New Office

New Office

Feb 27 2019 | comment(s)

As the regulars here already know, I am an employee of the INFN. This is the "Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare", which translates as "National institute for nuclear physics", a slight misnomer of historical origin, as the institute today actually centers its activities on SUB-nuclear physics - i.e. study of elementary particles (but nuclei are still one of the targets!). 
Ribbon worm? Arrow worm? Since the discovery of its fossil over a century ago, paleontologists have speculated about what branch of evolution Amiskwia sagittiformis was on.

Charles Doolittle Walcott, who first described it, compared it to the a group of ocean-dwelling worms that are fierce predators, equipped with an array of spines on their head for grasping small prey - modern arrow worms (chaetognaths), but later scientists could not find evidence of the canonical grasping spines so they believed instead it might be a a ribbon worm, or its own distinct lineage only distantly related to anything that resembles it today.
Limenitus archippus, the viceroy butterfly is a mimic, modeling its orange-and-black colors after the queen butterfly, a bug that tastes so disgusting predators have learned not to eat it or anything that looks like it, including viceroys.

The apparent dependence of mimics on their models made biologists wonder if the fates of the two species are forever intertwined. If so, then what happens when the mimic and the model part ways? Thanks to a new study, scientists know. Viceroy butterflies living in northern Florida, far away from the southern-dwelling queen butterflies, are not only more abundant than their southern kin, but they have also developed their own foul flavor.
I don't drink much milk now, though I did when I was a kid. I think I eat more cheese than I did then, and that makes sense. We were a poor family on a subsistence farm and cheese is expensive. Milk was not. At least if you got it right from the farmer. 

But most of us don't get it right from the farmer, which is one reason why an increase in milk prices in the U.S. won't help dairy farmers much, any more than it will in Australia or any other country. Most people do not buy dairy products from a local farmer, they buy food in stores. And the products in those stores may not even have been made using milk from this country.
It is believed by some that zebras have black and white stripes as a defense mechanism against flies. To others, that seems too complex. In an Occam's Razor evolutionary universe it only leads to more speculation - why would they evolve such a sophisticated defense mechanism when it doesn't help, and flies are no less attracted to zebras than they are horses? Are zebras more prone to infectious diseases carried by African biting flies?  Or is the whole premise more like evolutionary psychology than science, where there is speculation neckties evolved so men would look like superior mates?

The preliminary findings from Finland’s basic income experiment are out and they show mixed results. Both advocates and critics of the idea of a universal basic income will find cause for consternation and celebration. Though widely anticipated by basic income enthusiasts, the Finnish experiment will only fuel further debate on whether or not the idea works.

The natural opioid kratom, the leaves of a tropical tree in Southeast Asia (Mitragyna speciosa) is a great analgesic because it's an opioid.  It has become popular because supplements are exempt from government oversight unless companies are causing people to fall over, which has happened - they seized 90,000 bottles of it in 2016 and want to ban its importation due to concerns about safety.
Food is plentiful and affordable, and that has brought an increase in consumption of foods that matched an ancient evolutionary mandate; sweetness.

In ancient times, humans knew that sweetness meant more calories and in a world where they often weren't sure where the next meal would come from, getting as many calories when they were available was important. When agriculture came into existence, farmers began genetically modifying foods to be bigger and sweeter. Beginning in the late 1980s, science gave us a true food boom, with more food grown on less land with less environmental strain than thought possible when claims of a "population bomb" by authors such as Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren were popular.
The race is on to be the food craze of 2019 and the leading contenders so far are biltong - beef jerky from South Africa - and angelica keiskei koidzumi (ashitaba) from Japan.

If a plant can have a leaf cut off and have it grow back the next day, why not assume eating it will help humans? Because we know more science now than 18th century soldiers did. 

But once a supplement takes off, more studies showing magical benefits will be soon to follow, and Nature Communications is helping get things going - perhaps because the credit card cleared. It certainly can't have gone through real peer review.
Grasses have been able to short cut evolution by taking genes from their neighbors, finds a new study.

Since Darwin, much of the theory of evolution has been based on common descent, where natural selection acts on the genes passed from parent to offspring. But sometimes what seems to be natural selection is really artificial, like lateral gene transfer that allows organisms to bypass evolution and skip to the front of the queue by using genes that they acquire from distantly related species. Even by stealing them.