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Category: Biology

Sperm whale clicks could hide a surprisingly complex ‘alphabet’

Sperm whale clicks could hide a surprisingly complex ‘alphabet’

Science Alert reports: A recent analysis of a sperm whale’s vocalizations suggests variations in ‘clicks’ represent a kind of alphabet that forms the basis of a complex communication system. Members of the conservation initiative Project CETI discovered series of clicks less than 2 seconds in length act as codas – basic units (phonemes) of cetacean speech. The highly social mammals have previously been heard identifying themselves with unique patterns of clicking, but this is the first time a combinatorial and…

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Insects and other animals have consciousness, experts assert in new declaration

Insects and other animals have consciousness, experts assert in new declaration

Dan Falk writes: In 2022, researchers at the Bee Sensory and Behavioral Ecology Lab at Queen Mary University of London observed bumblebees doing something remarkable: The diminutive, fuzzy creatures were engaging in activity that could only be described as play. Given small wooden balls, the bees pushed them around and rotated them. The behavior had no obvious connection to mating or survival, nor was it rewarded by the scientists. It was, apparently, just for fun. The study on playful bees…

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Viruses finally reveal their complex social life

Viruses finally reveal their complex social life

Carl Zimmer writes: Ever since viruses came to light in the late 1800s, scientists have set them apart from the rest of life. Viruses were far smaller than cells, and inside their protein shells they carried little more than genes. They could not grow, copy their own genes or do much of anything. Researchers assumed that each virus was a solitary particle drifting alone through the world, able to replicate only if it happened to bump into the right cell…

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The French aristocrat who understood evolution 100 years before Darwin – and even worried about climate change

The French aristocrat who understood evolution 100 years before Darwin – and even worried about climate change

Donna Ferguson writes: Shortly after Charles Darwin published his magnum opus, The Origin of Species, in 1859 he started reading a little-known 100-year-old work by a wealthy French aristocrat. Its contents were quite a surprise. “Whole pages [of his book] are laughably like mine,” Darwin wrote to a friend. “It is surprising how candid it makes one to see one’s view in another man’s words.” In later editions of The Origin of Species, Darwin acknowledged Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon,…

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The cell is not a factory

The cell is not a factory

Charudatta Navare writes: When you think about it, it is amazing that something as tiny as a living cell is capable of behaviour so complex. Consider the single-cell creature, the amoeba. It can sense its environment, move around, obtain its food, maintain its structure, and multiply. How does a cell know how to do all of this? Biology textbooks will tell you that each eukaryotic cell, which constitutes a range of organisms from humans to amoeba, contains a control centre…

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Crows are too smart to be domesticated

Crows are too smart to be domesticated

Ben Crair writes: At around 9 a.m. every weekday, a crow caws in the Jardin des Plantes, the oldest botanical garden in Paris. The sound is a warning to every other crow: Frédéric Jiguet, a tall ornithologist whose dark hair is graying around the ears, has shown up for work. As Jiguet walks to his office at the French National Museum of Natural History, which is on the garden’s grounds, dozens of the black vandals take to the trees and…

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How microbes influence our brain health

How microbes influence our brain health

Anthony King writes: You feel tension in the pit of your stomach as you begin your big public talk. You get butterflies as you wait for exam results. A mentor tells you to trust your gut feelings on a career decision. It’s no wonder ancient thinkers viewed the gut as the seat of emotions, or that a medieval physician even proposed that perception and our soul resided in our digestive organs. ‘Back in history we used to think the gut…

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Urban humans have lost much of their ability to digest plants

Urban humans have lost much of their ability to digest plants

John Timmer writes: Cellulose is the primary component of the cell walls of plants, making it the most common polymer on Earth. It’s responsible for the properties of materials like wood and cotton and is the primary component of dietary fiber, so it’s hard to overstate its importance to humanity. Given its ubiquity and the fact that it’s composed of a bunch of sugar molecules linked together, its toughness makes it very difficult to use as a food source. The…

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Salty foods are making people sick − in part by poisoning their microbiomes

Salty foods are making people sick − in part by poisoning their microbiomes

Salt has taken over many diets worldwide – some more than others. ATU Images/The Image Bank via Getty Images By Christopher Damman, University of Washington People have been using salt since the dawn of civilization to process, preserve and enhance foods. In ancient Rome, salt was so central to commerce that soldiers were paid their “salarium,” or salaries, in salt, for instance. Salt’s value was in part as a food preservative, keeping unwanted microbes at bay while allowing desired ones…

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We aren’t the only apes who can playfully tease each other, study finds

We aren’t the only apes who can playfully tease each other, study finds

Spontaneous playful teasing in four great ape species: https://t.co/MhRhkoFPOs @RossanoFederico @IsabelleLaumer @ScienceSquil #ProcB #ethology pic.twitter.com/pzuMbBdTGf — Royal Society Publishing (@RSocPublishing) March 11, 2024 Mongabay reports: Being silly and indulging in humor may sound easy, but our brains need to do a lot of heavy lifting to pull it off. Landing a joke requires recognizing what’s socially acceptable, being spontaneous, predicting how others may react, and playfully violating some social expectations. Until now, research on the complex cognitive abilities that underpin…

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‘Monumental’ experiment suggests how life on Earth may have started

‘Monumental’ experiment suggests how life on Earth may have started

The Washington Post reports: A much-debated theory holds that 4 billion years ago, give or take, long before the appearance of dinosaurs or even bacteria, the primordial soup contained only the possibility of life. Then a molecule called RNA took a dramatic step into the future: It made a copy of itself. Then the copy made a copy, and over the course of many millions of years, RNA begot DNA and proteins, all of which came together to form a…

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Scientists reveal how first cells could have formed on Earth

Scientists reveal how first cells could have formed on Earth

The Scripps Research Institute: Roughly 4 billion years ago, Earth was developing conditions suitable for life. Origin-of-life scientists often wonder if the type of chemistry found on the early Earth was similar to what life requires today. They know that spherical collections of fats, called protocells, were the precursor to cells during this emergence of life. But how did simple protocells first arise and diversify to eventually lead to life on Earth? Now, Scripps Research scientists have discovered one plausible…

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Where did India’s people come from? Massive genetic study reveals surprises

Where did India’s people come from? Massive genetic study reveals surprises

Science reports: South Asia is home to one of the most diverse assemblages of people in the world. A mélange of different ethnic identities, languages, religions, castes, and customs makes up the 1.5 billion humans who live here. Now, scientists have revealed the most detailed look yet of how this population took shape. In the largest ever modern whole-genome analysis from South Asia—published as a preprint last month on bioRxiv—researchers reveal new details about the origin of India’s Iranian ancestry…

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If we can learn to speak the language of whales, what should we say?

If we can learn to speak the language of whales, what should we say?

Ross Andersen writes: One night last winter, over drinks in downtown Los Angeles, the biologist David Gruber told me that human beings might someday talk to sperm whales. In 2020, Gruber founded Project CETI with some of the world’s leading artificial-intelligence researchers, and they have so far raised $33 million for a high-tech effort to learn the whales’ language. Gruber said that they hope to record billions of the animals’ clicking sounds with floating hydrophones, and then to decipher the…

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These birds score as high as primates in a puzzling cognitive test

These birds score as high as primates in a puzzling cognitive test

Science Alert reports: Only some animals are known to fathom object permanence – the idea that something still exists even when it’s out of sight. Oriental pied hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) are one of the few with an advanced understanding, a new study confirms. It’s a clever skill that comes in handy when nesting females seal themselves out of sight in tree hollows, relying on their mate to bring them food. To lay and tend to their eggs in safety, female…

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The strange and turbulent global world of ant geopolitics

The strange and turbulent global world of ant geopolitics

John Whitfield writes: It is a familiar story: a small group of animals living in a wooded grassland begin, against all odds, to populate Earth. At first, they occupy a specific ecological place in the landscape, kept in check by other species. Then something changes. The animals find a way to travel to new places. They learn to cope with unpredictability. They adapt to new kinds of food and shelter. They are clever. And they are aggressive. In the new…

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