Boing Boing 

Mind-controlling parasites (and the parasites that infect them)

A great, full-body-squick-inducing article in National Geographic provides an overview of the current research on parasites that use a combination of techniques to control their hosts' behavior, making them sacrifice themselves for the sake of the parasites and their offspring.

Read the rest

Whale vaginas are amazing


Mammal penises, including those of cetaceans, are pretty easy to find, while vaginas are more difficult to examine; historically, accounts of animal reproduction have emphasized the features of penises and theories of sperm competition, but a burgeoning scientific emphasis on whale vaginas is revealing structures and strategies that are amazing and wonderful.

Read the rest

Aloha shirt featuring critters from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur


The 19th century German biologist's seminal illustrations of weird sea-life have been adapted for a gorgeous Betabrand cabana shirt.

Read the rest

The woman with a nose on her back

There are some pretty freakish, but well-substantiated, reports this week that demonstrate just how much we still have to learn about stem cells and how they work (and don't work).

Read the rest

Solid gold DNA-strand rings


Zanders Creations' solid 18k gold DNA Strand Ring starts at $750 and is available in four colors. The image is a computer render, and the Arizona-based team that makes the rings consists of a 3D artist and a jeweler who collaborate on some very beautiful pieces.

Nudibranch pancakes


Every week, a new delight from Pancake Master Nathan "Saipancakes" Shields: this week, An assortment of Pacific coast nudibranchs. (previously)

Kickstarting an augmented reality, artificial lifeform in a kids' picture-book

Wagner James Au sez, "Created by virtual world/avatar pioneer Jeffrey Ventrella, Wiglets are self-animated, augmented reality creatures for mobile devices powered by an open source AI system, and have genomes that are stored in the cloud along with their geo-locations. 'This means they can exist in specific locations in the real world,' Jeffrey explains. The overall goal with Wiglets is to encourage kids to find/play with their creatures in the natural world."

$65 gets you the book and a virtual Wiglet.

Read the rest

Peter Watts's The Scorched Earth Society: A Suicide Bomber's Guide to Online Privacy


Science fiction writer and biologist Peter Watts gave a spectacular talk to the Symposium of the International Association of Privacy Professional, called The Scorched Earth Society: A Suicide Bomber's Guide to Online Privacy (PDF); Watts draws on his two disciplines to produce a stirring, darkly comic picture of the psychological toll of the surveillance society.

Watts is the writer who was beaten, maced, and convicted of a felony for asking a US border guard why he'd walked up behind his rental car and opened his trunk without any discussion or notice. His take on surveillance and its relationship to control, authoritarianism and corruption is both sharp-edged and nuanced. And his proposal for a remedy is provocative and difficult to argue with. I only wish I'd been in the room to give the talk, as he's a remarkable and acerbic storyteller.

Read the rest

The oldest living things in the world

The Oldest Living Things in the World is an amazing hybrid,” says Carla Sinclair, “part traditional coffee table book displaying gorgeous photographs, and part memoir of Rachel Sussman’s journey trekking around the world to photograph the oldest living things that she could find.”

Read the rest

Could this simple sea creature hold the key to treating Parkinson's?

A comb jelly, via Whitney laboratory for Marine Biosciences, University of Florida.  REUTERS/Whitney laboratory for Marine Biosciences, University of Florida.


A comb jelly (University of Florida).

A scientist in Florida who studies simple sea animals known as comb jellies says he has discovered a path to a new form of brain development that may one day lead to treatments for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Read the rest

Cephalopod pancakes


More gorgeous pancakes from Nathan "Saipancakes" Shields: this week, it's cephalopod flapjacks. Dig that chambered nautilus!



Kickstarting Openworm: a cellular-level-up simulated worm

Wagner James Au writes, "Openworm, the open source collaborative project to construct an artificial life form from the cellular level, now has a Kickstarter so supporters can back the project and also get a copy of the worm itself, Wormsim, to put on their browser and even tweak the code. Here's some background from the project coordinator, who I also ask if this Kickstarter is, you know, contributing to the ultimate creation of a completely artificial sentient life form that will turn against humankind and enslave our children.

They're mostly raising money for core engineering, with the balance going to administration and educational outreach. The code is all MIT-licensed free/open source software.

Read the rest

Documentary about the only penis musuem in the world

[Video Link] The Final Member "follows the aging curator of one of the world's only penis museum as he races against his own mortality to complete his comprehensive collection." He needs a human penis.

Bioengineer builds 50-cent paper microscope

Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash devised a pretty amazing paper microscope that uses cheap tiny spherical lenses. The "Foldoscope" costs around 50 cents.

“I wanted to make the best possible disease-detection instrument that we could almost distribute for free,” Prakash says. “What came out of this project is what we call use-and-throw microscopy.”

"Stanford bioengineer develops a 50-cent paper microscope"

Sponges sneeze

In Evolutionary origins of sensation in metazoans: functional evidence for a new sensory organ in sponges, Danielle A Ludeman and her team at the University of Alberta document the heretofore unsuspected phenomenon of sneezing in freshwater sponges. When these sponges are stimulated with damaging sediment, they close their chimneys and inflate themselves to bursting, then abruptly "sneeze" out the irritants -- a process that unfolds very slowly (documented above in timelapse). I found out about this thanks to a fascinating interview (MP3) with the researcher on CBC Radio's As It Happens.

Read the rest

A biological mechanism for fire-breathing dragons

Say dragons did exist. In that alternate universe, how would they breathe fire? (Where the answer is not "magic".) Kyle Hill has a nice explanation for how real-life fire breath might work, and how it could have evolved over time. (Although, slight spoiler, Hill's idea won't be terribly surprising to those of us raised on Ken Hamm Creationism videos.)

Sperm Journey

An educational video for you, from Japan. [Video Link. Thanks, Heather!]

Why do dog farts stink so bad?

Because puppies are filled with love ... and also hydrogen sulfide.

Your brain is all squishy: An anatomical demonstration

This video was made by the University of Utah Brain Institute to teach medical students about what a brain looks and feels like before it gets preserved in formalin and takes on the texture of a hard rubber ball.

The big takeaway message: Your brain is seriously squishy. So squishy, in fact, that a finger can dent it. As professor Suzanne Stensaas explains, this is one of the reasons why cerebrospinal fluid is so important. Your brain has to float in that fluid. If it didn't, it would come to rest against the side of your hard skull and quickly end up deformed.

Seriously, this is a fascinating (if extremely graphic) video. (Hilariously, given that fact, it opens with an image of a student eating.) Definitely worth watching!

Tongues aren't just for smelling

After you spent all that time in grade school conditioning yourself to know that snakes stick out their tongues in order to smell things, it turns out that those tricksy animals were also tasting with their tongues, all along.

How to: Sex your crocodile

Can you properly distinguish between a male and female crocodile? This research paper, published in 2007, will help — pointing out the sometimes subtle differences between external genitalia. It's chock full of pictures of erect crocodile penises, so you'll learn what those look like, but what particularly interested me was the diagram above.

Cloacas are sort of multi-purpose orifices found in certain species of birds and reptiles. Instead of having separate biological tools for poop, pee, and sex, these animals manage all three functions with the same hole. Males also have cloacas and will either have a penis or pseudo-penis that comes out of it for mating. I've known this for a long time, but had a lot of trouble picturing how all of that anatomy fits together. This diagram (Figure 4 in the paper) is the first image that made the internal structure of cloacas really make sense to me. The more you know!

Real lemmings don't commit mass suicide

Earlier this week, Republican representative Devin Nunes referred to his colleagues in the US House of Representatives as "lemmings with suicide vests". I would like to propose that this characterization is vastly unfair. To the lemmings.

That's because real lemmings, such as the adorable little creature pictured above, aren't actually suicidal. If anything, their problem is that they're just too damn horny. [Insert new political analogy here.]

Read the rest

Popular Science answers your TMI questions

Fun fact you might not be aware of if you are not the owner of a uterus: Periods go hand-in-hand with pooping. Not every person who gets a period will end up with diarrhea, but it's not uncommon because the same hormone that makes a uterus contract (a necessary step in the whole period process) can also end up making your intestines contract. Francie Diep explains this effect — as well as the other hormone-related reason why periods and poops can be linked.

Two good reasons to question the claim that alien life has been found in Earth's atmosphere

First, neither the authors of the paper, nor the journal its published in, have the best track record for careful work, well-documented research, or non-hyperbolic results. More important, the actual paper, itself, makes claims it can't back up. Case in point, says Phil Plait, the alien in question is a particle the authors assume is part of a diatom — a single-celled plant. The paper actually says "assume", and, from the sounds of things, they haven't even checked out that basic, important idea with a diatom expert.

Lady squid dress in drag

The opalescent inshore squid (which, if you've eaten squid in the US, then you've probably eaten before) can change color just like octopuses can. In fact, scientists found that female squid can give themselves a white stripe that looks an awful lot like the testicles of their male counterparts. It's probably some kind of defensive measure, but the scientists are more interested in how the squid change color, not why. That's because the mechanism is unique, and fascinating.

Enormous timescales made graspable by graphs

Wait But Why has a fantastic series of graphs that aim to help us wrap our heads around the enormous timescales on which forces like history, biology, geography and astronomy operate. By carefully building up graphs that show the relationship between longer and longer timescales, the series provides a moment's worth of emotional understanding of the otherwise incomprehensible.

Read the rest

Insect with gears on its legs

Meet Issus coleoptratus, an insect whose larva have interlocking meshed gears connecting their back legs. The gears help coordinate leg movements, helping the larva to jump fast and far.

Video Link

True tales of a laboratory safety officer

Science journalist John Rennie is an amazing story teller. In this recording from Story Collider, he explains how he became the lab safety officer in his post-undergrad biology laboratory in the early 1980s (it involves being the only person who was concerned when other people started scooping up mercury with their bare hands). The peak of his experience: The day he stuck his arm, up past the elbow, into a barrel of liquid nitrogen. Good times.

Audio link

When the octopus says, "ouch"

Given that people are going around doing things like cutting off octopus limbs in order to understand their distributed neuron processing system, it's worth asking some questions about how octopuses perceive pain, as well. That's more complicated than you might think. As Katherine Harmon explains, it's likely that octopuses have some kind of awareness of when they're touching something unpleasant. But just how that works, and how similar it might be to the way we vertebrates understand "pain", is a big mystery.

Revealed: the questing, flexible, ramified business-end of a mosquito

Valérie Choumet at Paris's Institut Pasteur anaesthetized a mouse, stuck a microscope in a flap of its skin, and induced a mosquito to bite it. The result is the best footage yet of the weird, flexible, questing mouth of a mosquito, which can bend and twist and fork as it seeks out blood vessels.

Read the rest