Not Exactly Rocket Science

Archives for May, 2008

Funky gibbons

Hi folks, I’m working on a large feature and I want to break the back of it over the weekend. So as a ittle bit diversion, I wanted to share with you two awesome videos that I took last weekend of gibbons moving with characteristic and incredible agility at Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens in Suffolk.…

Last year, I blogged about an ironic public health strategy – controlling malaria with mosquitoes. The mozzies in question are genetically engineered to be resistant to the malaria parasite, Plasmodium. The idea is that these GM-mosquitoes would mate with wild ones and spread their resistance genes through the natural population. The approach seems promising but…

Three-toed sloths have a reputation for being some of the sleepiest of all animals, largely due to a single study, which found that captive sloths snooze for 16 hours a day. That certainly seems like a sweet deal to me, but it seems that the sloth’s somnolent reputation has been exaggerated.   A new study…

A common wasp on a foraging mission catches an enticing scent on the breeze. It’s a set of chemicals given off by plants that are besieged by hungry insects and it means that there is food nearby for the wasp’s grubs – caterpillars. The wasp tracks the smell to its source – a flower –…

How Big Brother keeps us honest

Imagine that you’re walking along a quiet street and you see a wallet lying on the pavement. Would you take it? Now imagine a slightly different situation – the wallet has a red circle drawn around it. While many people would be tempted in the first scenario, almost no one would touch the wallet in…

Rats succumb to peer pressure too

This week’s New Scientist includes a short piece from me about conformist rats. Until now, only humans and chimps were known to succumb to peer pressure, to the extent that we often ignore our own experiences based on the preferences of others. But a new study in brown rats shows that these rodents are similarly…

A tenth of the planet’s population occasionally suffers through devastating famines because small insects fear being bitten in the bum. That’s the astonishing message from a new study of one of mankind’s greatest pests – the desert locust. Swarms can stretch for several hundred square kilometres and each of these harbours up to 80 million…

Cuckoos are some of nature’s most familiar conmen. Several species of this large family are murderous slackers, who shun their own parental responsibilities by deceiving other birds into caring for their chicks. In the process, they destroy the eggs of the unwitting adopted family to ensure that their own chick gets undivided attention. But this…

The countryside around Iraq and the Balkans are still suffering from the ravages of wars fought in the 1990s. The environment is littered with the potentially dangerous remnants of military weapons – depleted uranium. Depleted uranium is what’s left over after ‘enrichment’, when uranium-235 is separated from natural uranium. This isotope is suitable for nuclear…

Making sense of obesity genes

This is a quick follow-up to my other post on fat cells, which as it happens, isn’t the only obesity-related story out today. Another paper found a common genetic variant that increases the risk of obesity in its carriers. A huge team of researchers scoured the genomes of almost 17,000 European people for genetic variations…