Flies are incredibly agile on the wing, pulling off twists and turns that outstrip anything we’ve accomplished. Their flight is powered by two pairs of large muscles in their thorax which contract rhythmically to make their wings beat anywhere between 100 and 1000 times per second. Power is transferfed from these muscles to the wings by a hinge made of an intricate collection of steering muscles. Although the steering muscles make up less than 3% of the flight muscle mass, they very effectively direct the force produced by the larger muscles, thus guiding the fly’s aerial acrobatics. In a paper appearing in PLoS Biology, a team of scientists from the UK and Switzerland used a particle accelerator to record high-speed X-ray images of blowflies (Calliphora vicina) in flight, producing a 3-D video of the inside of the fly showing the muscles moving as it manuevered. Continue reading
Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy to attend to Inspiring Science this week. Rather than putting out a rushed post, I decided to republish this piece which I originally wrote for Accumulating Glitches last year. I hope you like it!
Some spiders get eaten by their mates, and male salmon famously fight to the death for access to females, but we generally don’t think of reproduction being quite as risky for mammals. We may prance and pose or jockey for attention, and mating might even be quite painful, but it’s usually not lethal. Among mammals, “live to mate another day” seems to be the guiding principle. Exceptions to this rule are found in the dasyurids and didelphids, groups of small carnivorous marsupial species living in Australia and South America, respectively. “These species experience extreme sexual behaviour,” said Dr. Diana Fisher of the University of Queensland. Males and females mate with multiple partners and matings can go on for many hours. Afterwards, the males all die. Continue reading
Genes have to be carefully coordinated to switch on at just the right moment in development in order to make a mature, complex embryo out of just a single cell. Scientists working at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York have discovered how this coordination is accomplished. In a paper just published in PLOS Biology, they describe how the gene Brachyury controls the timing of a cascade of genes involved in a crucial process in vertebrate development. Continue reading
Ten years ago, Professor Miguel Nicolelis and his team at Duke University made history. They implanted electrodes — sensors — into a monkey’s brain and trained her to control a robotic arm with her thoughts. That may sound like the stuff of science-fiction, but his latest work is even more incredible. In a paper recently published in Scientific Reports, Professor Nicolelis and his team used similar technology to enable a pair of rats to communicate — one brain to another — even when they were a continent apart. If you’ve read some of the news coverage of this story, you may have gotten the idea that it’s some kind of telepathy, mind control or mind meld. It’s not, but the truth, though more down-to-earth, is no less exciting. Continue reading
While popular imagination may be fascinated by when our ancestors first began to walk upright, scientific debate has focused on whether these early humans were still skilled climbers. A group of researchers in New Hampshire addressed the issue in a paper recently published in PNAS, gleaning new data from modern humans who climb regularly.
Today officially marks the first anniversary of Inspiring Science, and it’s been a great year! I think I managed to make some progress towards the goals I outlined in my first post. Over the course of the past year, I’ve learned how to make my writing more accessible and become better at engaging with non-scientists, though unfortunately I haven’t managed to write as frequently as I would have liked. I hope I can rectify that and continue to improve those skills, but I’m also going to try to do a better job of fostering discussion over the next 12 months. I have a few ideas about how to do that; we’ll see how well they pan out. (If you have a suggestion, let me know!)
If you’re one of the newer readers, why not take a romp through the archives? There’s some good stuff buried on there that doesn’t often make it onto the “What’s popular now?” list in the sidebar. I’ve also picked five posts from the past year which I wish had received more attention and listed them below; I hope you’ll enjoy them.
- Natural selection: On fitness
- Social wasps are specialists at recognizing faces
- Of moss and micro-arthropods
- We still don’t know how birds navigate
- Gene expression: shape matters
With that said, I look forward to another year of writing about science; thanks for reading, commenting and generally keeping me company on this adventure! If you have any suggestions about what I could do differently or better (or what I’m doing well) please leave a comment so I can learn and improve. 🙂