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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘biology

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait notes a new study suggesting some hypervelocity stars were ejected from the Large Magellanic Cloud.
  • Crooked Timber’s John Holbo wonders how else Trump can transgress the norms of the presidency.
  • The Crux notes the exceptional hardiness of the tardigrade. These forms of life might well outlive the sun.
  • Gizmodo notes the evidence for a recently frozen subsurface ocean on Pluto’s Charon.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the Israeli government’s effective, if confused, opposition to same-sex adoption.
  • Unicorn Booty looks at the significant impact RuPaul’s Drag Race has on music sales.
  • Window on Eurasia notes how Putin’s political allies have been having trouble coming up with a positive future.

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

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  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait looks at some stunning imagery of the Great Red Spot of Jupiter.
  • Inkfish notes that some jumping spiders do not just look like ants, they walk like them, too.
  • Language Log has gentle fun with the trend to develop heat maps for American English dialects.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the idea of disgust as it is made to relate to the homeless.
  • Siva Vijenthira at Spacing considers the particular importance of biking for the independence of women.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel considers whether or not terraforming Mars is worth it. (Yes, but it will be costly.)
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that China is displacing Russia, despite the latter’s efforts, as the main trade partner of smaller post-Soviet countries.
  • Arnold Zwicky shares an amusing photo of the Wonder Bears of Provincetown.

[LINK] “How geologists found the world’s oldest fossils in Canada”

In an interview with the discoverers, Meagan Campbell of MacLean’s explores how fossils 3.8 billion years old were found in a rock formation in northern Québec.

The oldest proof we have of life on Earth is in Quebec, according to a team of international researchers. On the edge of the Hudson Bay, geologists and biologists from England, Australia, the United States and Canada collected fossils of microscopic lifeforms. On March 1, they published an article in the journal Nature, suggesting that these lifeforms existed 3.7 to 4.3 billion years ago, before the planet had oxygen or oceans—meaning life could begin in other barren parts of the universe, too. For a look behind the scenes of the discovery, Maclean’s spoke with Jonathan O’Neil, a geologist at the University of Ottawa who dated the fossils.

Q: Can you describe the moment of discovery?

A: I was with some of my colleagues at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington. The first moment, you don’t even believe it. You say, “that can’t be.” So you reanalyze it, and you get the same result. You redo it again, redo it again, redo it again, and you start coming back with the same data, same results, same numbers, and you start to believe it. It’s a weird feeling. It pushes everything back.

Q. Why is the finding controversial?

A: Rocks are always dated with radioactivity. We use that as a timer. The golden standard for us is we’re trying to date a certain mineral, a Zircon. We’re excellent at it. We can get super nice and precise and robust dates. The only drawback is you need Zircons to do it. These rocks from northern Quebec, they don’t have them. We used a different clock. It’s only good for rocks that are 4 billion years old. We’ve done it for some rocks from the moon, but it’s the first time we’ve done it on Earth.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 2, 2017 at 10:30 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO notes the continued rise in rental prices for apartments.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at a time in the Earth’s history when there was a lot of atmospheric oxygen but not much life.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting there is an authentic lack of gas giant planets beyond 10 AU.
  • Itching for Eestimaa notes the British politicians who favoured the recognition of the Soviet annexation of the Baltics, and notes that those imperialist times of old are back.
  • The Map Room Blog notes that Trump voters tend to prefer Duck Dynasty and Clinton voters preferred Family Guy.
  • Marginal Revolution notes California’s ban on funding travel to jurisdictions which discriminate against people on grounds of sexual orientation or gender.
  • Peter Watts describes a trip on hallucinogens.
  • The NYRB Daily shares Masha Gessen’s concerns about the threat of moral authority.
  • Spacing links to some article about improving bike infrastructure.
  • Window on Eurasia warns of a new consolidation of Russian federal units.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Antipope Charlie Stross wonders about the interactions between parasite loads and the intelligence of the inhabitants of off-world colonies.
  • Bad Astronomy shares a stunning mosaic of the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • blogTO notes the construction of a viewing platform for Toronto plane spotters.
  • The Everyday Sociology Blog examines why we call other people stupid.
  • Imageo notes how Arctic sea ice is trending at record low levels.
  • Language Hat looks at the ways in which the English language is changing.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money and the Volokh Conspiracy consider whether the FBI announcement of the expansion of the Weiner E-mail search to target Hillary Clinton was legal.
  • Marginal Revolution reports that GM crops are apparently not increasing yields particularly.
  • Progressive Download’s John Farrell reports on the politics of bashing Darwin and evolution.
  • Spacing considers a recent election outcome for mayor in Saskatoon.
  • Torontoist reports on the Russell Hill subway crash of 1995.
  • Window on Eurasia considers the prospect of Russians turning against Putin and argue his regime’s fascist turn will be continuing.

[LINK] “Why Neuroscientists Need to Study the Crow”

Via 3 Quarks Daily I found Grigori Guitchounts’ article in Nautilus making the case for research into the mechanisms of corvid intelligence.

The animals of neuroscience research are an eclectic bunch, and for good reason. Different model organisms—like zebra fish larvae, C. elegans worms, fruit flies, and mice—give researchers the opportunity to answer specific questions. The first two, for example, have transparent bodies, which let scientists easily peer into their brains; the last two have eminently tweakable genomes, which allow scientists to isolate the effects of specific genes. For cognition studies, researchers have relied largely on primates and, more recently, rats, which I use in my own work. But the time is ripe for this exclusive club of research animals to accept a new, avian member: the corvid family.

Corvids, such as crows, ravens, and magpies, are among the most intelligent birds on the planet—the list of their cognitive achievements goes on and on—yet neuroscientists have not scrutinized their brains for one simple reason: They don’t have a neocortex. The obsession with the neocortex in neuroscience research is not unwarranted; what’s unwarranted is the notion that the neocortex alone is responsible for sophisticated cognition. Because birds lack this structure—the most recently evolved portion of the mammalian brain, crucial to human intelligence—neuroscientists have largely and unfortunately neglected the neural basis of corvid intelligence.

This makes them miss an opportunity for an important insight. Having diverged from mammals more than 300 million years ago, avian brains have had plenty of time to develop along remarkably different lines (instead of a cortex with its six layers of neatly arranged neurons, birds evolved groups of neurons densely packed into clusters called nuclei). So, any computational similarities between corvid and primate brains—which are so different neurally—would indicate the development of common solutions to shared evolutionary problems, like creating and storing memories, or learning from experience. If neuroscientists want to know how brains produce intelligence, looking solely at the neocortex won’t cut it; they must study how corvid brains achieve the same clever behaviors that we see in ourselves and other mammals.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2016 at 8:00 pm

[LINK] “Watch How Bees Teach Each Other to Solve Problems”

National Geographic‘s Brian Clark Howard describes a new study that demonstrates how bees, that epitome of a swarm intelligence, learn.

Bee see, bee do. At least that’s the conclusion of research published earlier this month, showing that bumblebees learn to solve problems by watching each other.

In the first study of its kind in insects, scientists constructed experiments that challenged bees to pull strings in order to access rewards of nectar. It’s a technique that has long been used to test cognition in various vertebrates, but hadn’t yet been tried with insects.

[. . .]

The first step was proving that bees could learn to solve a simple problem. But what’s more interesting is that other bees that hadn’t encountered the problem before picked up the ability to solve it more quickly when they had a chance to watch a trainer bee that had already figured out the puzzle.

Further, that knowledge was shown to spread from bee to bee throughout a colony, even if the first bee that figured out the trick died.

The scientists hoped their study would shed light on a bigger picture: how social learning spreads through a population. That might even have implications for the evolutionary roots of culture in human beings, they noted.

The study in question is available here.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2016 at 7:00 pm