Plants evolved thorns, prickles, and spines to avoid being chomped on by the sensitive lips and tongues of large mammals. At least, that’s what we assumed.
In the face of conventional wisdom, researchers have discovered for at least some species of plant, growing spiky bits isn’t just to discourage large herbivores; they can also protect their leaves from becoming a caterpillar’s lunch.
Scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and the University of North Carolina made the discovery while studying Carolina horsenettle plants (Solanum carolinense) in a previous experiment on plant inbreeding.
They noticed that the numbers of spines and hair-like structures called trichomes on the plant increased after being nibbled on by a moth larva called a tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta).
“That made us think that these spines could also have [an] additional function than what we have been taught,” ecologist Rupesh Kariyat told Christie Wilcox at Quanta Magazine.
For the record, while they might serve similar purposes, not all sharp parts of a plant are quite th…
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Why Humans Have Such Big Brains
Humans are the only ultrasocial creature on the planet. We have outcompeted, interbred or even killed off all other hominin species.
We cohabit in cities of tens of millions of people and, despite what the media tell us, violence between individuals is extremely rare. This is because we have an extremely large, flexible and complex “social brain”.
To truly understand how the brain maintains our human intellect, we would need to know about the state of all 86 billion neurons and their 100 trillion interconnections, as well as the varying strengths with which they are connected, and the state of more than 1,000 proteins that exist at each connection point.
Neurobiologist Steven Rose suggests that even this is not enough – we would still need know how these connections have evolved over a person’s lifetime and even the social context in which they had occurred. It may take centuries just to figure out basic neuronal connectivity.
Many people assume that our brain operates like a powerful computer. But Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Be…
Move Over, Blood Doping; Cyclists Might Be ‘Poop Doping’ Soon
To be a professional cyclist, one must have guts, microbiologist Lauren Peterson says, and she doesn’t just mean that in the metaphorical sense.
Peterson, herself a pro endurance mountain biker, has discovered that the most elite athletes in the sport have a certain microbiome living in their intestines that allow them to perform better, and if you don’t have it, well, there may soon be a way to get it…
“Call it poop doping if you must,” Peterson told Bicycling magazine last week about her research.
Peterson, a research scientist at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Connecticut, heads up an initiative called the Athlete Microbiome Project, in which she compares stool samples of elite cyclists to amateur bikers.
Her findings strikingly shine a light on a handful of microorganisms that apparently separate the guts of elite athletes from average people.
The most important, perhaps, is Prevotella. Not typically found in American and European gut microbiomes, Prevotella is thought to play a role in enhancing muscle recovery.
“In my sampling, only half of cyclists have Prevotella, but top racers always have it,” she told Bicycling. “It’s not even in 10 percent of non-athletes.”
Peterson reports she hosts Prevotella in her own gut – but not natural…
For Those With Autism, Eye Contact Isn’t Just Weird, It’s Distressing
For many people with autism, avoiding eye contact isn’t a sign that they don’t care – instead, it’s a response to a deeply uncomfortable sensation.
Researchers have discovered a part of the brain responsible for helping newborns turn towards familiar faces is abnormally activated among those on the autism spectrum, suggesting therapies that force eye contact could inadvertently be inducing anxiety.
Autism spectrum disorder is a term used to describe a variety of conditions that make communicating and socialising a challenge, and is often accompanied by restricted and repetitive behaviours.
A defining characteristic of autism spectrum disorder is a difficulty in making or maintaining eye contact, a behaviour that not only makes social interactions harder, but can lead to miscommunication among cultures where eye contact is taken as a sign of trust and respect.
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Stephen Hawking: “I Am Convinced That Humans Need to Leave Earth”
Back in May, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking made yet another doomsday prediction. He said that humanity has 100 years left on Earth, which knocked 900 years off the prediction he made in November 2016, which had given humanity 1,000 years left.
With his new estimate, Hawking suggested the only way to prolong humanity’s existence is for us to find a new home, on another planet.
Speaking at the Starmus Festival in Trondheim, Norway on Tuesday, Hawking reiterated his point: “If humanity is to continue for another million years, our future lies in boldly going where no one else has gone before,” he explained, according to the BBC.
Specifically, Hawking said that we should aim for another Moon landing by 2020, and work to build…