Harm’s Way

i-96cc65af93a7e5558a150d2dd6bd4f1e-crocbuzz.jpgOn Laelaps, Brian Switek tells the story of a man who cooled off in an Ethiopian river against all advice, only to meet his death. Brian writes that “like our hominin forebears we can still be prey, and crocodiles are among the animals that have long considered us to be on the menu.” Crocs were munching on our ancestors long before the pyramids rose along the Nile, and scientists have even named one ancient monstrosity Anthropophagus, the man-eater. Still, evidence for predation is slim, possibly because hominins who “fell prey to fully-grown crocodiles” were metabolized without a trace. On Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong explores safer havens, writing “species that can escape external threats, whether by flying off or by hiding in the branches of trees, can evolve to age more slowly and live longer.” But as Jessica Palmer relates on Bioephemera, you can’t let your guard down for a second. Climbing down a tree to relieve itself, an unwitting sloth was ambushed and eviscerated by a tiny spectacled owl.

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Open Laboratory 2009

i-baa4c8940fe38e3d8c4305cb29a998e7-olabbuzz.jpgThe Open Laboratory 2009 is now available in print! This cutting-edge anthology of science writing includes many great ScienceBlogs posts as well as work from around the web. Editor Scicurious announces publication on Neurotopia, writing “we’ve got some fun stuff in there (hyenas and boobies and beer!) and some contemplative stuff in there (animal research and academia and much much more).” On A Blog Around The Clock, series editor Bora Zivkovic says “SciCurious did a fantastic job as this year’s editor—and it shows.” Bora also thanks Blake Stacey on Science After Sunclipse for “his LaTeX and general tech-savviness for putting the book together so it looks really good.” Blake writes that science writing on the web can be “fragmented and ephemeral” because “whatever we write scrolls off the screen in a day or two,” so “having an opportunity to collaborate and make something which might last a little while was fun.” Kudos to everyone involved in this project for a job well done.

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Infection and Consequence

i-aa15ba02dbd171ba051767a461dfc852-infectbuzz.jpgOn Aetiology, Tara C. Smith shares some intriguing student work on the role infections play “in cancer, autoimmune disease, mental illness, and other chronic conditions.” First, Ahn To investigates the causes of nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Smoking is not a prerequisite for this type of cancer, but risk factors include infection with Epstein-Barr virus and “consumption of ‘salted fish.'” Ron Bedford explores Post Polio Syndrome, which occurs among polio survivors who experience “significant deterioration of their neuromuscular functioning” after a long period of stability. Although “the mechanism of PPS occurrence is not well understood,” the immune system may be to blame. And Zainab Khan asks if too much cleanliness is bad for children, as “not enough exposure to germ can and does cause insufficient development of an individual’s immune system.” An inexperienced immune system is not only vulnerable to disease, but may also contribute to allergies and asthma. Keep an eye on Aetiology as Tara posts more student work over the coming week.

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Olympian Physics

i-1bb7a977da8e219a8cb5e493d4c90a31-lympicbuzz.jpgEquations can hurt, although not as much as wiping out on the downhill or faceplanting in the halfpipe. On Dot Physics, Rhett Alain explains the amazing angles at which Apolo Ohno leans around the short track, writing “a skater wouldn’t have to lean at all if the skater was stopped. As the angle gets smaller (approaching zero), the skater would have to be going faster and faster.” On Built On Facts, Matt Springer investigates the somewhat more subdued sport of curling, where men with brooms lead forty pound stones to their targets. Crunching numbers, Matt concludes that “granite on vigorously swept ice” produces less friction than “teflon on teflon.” And back on Dot Physics, Rhett draws up some colorful diagrams of ski jumps, explaining that although you wouldn’t want to jump off an eleven-meter building, “you can make it survivable if you increase the time over which the change in velocity takes place.” In other words, those athletes can be thankful they’re landing on a sloped surface.

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Endless Frontiers of Science

i-c52f334d7a810c32036501d75d7e32a5-frontbuzz.jpgScience is knowledge, and knowledge can inspire certainty. But certainty, as much a fruit of science, can be its enemy. Whatever wonders may meet the eye, there has always been more to the world. On Oscillator, Christina Agapakis explores the frontiers of synthetic biology, where researchers hope to manufacture “altered proteins or entirely different biological polymers” by creating a “parallel genetic code” that uses four-letter codons instead of three. On Starts With A Bang!, Ethan Siegel recounts two centuries of paradigm shifts, and asks what the next “new” law of nature will be. Can protons decay? Does supersymmetry exist? Are quarks composed of even more elementary particles? And on The Island of Doubt, James Hrynyshyn writes that even the most fundamental tenets of our knowledge have “scientists poking around the edges, looking for flaws in the ointment.” James dismisses the idea “that the science of anthropogenic global warming is ‘settled.’ It isn’t and never will be.”

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African and Human Diversity

i-795d7c64681125a1a87554a431be76ec-divbuzz.jpgOn Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong reports that two new human genomes have been sequenced: that of South African leader Desmond Tutu, and that of !Gubi, a tribal hunter-gatherer. Along with !Gubi, researchers examined the genes of three other Bushmen, and the diversity they observed was “astounding.” Ed writes that there is more genetic variation between any two of these individuals than there is between “a European and an Asian,” and trying “to understand human genetics without understanding Africa is like trying to learn a language by only looking at words starting with z.” On Gene Expression, Razib Khan explains that “all non-Africans likely descend from one migration Out of Africa, so they carried with them only a small proportion of the total genetic variation of the ancient Africans because of the population bottleneck to which they were subjected.” And back on Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong introduces us to the ancient Inuit “Inuk,” the ninth human to have his genome sequenced before Tutu and !Gubi became ten and eleven.

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How We Get Along

i-5f262b906f9a4df69427ce47ab6e161d-sharebuzz.jpgOn The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson writes “not acting our age may be the very reason why we’re so successful as a species.” Like the bonobo which can be seen unlocking the cage of an unrelated individual just to share food, humans may retain juvenile characteristics that help us to “cooperate and share with others.” But while sharing food is laudable, telling the world how drunk you got last night can be a bit less noble. Jonah Lehrer on The Frontal Cortex calls Facebook “a perfect example of too much information” and says that despite technological platforms, “our social lives haven’t changed that much since we were hairy apes patrolling the African forest.” And Sharon Astyk blurs the lines of genealogy on Casaubon’s Book, saying the tribe is due for a comeback as the future makes new demands on our lifestyle. Sharon writes, “sometimes the tribes will be biological in nature. Sometimes they will be mostly chosen. Most often, I think they will be odd intersections of both.” So let’s get together; here’s to one big happy family.

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