March Sci-shimi: waves from the Big Bang and more

By Christie Wilcox | March 31, 2014 11:59 pm

Welcome to Sci-shimi, my monthly roundup of  great science online! Like a delicious, fresh platter of sashimi, these tasty links are meant to be shared —どうぞめしあがれ 

This month’s mind-blowing science moment: Gravitational waves—remnants of the birth of the universe—detected for the first time. Read how the discovery is exciting physicists, challenging old models, and leaving us in awe. (also, Sean Carroll’s excellent take, and follow up piece, When Nature looks unnatural.)

Best long-read: How malaria defeats our drugs, by Ed Yong

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: More Science, select, Top Posts

Trust the “trust hormone”? Oxytocin can increase deceit

By Christie Wilcox | March 31, 2014 4:36 pm
500px-Oxytocin.svg

Oxytocin, the “moral molecule”. Image by Calvero c/o Wikimedia Commons

Oxytocin has perhaps the best reputation of any molecule on the planet. In a culture of chemophobia where any compound is fair game for attack, oxytocin has been heralded as “The Source of Love and Prosperity“. If you listen to the tales, this “moral” molecule—the “trust hormone“—is the “most amazing molecule in the world,” and is your one-stop shop for love and happiness. All you have to do is give someone a hug, and your brain will be flooded with the magic stuff.

But as many (most notably Ed Yong) have pointed out, oxytocin isn’t the sweet compound we’re told it is. Sure, it has been associated with generosity, desire, and trust, but oxytocin has a dark side, too. It can increase envy and gloating, promote cliques, and even decrease cooperation. Now, a new study published today in PNAS adds to the molecule’s moral ambiguity: huffing oxytocin can lead to dishonest behavior if that behavior is seen as being for “the greater good”. Read More

MORE ABOUT: Neuroscience, Oxytocin

Repost: Conversations With My Grandpa

By Christie Wilcox | March 25, 2014 3:19 am

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill. At the time, it was the biggest oil spill in US history.  As far as the cleanup is concerned, the Exxon spill is far from over. But Exxon isn’t the spill that weighs on American minds. I wrote the following post in June of 2010, when an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform stole the title of the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. 21 years after Exxon, and BP proved that oil spills are still a big problem—four years after Deepwater Horizon, has anything really changed? 

Oil supplies the United States with approximately 40% of its energy needs. Billions upon billions of gallons are pumped out of our wells, brought in from other countries, and shipped around to refineries all over the states. 1.3 million gallons of petroleum are spilled into U.S. waters from vessels and pipelines in a typical year. Yes, it would be great if we never spilled a drop of oil. No matter how hard we may try, though, the fact is that nobody is perfect, and oil spills are an inevitable consequence of our widespread use of oil. The question is, once the oil is out there, how do we clean it up?

Nowehere is this issue more glaring than in the Gulf of Mexico right now, where 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil are spewing out of the remains of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig every day. The spill has enraged an entire nation. But perhaps my grandfather put it best, when I asked him what he thought about how BP and the US is responding to the spill.

“They’re friggin’ idiots.” Read More

February’s Sci-shimi: Chestnuts, Chloroplasts, and Conferences, Oh My!

By Christie Wilcox | February 28, 2014 11:43 pm

Welcome to Sci-shimi, my monthly roundup of  great science online! Like a delicious, fresh platter of sashimi, these tasty links are meant to be shared —どうぞめしあがれ 

This month’s mind-blowing science moment: Meet the woman who developed a way to run 30 blood tests with a single drop.

Best long-read: Resurrecting a forest, in which Carl Zimmer explains how genetic tinkering may help bring back the American chestnut, complete with a time-lapse video:

Best non-science long-read: The dark power of fraternities by Caitlin Flanagan (with the best opening paragraph of all time).

Extra-special shout out to Danielle Lee, butt-kicking science blogger, who was chosen this month as one of the White House’s Champions of Change. Danielle, you rock so hard it’s giving me whiplash!

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: More Science, select, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Link Roundup, sci-shimi

So Much More Than An Aquarium—A Behind-The-Scenes Look At Shedd

By Christie Wilcox | February 25, 2014 5:22 pm

Earlier this month, I was in Chicago for the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. It was a whirlwind of fascinating scientific talks, engaging workshops (one with me!), and delightful networking with some of the greatest science writers, editors, and press officers. But that Sunday, I slipped away from the conference with my friend (and excellent science writer) Allie Wilkinson. There was, of course, only one thing in Chicago that was worth missing the exquisite program provided by AAAS: The Shedd Aquarium.

A lionfish at the Shedd Aquarium. Photo by Christie Wilcox

A lionfish at the Shedd Aquarium. Photo by Christie Wilcox

The Shedd Aquarium is the largest indoor marine mammal facility in the world and houses over 30,000 animals that are seen by some 2 million visitors annually. A few million gallons of seawater flow through its diverse and engaging exhibits, which range from local fisheries to exotic reefs from thousands of miles away. Highlights include the oldest aquatic animal on exhibit in the world (Granddad the lungfish), an abundance of marine mammalsa wobbegong and a sawfish, and—my personal favorites—several species of lionfishes. But beyond experiencing the aquarium itself, Allie and I were treated to a personal behind-the-scenes tour, led by communications & public relations manager Nicole Minadeo with help from Dr. Kristine Stump, Shedd’s newest research postdoc.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: More Science, select, Top Posts

The Death of Marius: A Step By Step Analysis

By Christie Wilcox | February 14, 2014 11:35 am
Marius, post-mortem, pre-necropsy. Photo from the Associated Press

Marius the Giraffe (post-mortem, pre-necropsy). Photo by Peter Hove Olesen/The Associated Press

A lot of internet outrage has been directed at the Copenhagen Zoo in the past week after they euthanized a young giraffe  because his genes were too common. From what I’ve seen, there are a lot of misconceptions about what happened, and a lot of hyperbolic statements are being thrown around about the event. The different decisions made by the zoo are being mushed together to tell one nightmarish tale, with adjectives like  “barbaric” and “cabalistic” used to describe the so-called “entertainment.”

But did the zoo really just hack a baby giraffe to bits to amuse its (clearly deranged) visitors? Let’s start from the end and work our way back to the beginning of the story.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, More Science, select, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: Conservation, Marius, Zoos

January’s Sci-shimi: from GMOs to Black Holes and everything in between

By Christie Wilcox | January 31, 2014 1:46 pm

As a part of my new year’s resolutions, I’ve decided the bring back Sci-shimi, where I serve up fun science news in a simple link round-up. At the end of every month, I’ll post links to the awesomest nerdy news stories that came out in the past weeks (in no particular order), just in case you missed a few. Like a delicious, fresh platter of sashimi, these tasty links are meant to be shared! どうぞめしあがれ 

This month’s mind-blowing science moment: Black holes with inescapable event horizons? Yeah… no, says Stephen Hawking.

Best long-read: Amy Harmon delves into one politician’s struggle to get the facts straight on GMOs Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: More Science, select, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: sci-shimi

Is the next blockbuster drug hiding in a century-old venom?

By Christie Wilcox | January 14, 2014 6:57 pm
Prialt, a revolutionary painkiller 1,000 times as strong as opiates without the addictive side effects.

Prialt, a revolutionary painkiller 1,000 times as strong as opiates without the addictive side effects.

Aggrastat. Byetta. Captopril. Integrilin. Prialt. What do these drugs have in common? Not what they’re used for, certainly. From angina to diabetes, they treat different diseases or conditions, and all have very different markets. They’re sold by different companies, discovered in different laboratories around the world. But all have one simple thing in common: they come from animal venoms.

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Move over Miley: Dr. Bondar’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ spoof is VMA-worthy!

By Christie Wilcox | January 12, 2014 1:42 pm

Miley Cyrus might have licked the sledgehammer first, but Dr. Carin Bondar’s remake of the infamous Wrecking Ball is spoof + science at its best. Whoever thinks Miley has cornered the market on licking strange objects is in for a real treat with Organisms Do Evolve (and I, for one, think Dr. Bondar rocks the white tank top, tighty-whities, and red lipstick far better). Though the aesthetics amuse, the video also focuses on the science, and smashes creationist notions that evolution isn’t true. As the lyrics state once and for all “organisms do evolve/That giant mystery’s been solved/Creationism’s proven false/Get familiar with our phylogeny.”

But does Dr. Bondar recreate the most infamous Miley moment? Well, I guess you’ll just have to watch to find out…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, More Science, select, Top Posts

Sea Stars See!

By Christie Wilcox | January 7, 2014 10:13 pm

All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight” – Aristotle

I see you! A starfish compound eye (red spot). Image credit Dan-Erik Nilsson, Lund University

I see you! A sea star’s compound eye (red spot). Image credit Dan-Eric Nilsson, Lund University

Human beings are very visual animals. We rely on our sight more than any of our other senses to interpret the world around us, which is why over the centuries many have argued (and many still do) that sight is our most important sense. But, of course, we aren’t the only species that can see. Arthropods are particularly known for their acute vision, as are squid, octopus and other cephalopods. Yet although we’ve known about sea star eye spots for hundreds of years, no one knew whether they, too, are able to see images. That is, no one knew until Drs. Anders Garm and Dan-Eric Nilsson decided to investigate.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, More Science, select, Top Posts
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