Life Science

Dopamine is an important hormone released from neurons involved in reward pathways. Researchers at Cornell University wanted to know if dopamine signaling was involved in how birds learn songs. Their findings, recently published in Science, present evidence that neurons in the brain of zebra finches do in fact decrease dopamine signals when the birds hear an…

Secrets to longevity

A new article published in Physiological Reviews compared some remarkable similarities and differences between naked mole rats and humans. Both are relatively long-lived, highly social and have low natural selection pressures. But, this is about all they have in common. While humans are prone to developing age-related cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementias, naked mole rats…

Leptin is a hormone that signals the brain to suppress appetite in humans. While researchers at the University of Michigan described a similar appetite regulating role for leptin in South African clawed frogs (Xenopus), they also discovered that leptin signals limb development in tadpoles. They suspect that this happens once there are sufficient energy stores to begin the…

The Neotropical Companion by John Kricher came out years ago, in the late 80s if I recall correctly. I’ve got a copy of it around somewhere. I loved that book because it did a great job integrating all the things in one place: animals, plants, habitats, evolution, etc. Even though I was working in the…

What it’s like to be an octopus? This review of Peter Godfrey Smith’s book, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, captures perfectly why I’ve been fascinated by them — they’re the closest thing to aliens we’ve got. Unlike cetaceans – whose sentience it is possible to imagine, partly because…

Need pest control, get a spider

A new study shows that globally, spiders consume 400-800 million tons of prey each year. That’s roughly more than double the amount of fish and meat that humans consume. Impressive…yet creepy at the same time. I suppose we should thank them for their pest control efforts. Sources: M Nyffeler, K Birkhofer. An estimated 400–800 million tons of prey…

Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution by Anurag Agrawal is a fantastic, readable, scientifically rich, detailed monograph about – you guessed it – the monarch butterfly and the milkweed plant. The monarch butterfly begins a springtime northward migration by flying a good ways north, where females…

Water bears, aka tardigrades, are resilient little creatures. These microscopic animals can survive both freezing and boiling temperatures, radiation, high pressure, starvation, the vacuum of space and even desiccation. This last ability caught the attention of a team of researchers interested in how they are able to survive for years despite being completely dried out, an ability known…

Friday Cephalopod: Spotty

Is anyone else seeing this picture and immediately wondering what molecules regulate the orderly dispersal of those well-distributed pigment cells?

The earliest life must have been something like a small single celled organism, like a bacterium. Or at least, the earliest life that we can usefully conceive of, and potentially connect with living life. It has been suggested that life could have initially evolved at the site of submarine hydrothermal vents, which is a place…