Friday coffee break: Ant architecture, the importance of sleep, and an ArXive for biologists

Coffee Time

From Sarah: Here are ten ways your house is like an ant’s. And here are ten cool recent dinosaur discoveries.

And, also from Sarah: a new international study shows that students need sleep.

I think we underestimate the impact of sleep. Our data show that across countries internationally, on average, children who have more sleep achieve higher in maths, science and reading. That is exactly what our data show,” says Chad Minnich, of the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center.

From Devin: A new preprint server, bioRxiv, is looking to be the ArXive for the life sciences. (But lots of biologists are starting to use ArXive already.)

… Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press is set to test the waters in preprint publishing before the end of the year. The service, called bioRxiv, will be largely modeled after arXiv, with a few additional features to entice life scientists. These include public commenting, room for supplementary information and links to established databases such as GenBank.

From Jeremy: A study tests the quality of plant trait data from public databases by comparing it to new samples.

… the correlation between sampling effort and payoff is still (as usual) high. It may be easier to get traits from a database, but it is not usually better.

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Dying young? Better live fast — if you’re an ant.

Among the many things I hope you’re thankful for — whether you’re U.S.-based and celebrating Thanksgiving this week, or you’re feeling generally grateful regardless of geography and time — you can add to the list the fact that you’re not an ant. Worker ants are essentially enslaved to the task of helping their mother, the queen, reproduce. Any individual worker is disposable, in support of that broader task of the whole colony.

And it’s not as though the workers don’t seem to be aware aware of this — to the extent that a worker ant can be “aware” — at some level. An experiment described in the current issue of The American Naturalist demonstrates pretty clearly that, when workers are injured, they take greater risks — as you’d expect if they’re trying to give the colony the greatest possible benefit from their shortened lives.

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Friday Coffee Break

Maybe if you have that cup of coffee outdoors, you’ll do better next allergy season?

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 Noah: AntWeb is a comprehensive online resource for ant taxonomy and identification, with an “insanely awesome variety of ant morphologies expertly captured in focus-stacked photos.”
 Our mission is to publish for the scientific community high quality images of all the world’s ant species. As of May of 2012, AntWeb has 77510 ant images, of 18508 specimens representing over 8304 species. AntWeb provides tools for submitting images, specimen records, annotating species pages, and managing regional species lists.
From Sarah: A recent study of Finnish teenagers found that those living in the countryside had more diverse communities of bacteria living on their skin—wich was associated with lower sensitivities to allergens.

One type of gammaproteobacteria , calledAcinetobacter, was singled out as being “strongly linked to the development of anti-inflammatory molecules”.

“Basically, our study showed that the more you had of this particular gammaproteobacteria on your skin then you had a immunological response which is known to suppress inflammatory responses ( to pollen, animals etc).”

And from Jeremy: Your funiture is probably chock full of potentially toxic fire-preventing chemicals that don’t actually prevent fires, thank in large part to unbelievably dishonest lobbying by the companies that make the chemicals.

[Dr. David] Heimbach’s passionate testimony about the baby’s death made the long-term health concerns about flame retardants voiced by doctors, environmentalists and even firefighters sound abstract and petty.

But there was a problem with his testimony: It wasn’t true.

Records show there was no dangerous pillow or candle fire. The baby he described didn’t exist.

Friday Coffee Break


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. Or sitting down to afternoon tea.

From Noah: Plant-protecting ants construct ambush corridors to trap prey—and anyone who tries to take that prey.
You could look at this in two ways. On one hand, the ants are susceptible to theft by other insects that can exploit their effective traps.  Alternatively, the traps are doubly effective because they allow the ants to eat not only the insects that blunder into the trap, but those that try to feed from them. It’s a trap for thieves as well as passers-by.
From Sarah: In the case of octopus v. seagull, the seagull loses.
 As the group headed out along the walkway, Ginger noticed a gull acting strangely a short distance ahead of her. The bird was on the inside of the breakwater, where the water is clear and can be quite still. The gull appeared to be feeding on something underwater, but it didn’t raise its head. As they approached, they could see a red-orange shape in the water below the gull. When they got to the spot directly above the gull, they could see that it was an octopus. And Ginger’s camera was in her hand.
And from Jon: Facebook is encouraging members to post their status as organ donors—and boosting organ donor registration as a result.
They say people declaring on Facebook that they are organ donors could spur others to sign up at motor vehicle departments or online registries. But these experts say Facebook could create an informal alternative to such registries that could, even though it carries less legal weight, lead to more organ donations.