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The wine-o rhino: the rhinoceros with an alcohol problem

Guardian Science - Tue, 2015-06-30 07:06

The sight of a live rhinoceros in 18th century London was extraordinary. Christopher Plumb tells the tragic, drunken story of Gilbert Pidcock’s rhinoceros

Name: Gilbert Pidcock’s rhinoceros
Rhinoceros unicornis
Claim to fame:
One of the few living rhinoceros exhibited in 18th-century Britain
Where now:
The skin and horn were sold at auction in 1810. Current whereabouts unknown

Gilbert Pidcock’s rhinoceros was an obedient animal with a penchant for sweet red wine. It could guzzle vast quantities (three or four bottles in a sitting). Which may explain how, in October 1792, the rhino stumbled and dislocated its right front leg. “There is…a grave suspicion that it was while laboring under the effects of intoxication that Rhinoceros Indicus came to grief,” wrote one commentator following the accident.

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Life’s Greatest Secret by Matthew Cobb review – a thrilling account of the DNA revolution

Guardian Science - Tue, 2015-06-30 06:30
The historic race to crack life’s genetic code is revealed as a mixture of experiment, intuition and brilliant guesswork in Cobb’s authoritative study

In June 1966, the British Nobel laureate Francis Crick helped to organise a meeting of the world’s leading geneticists at Cold Spring Harbour near New York. It was to be a triumphant event. For the previous decade and a half, biologists had been struggling to unravel the genetic code, the biological cipher that determines how genes are passed on to future generations and which controls the construction of proteins in our bodies.

Related: Observer review: Francis Crick by Matt Ridley

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Queer Laboratory Life: Recognising the work of LGBT scientists

Guardian Science - Mon, 2015-06-29 22:35

With LGBT civil rights in the news, Georgina Voss argues that science institutions need to extend their equality initiatives to queer scientists

When Sir Tim Hunt’s comments about women in science broke, one element in particular jumped out at me. Hunt was, he said, in favour of gender-segregated laboratories as a way of sidestepping the mess arising from scientists in love. The notion that same-sex groups would limit romance seemed rather odd, as the first woman I ever dated was on the same molecular biochemistry degree course as me. We never worked in the same lab - who knows what terrible state science might be in now if we had? – but, though a year apart, had courses, lecturers, and textbooks in common. At this distance I genuinely can’t remember whether I talked about enzyme structures as a chat-up line but, knowing my younger self, we shouldn’t rule it out.

This is not an article about Tim Hunt – there are loads of those already, and I recommend Alice Bell’s piece at openDemocracy or, indeed, the UCL Provost’s own statement. Instead, this is about what it means for queer scientists to, yet again, be overlooked in discussions of scientific careers. And it feels like a pretty important moment to have a think about what happens when the acronyms of STEM and LGBT meet each other. Same sex marriage continues to be equalized, most recently in the United States and Ireland; the term ‘cisgender’ has now made it into the OED after rattling around various journals for many years; and numerous tech companies had a presence at many of the Pride parades that took place this weekend gone.

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Stephen Hawking to deliver BBC Reith lecture on black holes

Guardian Science - Mon, 2015-06-29 21:14

Radio 4 announces new autumn lineup as Glenda Jackson returns for drama series and Miles Jupp takes over as presenter of News Quiz

Professor Stephen Hawking is to discuss the nature of black holes, and former MP Glenda Jackson is to return to acting in a Radio 4 autumn schedule announced on Tuesday.

Hawking will deliver the prestigious Reith lecture later this year to “describe the remarkable properties of black holes” and will answer a selection of questions submitted by listeners. The lecture coincides with the BBC plans for a series of events to mark 100 years of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

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Hairy monster: ancient 'super-armoured' worm discovered in China

Guardian Science - Mon, 2015-06-29 20:00

Collinsium ciliosum, or the Hairy Collins’ Monster, lived around 500 million years ago and is thought to be one of the first animals to develop body armour

An ancient marine worm discovered in China has been identified as the earliest known animal to have used body armour to defend itself against predators.

The creature is known as the Hairy Collins’ Monster or Collinsium ciliosum, after paleontololgist Desmond Collins, who first discovered a similar fossil in the 1980s. The Chinese specimen lived around 500 million years ago and developed “super-armour” - an array of 72 spikes along its back and sides - to protect itself from other life forms that existed at the time.

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Single cells made to levitate, just like frogs and mice

New Scientist - news - Mon, 2015-06-29 20:00
A technique previously used to levitate animals and fruit has been scaled down to work on cells, and could help diagnose cancer or test new drugs

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Babblers speak to the origin of language

Guardian Science - Mon, 2015-06-29 19:00

Australian babblers are capable of phoneme structuring, the first time this has been demonstrated in any non-human animal

“Holy shit, man!”

Andy Russell had entered the lecture hall late and stood at the back, listening to the close of a talk by Marta Manser, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Zurich who works on animal communication.

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Could an inflamed brain be a hidden cause of depression?

New Scientist - news - Mon, 2015-06-29 19:00
The body's immune system is designed to make us hide away when we get sick. But modern life could be sending this recovery response off track (full text available to subscribers)

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Slo-mo reveals how enigmatic sprites explode in the atmosphere

New Scientist - news - Mon, 2015-06-29 18:18
What causes mysterious "fireworks" in the sky spotted from planes? Video and computer modelling are yielding insights

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Misbehaving pulsar's sudden slow-down may teach us how they tick

New Scientist - news - Mon, 2015-06-29 18:00
A bright young pulsar that seemed to be stable has slammed on its brakes. Understanding this shift in behaviour could help astronomers calibrate cosmic clocks

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Russian cosmonaut beats record for career time spent in space

Guardian Science - Mon, 2015-06-29 17:40

Gennady Padalka moves past old record of 803 days, nine hours and 41 minutes, and aims to return to try for 1,000 days

A Russian cosmonaut on board the International Space Station has broken the record for total time in space by spending more than two years in orbit during his career.

At 1.42am Moscow time on Monday, Gennady Padalka, the commander of the current space station mission, broke his countryman Sergei Krikalev’s record of 803 days, nine hours and 41 minutes.

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Computer comedian suggests pics to make your online chat funnier

New Scientist - news - Mon, 2015-06-29 16:46
Software that makes you seem funnier by suggesting amusing images to use during online chat could pave the way to more human-like AI

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A spoonful of sugar helps the environmental message go down

New Scientist - news - Mon, 2015-06-29 14:32
Gastronomic artists at New York's IDEAS CITY festival have been whipping up interest in the air we breathe

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How same-sex marriage could ruin civilisation | Dean Burnett

Guardian Science - Mon, 2015-06-29 12:47

In the wake of the US supreme court ruling that legalised same-sex marriage throughout America, many commenters and objectors have claimed it will have disastrous consequences. But rather than just dismissing them as irrational bitterness, it’s important to consider the genuine scientific basis for such claims

Same-sex marriage is now legal throughout the USA. This is a good thing, it’s always nice when people get equal treatment under the law. Sadly, not everyone agrees. Such is the speed of modern news and communication that announcement of the Supreme Court decision was essentially immediately followed by furious objections and doom-laden predictions of the collapse of society for various reasons.

It’s easy to dismiss these objections as angry incoherent bitterness from people who can’t or won’t accept that the rest of the human race doesn’t have to conform to their antiquated views, and many people do just that. But what if they’re not? What if there are genuine scientific reasons to fear same-sex marriage? After all, we in the UK know that same-sex marriage caused extreme flooding when it was legalised here, and now that it’s permitted in a country with the size and influence of the USA the consequences could be even more catastrophic. Here are just some possibilities we should brace ourselves for.

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Zoologger: The vertebrate that digs the deepest nest

New Scientist - news - Mon, 2015-06-29 12:00
An Australian monitor lizard digs a looping tunnel 3-metres deep to provide its eggs with the most stable environment seen among reptiles

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SpaceX rocket explosion is setback for US crewed space missions

New Scientist - news - Mon, 2015-06-29 11:26
Hopes that privately built rockets can restart crewed space flight from US soil have taken a blow with a Falcon 9 failure within minutes of launch

Categories: Science news

Xeno-canto: crowdsourcing the world's birdsongs | @GrrlScientist

Guardian Science - Mon, 2015-06-29 11:04

Xeno-canto, which hosts the largest collection of bird sound recordings in the world, recently celebrated its tenth anniversary

My favourite source for the birdsong recordings that I embed into my stories is Xeno-canto. This online community, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, hosts a large database filled with hundreds of thousands of crowdsourced bird sound recordings that are freely available to the public as uploads or embeds.

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The dangers of Disney’s film about Charles Darwin | Philip Ball

Guardian Science - Mon, 2015-06-29 09:00
Faced with a man so misunderstood, a ‘swashbuckling’ biopic about the naturalist could go horribly wrong. Here are a few blunders best avoided

The news that Disney is planning an “adventure film” about Charles Darwin sounds at first blush rather ominous. The idea that Darwin had “a bit of that Indiana Jones-like swashbuckling spirit in him”, as noted in the report on the Hollywood-watching website Deadline, only heightens suspicions that the mild-mannered naturalist will be seen fighting off pirates and wrestling giant iguanas on the Galápagos. But it would be unfair to write off the project – to be directed by Stephen Gaghan, who wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic – before we know anything more about it. Disney has at least shown itself now capable of producing more than sweet, passive princesses.

Related: Disney incubating new Charles Darwin movie

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Green-fingered teachers: how to grow fruit and vegetables in school

Guardian Science - Mon, 2015-06-29 07:00

The joys of growing fruit and vegetables in school go beyond filling bellies, there are lots of educational benefits too

There’s nothing more satisfying than harvesting your own crops at school. As the first plums of the season ripen on trees and tiny cabbages appear between leaves, students can feast both their eyes and their bellies, on the fruits of their labour.

But there are also a wide range of educational benefits to going green, from teaching about photosynthesis and the life of a plant to seasonal poetry and creative writing, the topic can be explored in a variety of classes.

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Hope or despair? The highs and lows of saving seabirds

New Scientist - news - Mon, 2015-06-29 07:00
From saving the migratory paths of endangered knots to establishing new colonies of puffins, two new books show the tough challenges bird conservationists face

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