Lots of good stuff today - hard to pick favourites:
As humans exert ever-greater influence on the Earth, their preferences will play a substantial role in determining which other species survive. New research shows that, in some cases, those preferences could be governed by factors as subtle as small color highlights a creature displays. In the case of penguins, mostly black-and-white flightless birds that live predominantly in the Southern Hemisphere, those most popular with humans appear to be the ones that display markings of warm colors such as red, orange or intense yellow, said David Stokes, a conservation biologist at the University of Washington, Bothell.
More, under the fold....
Scientists have long struggled to figure out how the brain guides the complex movement of our limbs, from the graceful leaps of ballerinas to the simple everyday act of picking up a cup of coffee. Using tools from robotics and neuroscience, two Johns Hopkins University researchers have found some tantalizing clues in an unlikely mode of motion: the undulations of tropical fish. Their findings, published in the January 31 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, shed new light on the communication that takes place between the brain and body. The fish research may contribute to important medical advances in humans, including better prosthetic limbs and improved rehabilitative techniques for people suffering from strokes, cerebral palsy and other debilitating conditions.
Migratory swans carrying a mild form of avian influenza depart from The Netherlands more than a month after their healthy counterparts do. They also feed slower and fly shorter distances. These insights will be published on January 31, 2007 in PLoS ONE, the International, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication from the Public Library of Science (PLoS) by scientists from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) and the Department of Virology of the Erasmus MC. This contrasts previous ideas that mild forms of bird flu do not cause illness among wild birds. Moreover, these patterns can affect the rate of spread of avian influenza.
Parasite-carrying bloodsucking leeches may be delivering a one-two punch to newts, according to biologists, who say the discovery may provide clues to disease outbreaks in amphibians. The findings could also lead to a better understanding of diseases affecting humans, such as malaria, chagas disease and sleeping sickness. All these diseases are transmitted through a vector, an organism that spreads disease from one animal to another.
An invasive whitefly has developed mutualistic relationships with the plant viruses it transmits and is able to increase its population much faster on virus-infected plants than on healthy plants, whereas its indigenous counterpart is unable to do so, according to the new research carried out at Zhejiang University and Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China.
The brain mechanism underlying the mind-bending effects of hallucinogens such as LSD, mescaline, and psilocybin has been discovered by neuroscientists. They said their discoveries not only shed light on the longtime mystery of how hallucinogens work, but that the findings also offer a pathway to understanding the function of drugs used to treat neuropsychiatric disorders, which are now being used largely without an understanding of their fundamental mechanism.
Groundhogs and other hibernators take a very sensible approach to winter: They slip into a state of suspended animation and let the worst of the cold weather pass. The cold prompts profound physiological changes in these animals, causing their normally fast metabolism to come almost to a stop during winter. With metabolism slowed to a crawl, the animal draws on its fat stores sparingly to make it through the winter.
Hibernation has become the focus of interesting physiological research. A hibernating squirrel's heart may fall from 300 beats per minute to just three per minute. Its oxygen consumption can drop to just 2% of normal. Its core body temperature can drop from 37Â° C (98.6Â° F) to about 2Â° C (35.6Â°F).
The hibernating animal may be a frog frozen in a winter pond, a turtle buried in the mud of a swamp, a bear in its den or a squirrel curled in a tight ball in its underground burrow. There is even a primate, the lemur, which hibernates in tree trunks. The range of hibernating species suggests that many animals, including humans, possess the genes necessary to hibernate.
Hibernation research has implications for medical advances, including for victims of stroke, hemorrhagic bleeding and hypothermia. The research may also lead to better ways to preserve organs for transplant and to help control obesity.
For example, when a person suffers a stroke, heart attack or severe hypothermia, it is not the loss of blood flow (ischemia) that causes the greatest damage to the organs and tissues. Instead, the greatest damage occurs when the blood flow is restored (reperfusion). Hibernating animals have significantly reduced blood flow when they hibernate, but reperfuse without injury when emerging from hibernation. If physiologists can figure out the mechanisms that allow ischemia and reperfusion without injury, it might help the victims of these conditions.
If I have time, I may write more about this last one. Matt Andrews (mentioned within) I know quite well.