Science in the clouds

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Science for everyone- research news, in depth analysis and science explained in a flash.

Isabel Torres
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  • April 20, 2015
  • 02:23 PM

Miracle fat-burning hormone doesn't exist after all

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Scientists are humans, and as such, they can sometimes get carried away when they make a breakthrough discovery. Because of this premature excitement, they may lose attention to detail, over-interpret results, or cut corners to speed up that much-desired Nature publication. The discovery of irisin, or ‘exercise hormone’, is one such example. Once thought to be a promising exercise-free solution for obesity and diabetes, irisin has now been shown to be no more than a random blood protein dete........ Read more »

Albrecht Elke, Bernd Thiede, Torgeir Holen, Tomoo Ohashi, Lisa Schering, Sindre Lee, Julia Brenmoehl, Selina Thomas, Christian A. Drevon, & Harold P. Erickson. (2015) Irisin – a myth rather than an exercise-inducible myokine. Scientific Reports, 8889. DOI:  

  • March 27, 2015
  • 12:16 PM

The genetics of musical talent: an interview with Irma Järvelä

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Would Mozart have become a great composer had his family not encouraged his musical career? Irma Järvelä is a clinical geneticist at the University of Helsinki, Finland, who investigates the molecular genetics of musical traits. After devoting 25 years of her career to the identification of genes and mutations involved in human diseases, she now works in close collaboration with bioinformaticians and music educators to study the influence of genes and the cultural environment in music percepti........ Read more »

Kanduri Chakravarthi, Minna Ahvenainen, Anju K. Philips, Liisa Ukkola-Vuoti, Harri Lähdesmäki, & Irma Järvelä. (2015) The effect of listening to music on human transcriptome. PeerJ. DOI:  

Kanduri Chakravarthi, Minna Ahvenainen, Anju K. Philips, Harri Lähdesmäki, & Irma Järvelä. (2015) The effect of music performance on the transcriptome of professional musicians. Scientific Reports, 9506. DOI:  

  • March 17, 2015
  • 07:25 PM

Hippos are (almost) definitely whales, not pigs

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Hippos are strange mammals. They lack hairs and sweat glands, and have an unusually thick skin. The only other mammals that share these features with hippos are whales, but they look nothing alike, except they’re also huge and live in water. Coincidence? Traditionally hippos were included in the Suidae (pigs) branch of the mammalian evolutionary tree, but molecular data unambiguously shows that they're closely related to cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). This not only sounds unlikely........ Read more »

  • February 25, 2015
  • 08:37 AM

Should mice be used to study the human gut microbiome?

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

In recent years, the trillions of bacteria living in our guts have risen from obscurity to stardom. Hyped press releases claim that probiotics and faecal transplants might one day treat almost everything, from bowel inflictions to obesity. These studies often involve mice, but are these rodents really a suitable model for microbiome research?The gut microbiome has been associated with an ever-growing list of diseases, including obesity, diabetes and even mental disorders such as anxiet........ Read more »

  • February 5, 2015
  • 05:04 AM

'One fossil can overturn anything' Interview with Jenny Clack

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Now happily living on land, our Devonian ancestors tried many ways to get out of the murky waters. Jenny Clack has been studying the water-to-land transition of vertebrates for many decades. Her discoveries broke dogmas and rewrote textbooks. Jenny Clack's passion for palaeontology began at a young age, but unlike most children, Clack found dinosaurs “rather boring” and was instead fascinated with weird older creatures from the Devonian era, over 360 million years ago......... Read more »

  • January 26, 2015
  • 04:32 PM

The secret for a longer life? Kill your unfit cells

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

If you had the choice, would you like to live until you’re 130 years old? New research in fruit flies shows that manipulating a single gene can extend their lifespan up to 60%, suggesting that living well into your hundreds might become a reality in the foreseeable future.Dying of old age is a strange thing. Why does our health decline just because we’re old? Although the answer might at first seem obvious or simple, it really isn’t. There are countless theories of ageing, a few popular ev........ Read more »

  • January 12, 2015
  • 05:14 AM

Why do some people see ghosts?

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

For most people ghosts and spirits are part of the imaginary, but a few are truly convinced they can sometimes feel a strange presence near them. These individuals are not experiencing a paranormal phenomenon—they’re having an illusion. Schizophrenics, for instance, consistently report hearing voices or feeling someone—a ‘shadow’ or a ‘man’—close to them. Scientists have long known that illusions have a neurological cause, but they haven’t managed to pinpoint exactly ........ Read more »

Blanke Olaf, Masayuki Hara, Lukas Heydrich, Andrea Serino, Akio Yamamoto, Toshiro Higuchi, Roy Salomon, Margitta Seeck, Theodor Landis, & Shahar Arzy. (2014) Neurological and Robot-Controlled Induction of an Apparition. Current Biology, 24(22), 2681-2686. DOI:  

  • December 10, 2014
  • 04:46 AM

Seeds of change?

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Plant science is probably one of the least appreciated fields of life sciences, and yet, perhaps no other research area has produced as many technological advances beneficial for society. In an open letterreleased last month, 21 out of the 27 most cited plant scientists in Europe pledged decision makers to back plant research, which they feel is currently threatened by lack of funding and global public and political opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “In comparison for i........ Read more »

  • October 28, 2014
  • 11:38 AM

Turning on proteins with light

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Just like for married couples, communication is fundamental for cells. When an embryo is developing, its cells need to tell one another who and where they are, so every tissue and organ grows in the right place and at the right time. Our neurons are constantly talking to each other to control our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Even single-cell organisms like bacteria can exchange information to decide, for example, how many times they should multiply.But how do cells communicate? Scientists ........ Read more »

Grusch M., R. Riedler, E. Reichhart, C. Differ, W. Berger, A. Ingles-Prieto, & H. Janovjak. (2014) Spatio-temporally precise activation of engineered receptor tyrosine kinases by light. The EMBO Journal, 33(15), 1713-1726. DOI:  

  • May 16, 2014
  • 11:08 AM

Tun-ing in on water bears' superpowers

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Water bears, or tardigrades, are harmless microscopic animals. Yet, despite their endearing bear-like appearance, tardigrades are the hardest animals to kill on Earth. And boy, many have tried.Tardigrades are chubby eight-legged animals, no longer than the head of a pin, related to velvet worms and also arthropodes, a large family including insects, spiders and crustaceans. They can be found anywhere where there’s water, but they prefer to live in damp moss and lichens. These tough creatu........ Read more »

  • February 18, 2014
  • 05:54 PM

All eyes on bioprinting

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

3D printing is in fashion. Clothes, prosthetic limbs, guns and even pizza, you name it—just about anything can be printed these days. Even living cells.Bioprinting is an emerging technology that promises to revolutionise the field of regenerative medicine. The idea is simple: you load a printer cartridge with cells removed from a patient or grown in the lab, and then print a brand new tissue or organ ready for transplantation. Alternatively, you could print healthy tissue directly onto a patie........ Read more »

  • December 20, 2013
  • 05:48 PM

Salamanders have different ways of regenerating lost limbs

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Regenerating complex tissues is an enviable ability. Salamanders have mastered this skill to perfection, but a recent study shows that two closely related species use different molecular strategies to regenerate their lost limbs.The remarkable ability to regenerate body parts is fairly common amongst invertebrates. If you chop up a flat worm (planarian) in several bits, they will each grow into a tiny worm (scientists have even been able to grow flat worms from single cells!). When spiders (and........ Read more »

Sandoval-Guzmán Tatiana, Wang Heng, Khattak Shahryar, Schuez Maritta, Roensch Kathleen, Nacu Eugeniu, Tazaki Akira, Joven Alberto, Tanaka Elly M., & Simon András. (2013) Fundamental Differences in Dedifferentiation and Stem Cell Recruitment during Skeletal Muscle Regeneration in Two Salamander Species. Cell Stem Cell. DOI: 10.1016/j.stem.2013.11.007  

  • December 5, 2013
  • 04:04 PM

Promiscuous female chickens choose who fathers their children... after sex

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Sex is not much fun for female chickens. Even though they are likely to have many partners, female chickens have little choice over with whom they mate. On top of this, male chickens are anything but picky and will copulate with whoever comes their way, including their sisters. But female chickens can still have the last squawk—instead of choosing a partner, they select the sperm that fertilises their eggs. It’s easy to understand why being promiscuous is advantageous for males: the more fem........ Read more »

Lovlie H., Gillingham M. A. F., Worley K., Pizzari T., & Richardson D. S. (2013) Cryptic female choice favours sperm from major histocompatibility complex-dissimilar males. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1769), 20131296-20131296. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1296  

  • November 6, 2013
  • 05:08 AM

Cocoons protect ants from disease – and from nest eviction

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

For ant larvae and pupae, getting sick is a death sentence—when adult ants spot an infirm individual in their spotlessly clean nest, they simply chuck it out and leave it to die. But some pupae have worked out a way to avoid nest eviction. Scientists have discovered that in some ant species the pupae spin bug-proof cocoons that help them dodge disease.Credit: Alexander Wild ( are tormented by all sorts of nasty bugs, from bacteria to fungi and parasites. Because larva........ Read more »

Tragust Simon, Ugelvig Line V, Chapuisat Michel, Heinze Jürgen, & Cremer Sylvia. (2013) Pupal cocoons affect sanitary brood care and limit fungal infections in ant colonies. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 13(1), 225. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-13-225  

  • October 4, 2013
  • 09:16 AM

Seeing is believing? An optical illusion that challenges decades-old assumptions

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Our brains are wired to make things up. To make sense of the physical world around us, the brain takes bits of information received from the senses and, like an artist painting a landscape, creates a unique mental picture shaped by its experiences. Without this ability to process sensory information (called perception) we wouldn’t be able to see in three dimensions, understand someone speaking in a noisy room, or even watch a film at the cinema. But there is a caveat: the brain can sometimes m........ Read more »

Wexler M., Glennerster A., Cavanagh P., Ito H., & Seno T. (2013) Default perception of high-speed motion. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(17), 7080-7085. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1213997110  

  • September 19, 2013
  • 06:02 PM

Baby zebras can suckle for psychological needs, not just for feeding

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

All mammals are born with a sucking reflex - an instinct on which their lives depend - but human babies are unique in that they also need to suck for comfort. Or so it was thought. A new study now shows evidence suggesting that baby zebras can suckle for psychological needs, rather than just for feeding. The use of soothers is a sensitive topic amongst parents. Soothers (also known as pacifiers or dummies) comfort babies and help them sleeping, but many parents go through great lengths (and many........ Read more »

  • August 13, 2013
  • 09:36 AM

Rare embryo discovery gives hints on how dinosaurs reproduced

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Sometime in the Late Jurassic era, a dinosaur nest was hit by a fatal tragedy and its eggs never hatched. Whatever killed the baby dinos - perhaps a hungry predator or a flood - was a stroke of luck for the team of paleontologists who, about 150 millions later, stumbled on the crushed eggs and embryo remains in the Lourinhã geological formation, in Portugal.  “Most of the time what happens is that you find eggs without embryos, to find them together is really a matter of chance,” says ........ Read more »

Araújo Ricardo, Castanhinha Rui, Martins Rui M. S., Mateus Octávio, Hendrickx Christophe, Beckmann F., Schell N., & Alves L. C. (2013) Filling the gaps of dinosaur eggshell phylogeny: Late Jurassic Theropod clutch with embryos from Portugal. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/srep01924  

  • July 8, 2013
  • 02:21 PM

The strange virus from the sewage

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Viruses can infect all types of organisms. Unable to multiply on their own, viruses parasitise animals, plants, bacteria and even other viruses, in order to propagate. Bacteria-killing viruses, called bacteriophages or simply phages, are the most abundant and diverse organisms on the planet. It is estimated that there are over 100 million different phages, but only about 0.0002% of phage genomes have been sequenced. Sewage-polluted waters, like some lakes and ponds, are a sample haven for v........ Read more »

Šimoliūnas Eugenijus, Kaliniene Laura, Truncaitė Lidija, Zajančkauskaitė Aurelija, Staniulis Juozas, Kaupinis Algirdas, Ger Marija, Valius Mindaugas, Meškys Rolandas, & van Raaij Mark J. (2013) Klebsiella Phage vB_KleM-RaK2 — A Giant Singleton Virus of the Family Myoviridae. PLoS ONE, 8(4). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060717.s003  

  • May 20, 2013
  • 03:35 PM

Why don't men understand women?

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Men might have found themselves an excuse not to listen to women. New research suggests that men have twice more difficulty reading emotions in women than in men. This may not sound surprising, but evidence that men have trouble understanding women is, at best, scarce.Being able to guess someone else’s thoughts, feelings and intentions is an instinctive social skill that develops in early childhood. We might take it for granted, but people who struggle or are unable to read other people, like ........ Read more »

  • May 13, 2013
  • 06:45 AM

Multi-tasking pigments

by Isabel Torres in Science in the clouds

Plants and other photosynthetic organisms live in a catch-22 situation. “Plants produce oxygen but are also poisoned by oxygen,” says Roberto Bassi, an Italian plant physiologist who has been passionate about photosynthesis since his graduate degree at the Padua University Botanical Garden. Bassi’s research group at Verona University played a pivotal role in understanding the dual function of carotenoid pigments in absorbing light energy and protecting the photosynthetic machinery against ........ Read more »

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