The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature
Monday Morning Smörgåsbord

Monday Morning Smörgåsbord

“Their dream is to create a technology that reads signals from people’s brains and uses them to control machines. The machines might be robot arms that people could use to feed themselves, or computers to compose emails, or perhaps even exoskeletons that could enable people to walk.” Carl Zimmer at the Loom on the amazing implants that allow direct brain-machine interfaces.

Your (Z)-5-tetradecenoic and (Z)-7-tetradecenoic acids drive me nuts… Jonathan Clark and Anandasankar Ray at eLife on the pheromones courting fruit flies release and sense to govern attraction and keep things within limits Rick Santorum would find acceptable: “During courtship, pheromones are often used to signal that both participants are of the same species”.

In case you thought this was the golden age of the cougar, Nadia Drake at National Geographic on “rodenticides, errant motorists, and livestock owners wielding permits that allow them to kill pumas considered a threat”, the problems of being a big cat in a big city.

Health advice for a cholera epidemic: “He found that there had been no cases among the 70 workers in the Broad Street brewery, because they were all given free beer, and never drank water at all.” Anne Buchanan at The Mermaid’s Tale reviews the epic story of John Snow’s (no, not that John Snow-this one actually knew something) tracking of a cholera epidemic to a water pump in 19th century London.

A “what if?” piece in PLOS Biology as Jack Gilbert and Josh Neufeld imagine a world without microbes. “If someone were to wave an antimicrobial wand and eliminate all bacterial and archaeal life on the planet, what would happen? The usual rhetoric is that life as we know it would end, human societies would collapse, and eukaryotic life would cease to exist. Is all of this true?”

Physicist Brian Greene at the Smithsonian wonders “Is string theory revealing reality’s deep laws? Or, as some detractors have claimed, is it a mathematical mirage that has sidetracked a generation of physicists?”

In time for stocking-stuffing season, Andrew Chisolm at PLOS Genetics presents us with a list of very readable accounts of the history of molecular biology. “These recommendations form a tale of three successive intellectual utopias. In the first act, the precursors of molecular genetics take hold among physicists, in particular in those around Niels Bohr. In the second act, molecular genetics emerges in the 1940s, spreading out from the phage group and together with structural biology forming the nascent field of molecular biology. In the third act, a diaspora generation of geneticists applies the style of phage genetics to a menagerie of organisms: Caenorhabditis elegansDrosophila, zebrafish, andArabidopsis, among others.”

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