, A., Elliffe, D., Hunt, G., Emery, N., Clayton, N., & Gray, R. (2011) New Caledonian Crows Learn the Functional Properties of Novel Tool Types. PLoS ONE, 6(12). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026887
Now that we know some dinosaurs had down or feathers instead of the scales we used to imagine, there are intriguing new questions to be answered. Did forest-dwelling species use patterned feathers for camouflage? Did other dinosaurs use flashy colors for communication or courtship, like modern birds do? Using new imaging techniques, scientists are beginning to color in their dinosaur outlines. In previous studies, researchers have scoured fossils of dinosaurs and early birds for melanosomes........ Read more »
Wogelius, R., Manning, P., Barden, H., Edwards, N., Webb, S., Sellers, W., Taylor, K., Larson, P., Dodson, P., You, H.... (2011) Trace Metals as Biomarkers for Eumelanin Pigment in the Fossil Record. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1205748
A hypoallergenic dog, we're told, is one that politely keeps its dander to itself and makes the air safer for allergy sufferers to breathe. Yet a new study claims to have debunked the whole notion of the allergy-friendly dog. Is this fair?Researchers from the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit studied a group of 173 homes that had both a baby and exactly one dog. After surveying each dog's owners about its breed, size, and how much time the dog spent indoors, the researchers collected a sample ........ Read more »
Charlotte E. Nicholas, M.P.H., Ganesa R. Wegienka, Ph.D., Suzanne L. Havstad, M.A., Edward M. Zoratti, M.D., Dennis R. Ownby, M.D., & Christine Cole Johson, Ph.D. (2011) Dog allergen levels in homes with hypoallergenic compared with nonhypoallergenic dogs. American Journal of Rhinology . info:/
It's not just skunks. Several other scrappy, medium-sized mammals can spray you with bad-smelling liquids from their anal glands. But they're not keeping it a secret: These animals have evolved certain signals that warn you and other potential predators to stay away (especially from the back end). If you know the signs, you can make sure to keep on the good side of any furry creatures you meet.Striped skunk.Providing more fodder for the theory that people are drawn to subjects resembling th........ Read more »
Stankowich, T., Caro, T., & Cox, M. (2011) BOLD COLORATION AND THE EVOLUTION OF APOSEMATISM IN TERRESTRIAL CARNIVORES. Evolution. DOI: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2011.01334.x
In case you weren't worried yet about inadvertently damaging your children's and grandchildren's DNA, scientists in Japan have demonstrated precisely how that might be possible by stressing out some fruit flies.You might think that once you've contributed sperm or egg to your offspring, its genetic destiny is set: you're free to mess up the kid psychologically or raise it exclusively on gluten-free Cheetos, but you can't do any harm to its DNA. You'd be wrong, though. Scientists have learne........ Read more »
Seong, K., Li, D., Shimizu, H., Nakamura, R., & Ishii, S. (2011) Inheritance of Stress-Induced, ATF-2-Dependent Epigenetic Change. Cell, 145(7), 1049-1061. DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2011.05.029
A mouse that's uninterested in new foods and tasty drinks and easily despairs in a challenging situation has more than a case of the blues. This is a strain of mouse created by Jason Snyder and his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health to model human depression. To bring on the mouse's symptoms, all that was necessary was to stop one part of its brain from creating new cells.The researchers wanted to investigate the link between depression and the brain's ability to grow new neur........ Read more »
Snyder, J., Soumier, A., Brewer, M., Pickel, J., & Cameron, H. (2011) Adult hippocampal neurogenesis buffers stress responses and depressive behaviour. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature10287
This spring, scientists announced that each person seems to have a signature set of gut bacteria, like a blood type for the microbiome. Their human subjects fell into three separate "enterotypes," each one representing a distinct microbial ecosystem. The enterotypes didn't correlate with subjects' age, gender, or nationality. But a new study has found something that does predict what enterotype you'll host: eating a plant- or animal-based diet.
Researchers surveyed 98 subjects about their diets........ Read more »
Wu, G., Chen, J., Hoffmann, C., Bittinger, K., Chen, Y., Keilbaugh, S., Bewtra, M., Knights, D., Walters, W., Knight, R.... (2011) Linking Long-Term Dietary Patterns with Gut Microbial Enterotypes. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.1208344
Orangutans that achieve their goals, enjoy swinging with others, and always look on the bright side of the banana have longer lifespans than those who merely mope around the zoo. That's the conclusion of a long-term study of over 180 captive orangutans. The unhappy apes died sooner, and the happy apes lived to gloat about it.Alexander Weiss at the University of Edinburgh and his colleagues collected data on captive orangutans in parks around the world. At the beginning of the study period, ........ Read more »
Even animals without hands can display handedness--or, at least, a preference to do things with one side of the body rather than the other. Animals ranging from primates to birds to invertebrates have been shown to favor their left or right side. Fish might reveal that preference by choosing to swim right, for example, when avoiding a predator. Don't get too charmed by the idea of left-handed and right-handed fish, though: In a warming world, they may disappear.A new study by researchers in Ital........ Read more »
Domenici, P., Allan, B., McCormick, M., & Munday, P. (2011) Elevated carbon dioxide affects behavioural lateralization in a coral reef fish. Biology Letters. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0591
Just because an animal has a base-model brain and can't regulate its own body temperature doesn't mean it's unintelligent. Recent news shows two cold-blooded animals, a fish and a lizard, cleverly solving problems--and giving us brainier animals reason to question our superiority.Swimming back from a 60-foot dive in the Great Barrier Reef, a diver "heard a cracking noise" and turned to see a fish exhibiting a surprising behavior. The fish was a black spot tuskfish, also called a green wrasse, an........ Read more »
Leal, M., & Powell, B. (2011) Behavioural flexibility and problem-solving in a tropical lizard. Biology Letters. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0480
Imagine a patient goes to see his general practitioner, complaining of exhaustion. He can't sleep, and he'd like a referral to a sleep clinic so he can get some answers. First, his doctor wants to administer a quick test. She holds a device like a felt-tipped pen just under her patient's nose and has him sniff. "Sure, I can smell that," he says. She gives him three pens and asks which one smells different from the other two. "They all smell like peppermint to me," the patient says. "Okay," the d........ Read more »
Maurage, P., Callot, C., Chang, B., Philippot, P., Rombaux, P., & de Timary, P. (2011) Olfactory Impairment Is Correlated with Confabulation in Alcoholism: Towards a Multimodal Testing of Orbitofrontal Cortex. PLoS ONE, 6(8). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0023190
How well can you identify other people's voices? Most of us are good at recognizing a familiar speaker we can't see. This skill works best, though, in our native tongue. And to the ears of a dyslexic person, everyone else may as well be speaking Chinese.Dyslexia is usually described as a reading disorder. In school, a dyslexic kid will struggle to recognize words and parse sentences. She (or more often, according to some studies, he) might have assignments read aloud or receive prewritten class ........ Read more »
Perrachione, T., Del Tufo, S., & Gabrieli, J. (2011) Human Voice Recognition Depends on Language Ability. Science, 333(6042), 595-595. DOI: 10.1126/science.1207327
Narcolepsy doesn't strike at random. After studying the medical records of a large group of Chinese narcoleptics, researchers concluded that their symptoms--sudden naps, constant sleepiness, hallucinations--were most likely to have started in the month of April. In fact, each year's new cases of narcolepsy appeared in a cyclical pattern, following the seasons. Could narcolepsy be a delayed reaction to the flu?The brains of narcoleptics fail to produce enough hypocretin (also called orexin),........ Read more »
Han, F., Lin, L., Warby, S., Faraco, J., Li, J., Dong, S., An, P., Zhao, L., Wang, L., Li, Q.... (2011) Narcolepsy onset is seasonal and increased following the 2009 H1N1 pandemic in china. Annals of Neurology. DOI: 10.1002/ana.22587
Describing what might make the worst gift ever, researchers John McCutcheon and Carol von Dohlen report that they've found a system of symbionts resembling Russian nesting dolls. A tiny bacterium lives inside a slightly less tiny bacterium, which lives inside a mealybug. Unlike a nicely painted set of wooden dolls, though, each complete on its own, the matryoshka mealybug and its many inhabitants can't live without each other.The citrus mealybug, Planococcus citri, is a a sap-sucking plant pest ........ Read more »
McCutcheon, J., & von Dohlen, C. (2011) An Interdependent Metabolic Patchwork in the Nested Symbiosis of Mealybugs. Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.06.051
We're waging an increasingly desperate war on drug-resistant bacteria. Thanks to their adaptability--and our own fondness for strewing antibiotics everywhere, like inept military commanders who let the enemy borrow and examine our only weapons before we attack--the bugs are gaining ground. Previously life-saving drugs are now useless, and previously beatable infections now have strains that seem immortal.To find new antibiotics that can help us, why not turn to animals that are still doing a goo........ Read more »
Wang, J., Wong, E., Whitley, J., Li, J., Stringer, J., Short, K., Renfree, M., Belov, K., & Cocks, B. (2011) Ancient Antimicrobial Peptides Kill Antibiotic-Resistant Pathogens: Australian Mammals Provide New Options. PLoS ONE, 6(8). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024030
If someone left a treadmill in your living room, how far would you run every day just because you felt like you had some energy to burn? Five miles? Zero miles, and you'd use it as a tie rack? How about 65 miles?Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere studied mutant mice that were missing a particular gene involved in cell signaling. They thought the gene had something to do with muscle development, and sure enough, they found that these mice had some pretty definite abnormal........ Read more »
Pistilli, E., Bogdanovich, S., Garton, F., Yang, N., Gulbin, J., Conner, J., Anderson, B., Quinn, L., North, K., Ahima, R.... (2011) Loss of IL-15 receptor α alters the endurance, fatigability, and metabolic characteristics of mouse fast skeletal muscles. Journal of Clinical Investigation. DOI: 10.1172/JCI44945
Bad news, tall people: Your extra inches are increasing your likelihood of developing cancer. And the taller you are, the worse it is. Here's what that means for you, your sunscreen use, and the Dutch.A study in the UK followed almost 1.3 million women for about 9 years. The women were middle-aged and had not had cancer before. Over the following years, researchers kept track of which women developed cancers. They also sorted the women into groups by height. What emerged was a tidy correlation: ........ Read more »
Green, J., Cairns, B., Casabonne, D., Wright, F., Reeves, G., & Beral, V. (2011) Height and cancer incidence in the Million Women Study: prospective cohort, and meta-analysis of prospective studies of height and total cancer risk. The Lancet Oncology. DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(11)70154-1
If only for reasons of terrestrial mobility, you probably shouldn't populate your whole superhero squad with cetaceans. Evil lairs on land would be difficult for you to infiltrate, to say the least. But you'd do well to consider including a dolphin or two in your next hero league. Dolphins were all over science journals last week, displaying powers that could put certain superheroes out of business.WolverineA letter published in Nature's Journal of Investigative Dermatology pointed out that bott........ Read more »
Zasloff, M. (2011) Observations on the Remarkable (and Mysterious) Wound-Healing Process of the Bottlenose Dolphin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. DOI: 10.1038/jid.2011.220
Patterson, E., & Mann, J. (2011) The Ecological Conditions That Favor Tool Use and Innovation in Wild Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops sp.). PLoS ONE, 6(7). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022243
Czech-Damal, N., Liebschner, A., Miersch, L., Klauer, G., Hanke, F., Marshall, C., Dehnhardt, G., & Hanke, W. (2011) Electroreception in the Guiana dolphin (Sotalia guianensis). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1127
Marshmallows, gummy bears, and Jell-O are all made jiggly by gelatin, an ingredient that comes from processed leftover pig and cow parts. If this troubles you, you may be glad to hear that some researchers are working on an alternative to animal-derived gelatin. Namely, gelatin that's human-derived.Gelatin is made by breaking down collagen, a protein that's plentiful in mammals' connective tissues. Collagen's ropy molecules run through bones, skin, and tendons. Spare bones and hides from th........ Read more »
Duan, H., Umar, S., Xiong, R., & Chen, J. (2011) New Strategy for Expression of Recombinant Hydroxylated Human-Derived Gelatin in Pichia pastoris KM71 . Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 59(13), 7127-7134. DOI: 10.1021/jf200778r
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