The indestructible tardigrade

“Water bears” or tardigrades are the most resilient animals ever. Slight hyperbole, but really not that far off.

They are able to withstand extreme radiation, temperature changes and even the vacuum of space.

So it’s no surprise that people were fascinated by the tardigrade genome, and how they manage to survive no matter what.

In a new study in nature communications shows the unique arsenal of strategies to cope with stressful conditions that tardigrades may face.

Read about it over at Gizmodo!

Or enjoy this quote:

“Tardigrades are strangely adorable microscopic creatures that are capable of withstanding some of the worst that nature can throw at them.”


A (tardigrade) face that only a mother could love. (Credit: Takekazu Kunieda)

The trees are dying

In Hawaii trees are dying at an alarming rate due to an unknown and uncharacterised disease.

Since 2010 66 million trees have been killed in the Sierra Nevadas due to an invasive pathogen called Sudden Oak Death.

In Montana Bark beetles and mountain pine beetles are killing trees at a rate 10 times higher than normal.

These are a few but not exhaustive examples. Want a better summary of the trials facing our american forests? Read about it over at the Guardian.


When bad science goes mainstream: the treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

An 8 million dollar study came out in the Lancet ~5 years ago claiming that if you have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, otherwise known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, the best treatment is exercise and psychotherapy.

However, after years of demanding they release their data (which they did under a court order), it has now been revealed that the study was just plain bad science.

Read about the controversy, the study, and the retraction (hopefully) over at STAT.


Epic Battles: Humpback Whales vs. Killer Whales?

Altruism: behaviour of an animal that benefits another at its own expense.

This is rare within species (bees and other social animals being the notable exception), but between species? Practically unheard of.

But apparently the raging war between humpback whales and killer whales (which I genuinely did not know was happening), has caused humpbacks to intervene in the killer whales hunting other species.

Read about it over at National Geographic… and puzzle over why humpbacks keep picking on killer whales.


More about bees

Working with snails was easy. They are easy to catch, easy to keep alive, and people are largely not interested in them.

Bees, however, are a challenge. They are picky about the weather, they fly around and people are coming out of the woodwork to talk to me about them. I’ve never met so many people who are engaged about bees.

So much so that after my recent Notes from the Field post, a friend sent me an article from NPR. That’s right, NPR wrote an article about things I’m working on.

Read about bees and viruses over at NPR!


Science writing STYLE!

My mother is an international lawyer of some renown and she is also my editor, and BOY am I lucky to have her (She recently asked me if commas had hurt me as a child…).

But if  you’re not lucky enough to have a world class writer editing your work, here is a list of Top Ten style checks for PhDs or creative non-fiction writers: Ways to assess your paragraphs or sentences over Medium. Not all of them are gold, but one sample:

5. Are you using active verbs with real subjects?[good] Or passive verbs, whose subjects are abstractions, reifications or anthromorphized concepts? [bad] Word and other equivalents will identify every passive formulation in the Spellchecker facility — go through and change them all over.

Well worth the read!


Snails are going extinct

Given that I studied an abundant snail during my PhD (actually, Potamopyrgus antipodarum is invasive throughout most of the world), this headline was alarming to me.

But like many uncharismatic microfauna, snails are declining in record number across a number of different habitats.

Read about it over at Scientific America, and save the snails!

The endangered Powelliphanta augusta snail of New Zealand Credit: Alan Liefting

The endangered Powelliphanta augusta snail of New Zealand Credit: Alan Liefting

Science isn’t Broken

In this election cycle I have new and interesting levels of anxiety. All the time. But I find comfort and solace in the data nerds over at fivethirtyeight. I have found their reporting like a warm blanket and a cup of hot chocolate by the fire in the middle of the blizzard that is the presidential election.

They are obsessed with data, and using data to answer questions whether in politics,  sports, or (this is new for them) science. Speficially, they recently posted a great article about how Science isn’t broken. Yes p-hacking occurs, but “what makes science so powerful is that it’s self correcting”.

Read about it over at fivethirtyeight! 


Fossilized Leaves Solve Decades Old Death

The 58-year-young King Albert I of Belgium died while rock climbing in 1934. His body was found lifelessly hanging from a rope from the crags at Marche-les-Dames and it was a scandal to the tune of JFK like conspiracy.

82 years later we have a new clue into the cause of the Belguim royals death! And it comes from… plants.

Read about it over at Smithsonian.