Friday Coffee Break

birdscoffeeEvery Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

Scientists have been tracking the flight patterns of alpine swifts – turns out, they are pretty badass! (From Noah).

“In September of 2011, three alpine swifts took to the air in southwest Africa, and stayed there for almost 200 days. They fed on the wing. They slept on the wing. By the time they firmly settled back on solid surfaces, it was April of 2012 and they had travelled across the Sahara to the Mediterranean.”

A recent study has identified heritable genetic variation that may contribute to eating disorders (From Jeremy).

“Eating disorders are a combination disease, a combination of genetic risks and environmental triggers, including things like stress. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult to identify specific genes that predispose people to eating disorders.”

Trying to determine which recent scientific findings are the most important? Don’t ask a scientist (From Amy).

“Maybe you shouldn’t put too much stock in what four out of five dentists say? Scientists, even experts in the same field, don’t agree on which research studies are the most important, a new study (of course) found.”

CJ points us to some awesome science comics at Beatrice the Biologist.

“Beatrice the Biologist is part science blog, part comic, and part incoherent rambling. I just hope you find my insanity amusing.”

Poop pills – This is supposed to reduce the ‘ick’ factor?  (From Sarah)

“If you’re one of those people that has trouble swallowing pills, try not to think what’s in these ones as they go down: A researcher has shown that encapsulated bacteria from human feces effectively treated 100 percent of patients with relapsing Clostridium difficile infections.”

While a longer life is good for us, it is likely very bad for our biotic environment.  Are you surprised? (From Sarah)

“As human life expectancy increases, so does the percentage of invasive and endangered birds and mammals, according to a new study by the University of California, Davis.”

Friday Coffee Break

cat fish coffee

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

From Sarah:

Algae food helmets! – Sarah hopes the future doesn’t look this, but I kinda do!

“One person’s head-mounted torture device may be another person’s idea of food. Case in point: the Algaculture Symbiosis Suit.”

From Noah:

Don’t Be That Dude – Academic addition.  An excellent set of guidelines for men who don’t want to piss off their female colleagues.   Should this be required reading at the start of grad school?

An amazingly LARGE stingray – definitely something that I would only like to run into from a very safe distance away!

“Though this could be the largest freshwater fish on the planet, accounts of its existence only emerged in Thai newspapers in the early 1980s.”

From Amy:

Scientific evidence that looking at Facebook is depressing.  I am so glad it isn’t just me! But, it does beg the question: why do we spend so much time looking at something that makes us feel bad?

“Does interacting with Facebook make us feel good as does interacting with people in real life?  A recent paper suggests that the answer is “probably not.””

From Jeremy:

Meet the four-eyed fish – these guys have some awesome eyes.

“Now the fish do not have four eyes exactly, but in both eyes they can see above and below water simultaneously. This is a good super power to have when you spend most of your time on the surface foraging insects.”

From CJ:

Why are there still so few women in science ? – If you still find this question puzzling, even after reading the “Don’t be that Dude” link, CJ points us to this in-depth discussion of the challenges of being a women in science.

“Last summer, researchers at Yale published a study proving that physicists, chemists and biologists are likely to view a young male scientist more favorably than a woman with the same qualifications.”

And finally, some friday fun!  – 32 awesome science GIFs.

Does science promote morality?

Almost a year ago today, I wrote my first post here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!.  The post, titled ‘The Data on Science and Religion‘, discussed a article in Science that investigated whether analytical thinking promoted religious disbelief.  I thought it fitting that my post today would tackle a new article, just published in PLoS One that asks whether analytical thinking also makes you more moral.

The authors of the article, Christine Ma-Kellams and Jim Blascovich, used a series of four experiments to ask whether there was a link between exposure to science and moral behavior.  In the first experiment, the authors examined how previous exposure to scientific thinking influenced perceptions of moral behavior.  Participants were asked to read a short story describing a date rape situation and rate how wrong the behavior was on a scale of 1-100, where 100 is considered completely wrong.  They were then asked, on a scale of 1-7, how much they ‘believe’ in science.

To avoid confounding past experiences, the following three experiments manipulated the participants recent exposure to scientific thinking by asking them to play a word game that either contained scientific vocabulary (i.e. hypothesis, scientists, etc.) or control vocabulary (i.e. shoes, paper, etc.) and then complete one of three alternative tasks aimed to measure morality.  The second study repeated the same moral judgement scenario as their first experiment.  The third study asked participants to report the likelihood that they would engage in certain activities in the following month.  Those activities fell into two categories: (1) prosocial behaviors that benefit others, such as giving blood and (2) control activities with no benefit to others, such as going to the movies.  Finally, the forth study measured actual moral behavior by giving the participants $5 and asking them to split it (in any manner they desired) between themselves and another anonymous participant.

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Beware: The Sneaky Grass Goby

Grass Gobies

Grass Goby (Zosterisessor ophiocephalus) – Wikipedia Commons

Competition for mates drives the evolution of many of the exaggerated male traits, such as the bright plumage of tropical birds or the intricate horns of dung beetles, that are so easily appreciated (and photographed).  However, the elaborate consequences of competition for mates continue even after mate choice and copulation has taken place, inside of the female reproductive tract.  Much of the research on sperm competition has focused, for obvious reasons, on the quantity and morphology of the sperm produced by males with results that are no less fascinating or extreme.  For example, the fruit fly, Drosophila bifurca, produce sperm that are around 2.3 inches long, which is more than 20 times their body length and 1000 times the length of human sperm!

However, sperm constitute only a small portion of the male ejaculate transferred to females during mating.  The rest, up to 90%, is composed of a myriad of proteins and other compounds that constitute the seminal fluid.  In addition to being produced in abundance, seminal fluid proteins are also diverse.  For example, scientists have found that males, of many species, produce dozens, if not hundreds, of different types of seminal fluid proteins.  So, what then, do all these proteins do?  It turns out that these protein are involved in many different processes that indirectly influence male reproductive success, including influencing female physiology and interacting with a male’s own, as well as rival, sperm.

A recent study by Locatello et al., published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, has taken advantage of some useful characteristics of the mating system of the grass goby, Zosterisessor ophiocephalus, (pictured above) to investigate how alternative male mating strategies may be paired with alternative sperm competition strategies to help level the playing field between males that vary in their ability to directly compete for mates.

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Friday Coffee Break

coffee cherries

Before and After – coffee cherries (right) & green coffee beans (left)

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

Scientists have discovered a (potential) new species of spider in the Peruvian Amazon that builds spider-like decoys within its web.  While other species of spiders are known to exhibit similar behavior, this species appears to make particularly elaborate structures. (From Sarah)

Here is some advice on what makes a good PhD application from the point of view of a PI at Columbia University. (From Devin)

Did you know that there are fields of ice flowers in the arctic ocean? Scientists studying them have once again found abundant life where it is least expected. (From CJ)

From Nature, here are the top 11 images and top 10 scientists of 2012.  Check out my favorite (and theme-appropriate) image below! (From CJ & Amy).

Caffeine Crystals Cavanagh and McCarthy

Caffeine Crystals

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Friday Coffee Break


Coffee Berries

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

The Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab in NYC is investigating how humans and dogs play together together by cataloging behaviors displayed in short video clips contributed by dog owners from around the world.  To participate, submit a video of you and your dog here. (From Sarah)

The filmmakers from Chasing Ice show us what it is like when an iceberg, roughly the size of Manhattan, breaks up right in front of our eyes. (From CJ)

Applying for jobs? Check out this comprehensive guide to the Academic CV.  (From Jeremy)

Here is an interesting post from Scientific American on the biology of Jewel Caterpillars. If you are unfamiliar with the awesomeness of these critters, just check out the picture below! (From Noah)

Still trying to find a gift for that tricky population geneticist on your Christmas list? Look no further than the 2012 Gift Guide for Population Geneticists from Lost in Transcription. (From Devin)

In response to the popularity of their recent post on advice for graduate seo companies students, The Molecular Ecologist has put together a carnival of advice titled: Knowing What I Know Now. (From Jeremy)

jewel caterpillar 2

Jewel Caterpillar

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Friday Coffee Break


Coffea arabica flowers

Every Friday at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! our contributors pass around links to new scientific results, or science-y news, or videos of adorable wildlife, that they’re most likely to bring up while waiting in line for a latte.

Researchers have found that the insecticidal properties of cigarette butts protect the nests of urban birds from parasites.  Could this be a clever adaptation to an urban environment? (From Jeremy)

There is a new podcast for biologists by biologists.  Check it out at Breaking Bio. (From Devin)

It turns out that children get into their mother’s head both metaphorically and physically. Researchers have found that children’s cells not only circulate in the mother’s bloodstream during pregnancy, but can also become permanently embedded in the mother’s brain. (From Sarah) has a new series of articles about Pandemics.  Go check out why bats are the world’s most dangerous animal or why koalas have horrible health.  (From Devin)

A new documentary, ‘Extraordinary Ordinary Junco‘, shows us how studying a common North American songbird has advanced our understanding of animal behavior, ecology and evolution. (From Noah)

And, finally, a beautiful slow-mo video of cheetahs running really fast. (From Sarah)

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Where have all the ‘N-mt’s gone?

Screenshot 12:4:12 1:19 PM

This week I would like to highlight a recent scientific publication by one of our very own contributor’s here at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense! – Devin Drown. Drown and colleagues recently published an article in Genome Biology and Evolution that investigates how nuclear genes that interact with the mitochondria (N-mt genes) are distributed within the genome. They show that when it comes to the location of genes within the genome, all is not equal, and suggest that conflict between males and females may influence where our genes are located.

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