What Tim’s talking about on radio – 10 August

Tim’s blog

This week on radio, Tim Thwaites is talking about the extinction of Australia’s megafauna; regenerating hearts and limbs; the essence of being a sponge; childhood obesity; and more…

1. The biggest losers—The latest evidence points the finger even more squarely at humans as being the decisive factor in the extinction of the last of the truly large animals of Australia and North America.—Australasian Science.

This story can be found in the latest issue of Australasian Science.

2. Turning scar tissue into a beating heart—By switching on three critical genes, American researchers have managed to coax scar tissue—of the type formed after a heart attack—to regenerate and turn back into beating muscle cells. And it happens directly, without an intermediate stage of stem cells.—Cell

A Nature report can be found at http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100805/full/news.2010.394.html

3. Muscling in on limb regenerationWhen newts and salamanders lose a tail or a leg, another grows in its place, good as new. Now, US researchers say, they’ve found a way to recreate this ability in mice, opening the door to the possibility of regenerating damaged tissue in humans.—Cell Stem Cell

A Nature report can be found at http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100805/full/news.2010.392.html

4. Sponge genome goes deepThe genome of a sponge from the Great Barrier Reef released this week should give us the ability to look at how animals advanced beyond a single cell, and how cells learned to work together to generate multi-cellular organisms. The work, which was undertaken by an international team led by Australian researchers, may also provide insight into how animal cells first learned to cope with cancer.—Nature

A Nature report can be found at http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100804/full/466673a.html

5. Rise in childhood obesity is slowing worldwide—It appears that childhood obesity levels have stopped rising in many rich nations around the world. While some claim this is proof that healthy eating campaigns are working, others are concerned that the figures are masking a growing problem among the poor.—International Journal of Obesity

A New Scientist report can be found at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727723.800-rise-in-childhood-obesity-is-slowing-worldwide.html

6. Slit pupils help snakes ambush their preyVertical pupils in snakes are not just for night vision, according to researchers in Sydney. They may also help the predators ambush a feed without being seen.—Journal of Evolutionary Biology

A New Scientist report can be found at http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19273-slit-pupils-help-snakes-ambush-their-prey.html

7. Ancient crocodile chewed like a mammalA new fossil from East Africa shows that at least some ancient crocodiles actually chewed their food, rather than swallowing it in great chunks as their modern relatives do. The small crocodiles, the remains of which were analysed by an international team including an Australian, display sophisticated mammal-like teeth, long legs, and appear to have lived on land.—Science

A Nature report can be found at http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100804/full/news.2010.389.html

8. Tilting solar sails may ease congestion—Geostationary orbits above the equator, where satellites can park and remain in the same relative position to the Earth 24 hours a day, are already at a premium. But two Scottish researchers think they may have the answer—using solar sails to counteract the natural drift encountered when in a position just to the north or the south.—Journal of Guidance Control and Dynamics

A New Scientist report can be found at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727724.300-tilting-solar-sails-will-ease-geostationary-congestion.html

9. How harsh words can hurt your kneesSticks and stones may break your bones, but harsh words can trigger arthritis, according to a US psychologist. He has shown that being dismissed or excluded by others can add to inflammation.—Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A New Scientist report can be found at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727724.800-how-harsh-words-may-hurt-your-knees.html

10. Sea mouse boost for nanowire-makers—A marine worm known as the shimmering sea mouse may hold a key to creating nanoscale electronics, making it possible to produce nanowires 100 longer than existing methods, for a fraction of the price. They could be used in widespread ranging from health sensors to radical new computer processors, say Norwegian researchers—Bioinspiration and Biomimetics

A New Scientist report can be found at http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727725.000-sea-mouse-boost-for-nanowiremakers.html

11. Hiding files in pictures can fool web censors—Life is about to become more difficult for countries trying to censor the web. A system dubbed Collage allows users to download material from blocked websites while visiting others, such as Flickr, which are uncontroversial—New Scientist

A New Scientist report can be found at http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19284-hiding-files-in-flickr-pics-will-fool-web-censors.html

12. Humid breath fells insects—When a goat exhales on lucerne and other plants, aphids let go and fall to the ground en masse. It’s not an extreme reaction to goat halitosis, but a self preservation mechanism. The aphids don’t want to become part of lunch.—Current Biology

A Science report can be found at http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/08/scienceshot-humid-breath-fells-insects.html