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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”
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