Is evolution making us dumber and dumber?

MoJo Musings

My mother and I once had an argument. Actually, we had many arguments but the one I’m talking about involved a hypothetical situation. I argued that if you took a whole lot of people from 2000 years ago and plonked them in our time, they would be able to pick up all the technology we use and have the same intelligence as we do. Even though she couldn’t use the video recorder, she argued that they wouldn’t be able to cope and would have lower intelligence.

I always thought our discussion was pretty obscure but I have just read that, in the absence of my mother, others have carried on the argument.

Professor Gerald Crabtree from Stanford University opens the first of two papers in Trends in Genetics with the following words.

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Great science reads of the week – Nov 9 2012

1. This isn’t a joke. Researchers have published an article in PLOS ONE about the types of bacteria found in belly buttons. This blog post is from one of the scientists and explains some of the backstory to this study.

After 2 years scientists still can’t solve belly button mystery, continue navel-gazing by Rob Dunn

2. If you’re one of those people who does not want to know the sex of your baby before it is born, the title of this article might freak you out.

Will we ever… decipher everything about a life form based just on its DNA? by Ed Yong

3. A great concept if it applies to humans. A study in rats suggests that exposure to controllable stress might be like a “behavioural immunisation” against future stressful situations.

It’s not the stress that counts, it’s whether you can control it by Scicurious

4. Skin heals itself when damaged but plastic and steel cannot. A materials scientist has copied the processes used by skin to invent a plastic that can repair itself when cracked. Wow?

The bleeding edge of self-healing skin-like materials by Emily Anthes

5. The Public Library of Science (PLOS) launched a new journal earlier this year to help quickly disseminate credible information during and after natural disasters. It’s called PLOS Currents: Disasters.

Rapid Dissemination of Reliable Information: Superstorm Sandy by Liz Flavall

Great science reads of the week – Nov 2 2012

1. Want to listen to singing sand? Check out this press release to find out more or just listen to the singing in the video posted below.

Why ‘singing’ sand dunes hum certain notes at the American Geophysical Union

2. Wilson da Silva, Editor-in-Chief of COSMOS magazine, wrote this fabulous read. Who would have thought that an earthquake in Indonesia would result in a great work of literature on the other side of the world? It’s like the opposite of the “butterfly flaps its wings…” concept.

The future of you by Wilson da Silva

3. Out of the social media around Hurricane Sandy came the conversation about fake photos of sharks on the streets of New York and the Statue of Liberty being engulfed by waves. So this piece analysing the ability of twitter to verify information was an interesting case study.

Twitter is a truth machine by John Herrman

4. We’ve known for some time that mothers carry the DNA of their children in their bodies. Now they’ve found mothers can carry the DNA of their sons in the brain. This article is a great trip into the backstory of fetal DNA in mothers.

Male DNA in the female brain revisited by Ricki Lewis

5. I know I shouldn’t finish on a depressing note BUT the fish at Fukushima are still radioactive and could be that way for decades.

Fukushima fish still hot by Geoffrey Brumfiel

Signalling molecule regulates women’s fertility and cancer of the uterus

News Story

A signalling molecule important for fertility in women could also be involved in cancer of the uterus, a Melbourne researcher has found.

Associate Professor Eva Dimitriadis, from Prince Henry’s Institute, says her research shows the molecule, interleukin 11 (IL11), is one of the factors important for the successful attachment or implantation of the embryo in the uterus.

She says the focus of infertility research is often on the quality of the embryo but the attachment of the embryo to the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) is also important.

Dimitriadis says she decided to look at endometrial cancer because IL11 belongs to a family of molecules that are involved in cancer cell invasion.

She says endometrial cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system, yet there are no suitable screening tests and treatment options are limited.

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Scientist Profile: Associate Professor Eva Dimitriadis

Eva Dimitriadis spoke with Science MoJo about some of the nuts and bolts of a science career. She goes through why she chose a career in science and, in particular, her field of women’s reproductive health.

Eva runs a lab at Prince Henry’s Institute in Melbourne and specialises in the biology of pregnancy.

Music credit for the video: The Strange Italian Song by the Juanitos (creative commons 2.0)

Great science reads of the week – Oct 26 2012

1. Six earthquake scientists were sentenced to six years jail for manslaughter because they failed to communicate the risk of a quake in L’Aquila. This was shocking news for the global science community. Scientists understand and deal with uncertainty in all their work but governments don’t like uncertainty. Will scientists be unwilling to advise governments on policy in the future in Italy?

A chilling verdict in L’Aquila by Tracey Brown

2. We extract a lot of ground water in Australia, especially in times of drought. A warning tale of how 50 years of extraction created a 250-metre drop in the groundwater level that might have caused an earthquake in Spain.

Deadly 2011 earthquake linked to groundwater extraction by Deborah Zabarenko

3. My mother fed me poison mushroom soup once so I was naturally interested in this article about a mushroom that is only poisonous sometimes. Read the article to find out why…

Mushroom of the Week: Inky Caps. The Bane of Frat Boys Everywhere

by Rachel Feltman

4. This story about a beluga whale who could mimic human voices is kind of sad and fascinating at the same time. Scroll to the bottom of the story for a link to sound recordings of the whale called NOC.

Captive Beluga Whale Imitated Human Voices by Ewen Callawa

The ozone hole: an environmental success story?

MoJo Musings

NASA has just reported that the ozone hole over Antarctica is the smallest it’s been in 20 years.

On September 22 2012, the ozone hole reached its maximum seasonal size for the year of 21.2 million square kilometres, which is the same size as the USA, Canada and Mexico combined. This size is down from the maximum size of 29.9 million square kilometres reached in September 2006.

There isn’t much talk about the ozone hole these days but it was often in the news in the 1980s, just as “climate change” is in the news now.

Ozone in the atmosphere helps to protect the Earth from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. As we all know, increased exposure to UV causes skin cancer. In the 1980s when the ozone hole first appeared, the fear of an expanding hole in our protective shield was not good news for Australia, given our proximity to Antarctica.

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