Incredible Animal Adaptations

Greg Laden reports that scientists have sequenced the genome of the Tammar Wallaby, which boasts “the longest period of embryonic diapause of any known mammal, highly synchronized seasonal breeding and an unusual system of lactation.” The new research “provides a hitherto lacking understanding of marsupial gene evolution and hopes to have identified marsupial-specific genetic elements.” Dr. Dolittle shares more amazing research on Life Lines, telling us seals can cool off their brains while diving to conserve oxygen. They do this by shunting blood “to large superficial veins allowing heat to escape to the environment” instead of “routing the blood through arterio-venous heat exchangers.” And on The Weizmann Wave, researchers conclude fruit bats use more than echolocation to navigate after gluing tiny GPS transmitters to their backs. Bats released 84 kilometers from home made straight for their old haunts—as soon as they had a line of sight. This suggests bats “watch for prominent visual landmarks” to “judge their distance and mentally triangulate their positions,” and could even “sense directional sea breezes or magnetic fields.”

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Love: A Four-Letter Word

For the last few years, Claire L. Evans and friends have been producing a television show designed to teach computers about the human experience. On Valentine’s Day, the term technophile got a new meaning on Universe. Claire explains, “we made some valentines for you and your computer to share. After all, you do spend all day staring at each other.” On Pharyngula, PZ Myers looks at love throughout the animal kingdom, including among tortoises and penguins who look downright ecstatic in their couplings. Meanwhile, Mike the Mad Biologist encourages forethought before foreplay, showing us a pie chart of all the services that Planned Parenthood provides. Contraception and STD testing take up equal slices; so be smart, and be safe, or just take it slow. Brush up on the science of kissing on Page 3.14, where Dean Toney shares insights on Sheril Kirshenbaum’s new book. Then visit The Thoughtful Animal for Jason G. Goldman’s latest article in The Guardian, which outlines seven scientific strategies to seal the deal. And remember, no matter who (or what) you love, today’s as good a day as any to tell it how you feel.

The Science of Kissing

Kissing remains popular among the people of the world, and in a new book former scibling Sheril Kirshenbaum delves into the emerging science behind the age-old practice. For one, the sensory experience of osculation (as sucking face is more formally known) forges new neuronal connections in the brain. On Dean’s Corner, Dr. Jeffrey Toney says “these new connections represent learning, memory and can enhance sensory perception and even healing.” We at Scienceblogs recommend five to nine servings a day. Dr. Toney also shares a video which demonstrates affection throughout the animal kingdom, including among bonobos, who are known to exercise their synapses in the French style. Sheril provides other insights in a 2009 post on The Intersection, writing that “up to ten percent of humanity doesn’t even touch lips” and kissing “may have evolved from primates feeding their babies mouth-to-mouth.” If that doesn’t quite set the mood, maybe some Marvin Gaye will do.

Excelsior?

We heard recently that 36% of university students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” upon graduation, although they may have bettered their Xbox skills, social lives, and tolerance to alcohol. Physics professor Chad Orzel isn’t surprised by this number, saying it “seems consistent with my experiences both as a student and as a faculty member.” According to Chad, laziness is just human nature, and there are other important (if not academic) lessons that college provides. The new statistics, drawn from a book called Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, also jibe with professor Ethan Siegel’s experience. But while the book’s authors blame underachievement on a lack of rigor in college curriculum, Ethan says “a quarter to a third of students in college aren’t intrinsically motivated to be there.” The solution, he says, is to make sure students are pursuing their passion, even if it’s in a garage rather than a lecture hall.