NewsBits 07- Laser-activated hunters and the Origins of CRISPR

If you’ve ever wondered about weird animal organs, here’s your chance to satisfy your curiosity. Learn about 7 animal organs that humans don’t have here.

A woman in Nevada died of a bacterial infection that was shown to be resistant to all available antibiotics in the U.S.  Will the international community realize that something needs to be done or is it too late?

When it comes to intertidal prey, the impacts of coastal bears and raccoons seems to be redundant. Does this mean that in coastal areas where bears have been eliminated, raccoons could fully replace them,?

The story linking Yellowstone National Park and DNA testing is fascinating. You can find a good write-up here.

Why would the fear and hunting behavior of mice be located in the same part of the brain? Scientists have found a way to flip a switch in mice and turn them into hunters.

Another case of parthenogenesis happened with a zebra shark recently. This s not the first time that a female has gotten pregnant without male contact. This process has been observed in species before, including komodo dragons and copperheads. However, it is believed this is the first time a shark has switched from sexual reproduction to asexual reproduction. This particular shark had previously had babies with a male.

Want to learn more about CRISPR? Here’s your chance to understand it in the context of its origins and some of the scientists involved.


NewsBits 06- Declining cheetahs, bird migrations, and a beneficial centrifuge


Mucus is gross, right? Have you ever wondered if this “troublesome” substance has any advantages? This article investigates the advantages of snot.

One recent paper shows that cheetahs are declining in dramatic fashion. With a global population estimated at 7100 individuals, cheetahs are thought to occupy only 9% of their historical range. Not only are they threatened by range contraction, but also range fragmentation.

If you’re interested, you can find out here why a wild monkey tried to have sex with a deer. He even acted in an aggressive manner when other monkeys got close.

Bird migrations look to be well-timed with high levels of vegetation along the way. If this is true, what will be the impact of climate change on these stops? Will there still be food where the birds expect there to be food?

Why hasn’t nectar evolved to be really sweet? The answer will drive you batty. Read here.

The rusty patched bumblebee, Bombus affinis, became the first bee of any kind in the contiguous 48 states to be declared endangered. Its population had declined 87% in the last 20 years. You can read the U.S. Fish and Wildlife announcement here.

The Pioneer Cabin tree, a giant sequoia in California, fell as a result of heavy rains. It was carved out in 1880’s and instantly became a tourist attraction. See here.

And, finally, you can find out here how a researcher constructed a DIY centrifuge that will help developing countries.

NewsBits 05- Rare sand creatures, Thylacines, and killer cats


Arabian sand cats, Felis margarita harrisoni, were seen by camera traps for the first time in ten years. One of six subspecies, this cat lives in desert environments. Beyond that, not much is known. Check out the article.

There’s a recent home-made video from South Australia that claims to show a Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, alive and well. The only thing is is that these creatures were declared extinct in 1936. They were hunted to extinction, but it seems their genetic diversity was limited before they went extinct.

According to a recent study, that looked at the overall impact of invasive predators, found that feral cats have contributed to over 60 extinctions and threaten the most species overall (430). Check it out, and then keep your cat(s) inside.

On the other side of the spectrum, a group of researchers looked at the socioeconomic benefits of re-introducing cougars into the Eastern U.S. The models predict that if cougars successfully recolonize the area, then over 30 years, deer density and deer vehicle-collisions would be reduced by 22%. The total avoided costs in North Carolina alone over 30 years would be just over $30 million, according to the models.

Here’s a fascinating story about Peter and Rosemary Grant and their quest to find evolution in action. The Grant’s are well-known for studying finches in the Galapagos. After decades of studying these birds, they are now focused on looking for the genetic factors driving the adaptations.

We can all agree that there is little downside to taking a walk outside. There may even be benefits.

Want to learn more about the CRISPR-Cas9 technology? Here’s a nice introduction of how it works, and this article explains how it could be used in conservation.

NewsBits 04- Parasite conservation and humming-not-bird migration


E.O. Wilson has a new book out, and it’s really good. You should read it. As a matter of fact, you should read all of his books. In this particular one, he says that we should set aside half of the planet to conserve biodiversity. You can read a review here.

So, maybe wolves in Yellowstone haven’t yet shown to influence, or scare, the elk population the way they were supposed to. However, maybe there is still such a thing as a landscape of fear. Ed Yong delves into this issue in a recent article, which describes a study done with raccoons.

Have you ever wondered what giant ground sloth burrows look like? If you have, then you’re in luck. The folks from Twilight Beasts wrote about them here. No one is quite sure what these tunnels were used for. Maybe for hiding. Maybe for mating.

Do you see anything strange about this “hummingbird”?









The blind cavefish Cryptotora thamicola has been shown to climb waterfalls with a pelvic girdle similar to a salamander. You can see an interactive model of the pelvis here.

Here are some stunning camera trap images.

Tiny hominids, Homo floresiensis, vanished around 50,000 years ago. This is 40,000 years earlier than previously thought. Could it also mean that they disappeared because Homo sapiens appeared in the region during this same time? see the story here.

Carl Zimmer sits down with Job Dekker to discuss the shape of DNA. There are some really cool animations and applications in this video.

Birds have feathers, but there used to be other animals with feathers. Read about the evolutionary legacy of dinosaurs in today’s birds.

In his latest column, Carl Zimmer wonders if we shouldn’t let parasites and endangered animals continue to live together. He gives an interesting evolutionary perspective to conservation.


NewsBits 03- Bugs in Your House and Microbes in Antarctica


Researchers at NC State University surveyed arthropods living in homes and found huge biodiversity. Some of the results can be found here.

A tree frog that was believed to be extinct for 100 years was discovered in abundance in a northeast Indian jungle. The paper published in PLOS ONE can be found here.

If long strands of RNA don’t code for proteins, should they be considered junk? If we don’t know exactly what role DNA between genes plays, should we call them “junk”? This article explores this issue.

Social, but not intelligent? In a paper published in Science on January 22, scientists show that prairie voles console one another in stressful circumstances.

How could a species of beetle help prevent frost on airplane parts? Find out here.

Have you’ve ever wondered about courtship behavior in the mysterious puma? Max Allen explains some of his really cool research here.

Here’s a neat paper on the microbial biodiversity of Antarctica. Could there be implications for how scientists understand the cold limits of terrestrial life on other planets?

Hadrosaurids, the duck-billed dinosaurs, lived in Asia, Europe, and North America. A new study shows they originated in North America.