Tag Archive: biology

Try Again, Fail Again, Fail Better

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  A few months ago I wrote a piece on some of the most amazing scientific predictions to come out of classical literature. From IVF to space travel, it seems that an unexpected number of major technological innovations have been proceeded by the imaginations of great historical authors. But, if amazing scientific breakthroughs can be predicted before they happen, then surely the reverse must also be true. Indeed, history must be littered with examples of respected authorities confidently postulating the possibility of a discovery one minute, before shame-facedly back-pedalling in the next. So, with that in mind, here’s a run-down of science’s top-5 greatest hypothetical hick-ups.   5) Theory: Planet Vulcan, Proponent: Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier During the 1800s, astronomers were struggling to explain certain peculiarities in Mercury’s celestial orbit. Several scientists, led by Le Verrier, suggested that these disturbances arose due to the existence of another planet or  moon, which was named ‘Vulcan’, after the Roman god of fire. The theory drummed …

Dinosaurs in bed – the cigarette after

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In my last post, I wrote about the biomechanical issue surrounding sexual activity amongst the saurpod dinosaurs (the really big, long necked ones) and those with spiny backs. In today’s post, I’s like to consider some of the solutions which have been offered. Of those who have considered the problem, as we have seen, many initially suggested that they did it doggie-style, but copulating in this position, as we saw last time presents all manner of biomechanical and hydraulic problems. Some animals, particularly birds, do not engage in penetrative sex, but rather perform what is anthropomorphically known as a cloacal kiss: that is to say, no penis is, strictly speaking, necessary, and the sperm is exchanged during a brief period at the climax – as it were – of the mating ritual. The big problem here is trying to work out how Mr. Dino manage to get his cloaca anywhere near that of Mrs. Dino, since they both had great big fat and rather stiff tails? It has even been suggested …

Mississippi Delta

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It may look like a branching blood vessel, but this image is actually taken 700km above the surface of the Earth. It is a false-colour image of the Mississippi Delta – the coastal region where the river flows into the Gulf of Mexico. To highlight the edges of the branching pattern of river channels, vegetation in this image have been coloured red. While engineers have done their best to control the course of the Mississippi River with a series of levees and artificial channels, it is still difficult to control the 17000 cubic meters of water that flow out of the mouth of the river every second. On its 2320 mile journey from its source, the river has picked up a large amount of sediment. As the water slows as it enters the Gulf, this sediment can no longer be carried by the moving water, and so is deposited. It’s not a coincidence the image shares a striking similarity with …

Book Review: In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw

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In Defence of Dogs Author: John Bradshaw Published: 5 July 2012 Publisher: Penguin Summary: Illuminating but, at times, a little too academic. One of the most widely held views of dog training is based on two scientific observations. Firstly, that dogs share 99.96% of their DNA with the grey wolves from which they’re descended, and secondly, that captive wolves housed in enclosures quarrel and fight until a particular individual is crowned dominant. These two notions have led to the popularisation of the ‘dominance model’ of domestic dog training, an ideology that encourages owners to continuously assert their authority on their furry companion in order to establish themselves as the superior, or alpha. However, anthrozoologist Dr John Bradshaw has a bone to pick with the dominance model of dog training, and In Defence of Dogs is where he presents his arguments. Bradshaw’s objections are compelling: he notes that, unlike the zoos in which a random assemblage of unrelated wolves are forced into an …

Skate fish skin similar to human teeth

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This striking image is not the latest Hollywood alien, but actually a microscope image taken of an embryonic Little skate – a fish closely related to the shark family. Like sharks, the Little skate has a skeleton made not out of bone, but cartilage. They may seem very different to us, but these cartilaginous fish have a number of features which betray their close relationship to humans. For example, human embryos develop a skeleton made of cartilage first. Only later on is this added to with bone cells and calcium minerals in a process known as ossification. And, like the video points out we have very similar genes to the ones that control the denticles of the skate. Weirdly though, the genes that create the skate’s scales are not similar to the the ones responsible for our skin, but for our teeth. The structure of the denticle, or placoid scale, is strikingly similar. It has a central cavity filled with blood vessels, which is …

Quiz 2 – Oceans

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It’s time for another of Unpopular Science’s famous science quizzes. This is week 2 of our quiz schedule. After 5 weeks, whoever has the highest cumulative score will win a copy of  Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall*.  If you want your score to be tracked, add your name and email. If you just want a bit of fun, don’t worry. You can start the quiz by simply clicking Next. To see the leaders of the first week’s quiz, see our leaderboard. You can still join in, by doing our first quiz here. * In the event of a tie, names will be drawn at random and the Editor’s decision is always final. One entry per person. Prize will be announced soon. Also, good luck!

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