Small, tasty bites of science from the web this week:
- How do individual ants, locusts, even neurons in our brains, come together to work as a coherent whole? Check out this Wired Science piece about the power of swarms. Or, if you have an hour to spare, listen to this Radiolab episode on emergence, in which the hosts “…take a look at the bottom-up logic of cities, Google, and even our very own brains… with fire-flyologists, ant experts, neurologists, a mathematician, and an economist.”
- Speaking of swarms, the 17-year cicadas are about to hatch in the mid-Atlantic states again. And with a little tech know-how and a couple of hours of spare time, you can help WNYC track the bugs’ emergence with a homemade sensor.
- Emerging after a 17-year sleep is one thing. How about resurrecting after being extinct for nearly 100 years? Or 10,000 years? As I mentioned last week, the TEDxDeExtinction conference was last Friday, and the Interwebs have since been in a tizzy over passenger pigeons, Tasmanian tigers, wooly mammoths, and Neanderthals. Here’s a link to MIT Technology Review’s report, but Google’s been awash with news and commentary.
- If you want to see evolution in action, look at cliff swallows. New research suggests they may be evolving to avoid getting hit by cars.
- This most recent flu season was a doozy. Good thing we had plenty of flu vaccine to go around. Now a company in Canada is working on a way to make the vaccine more quickly and easily: by growing it in tobacco plants. (No, you can’t smoke it.)
- While where on the topic of smoking: It doesn’t change your genes in ways that you can pass on to your children, but a new study suggests that smoking may change what’s called “junk DNA” — the 98% of your DNA that doesn’t code for proteins, but which controls what cells do with the 2% that does. And THOSE changes might get passed down from parents to offspring. Not a great inheritance.
- Last but not least: Want to watch a fish think? Researchers at Howard Hughes Medical Institute came up with a way to see individual nerve cells in a zebrafish’s brain light up when they fire. It’s so cool, I’m just going to embed the video here: