Microbes from ships may help distinguish one port from another

Much the way every person has a unique microbial cloud around them, ships might also carry distinct microbial signatures. The key is testing the right waters — the bilge water from the bottoms of ships.

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A skull with history: A fossil sheds light on the origin of the neocortex

According to a recent study an early relative of mammals already possessed an extraordinarily expanded brain with a neocortex-like structure. …

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Plants sacrifice ‘daughters’ to survive chilly weather

Plants adopt different strategies to survive the changing temperatures of their natural environments. This is most evident in temperate regions where forest trees shed their leaves to conserve energy during the cold season. In a new study, a team of plant biologists found that some plants may selectively kill part of their roots to survive under cold weather conditions. …

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Protein mingling under blue light

One of the current challenges in biology is to understand rapidly-changing phenomena. Interestingly, only a small fraction of them is due to proteins acting in isolation, the majority of biological events are regulated by proteins acting together in clusters. Researchers have developed a new tool, called “CRY2clust”, to trigger protein cluster formation in response to blue light. This new technique has a much faster response rate and higher sensitivity to light than existent methods. …

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How a single chemical bond balances cells between life and death

With SLAC’s X-ray laser and synchrotron, scientists measured exactly how much energy goes into keeping a crucial chemical bond from triggering a cell’s death spiral. …

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How pheromones trigger female sexual behavior

A new study showed how a male pheromone in mice enhances sexual behaviors in females — and how it may enhance a different behavior, aggression, in males — by identifying distinct neural circuits and neurons that generate a particular behavioral response to specific chemical signals. The findings point to a model for further investigating how sex-specific innate behaviors in living things are controlled. …

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How eggs got their shapes

The evolution of the amniotic egg — complete with membrane and shell — was key to vertebrates leaving the oceans and colonizing the land and air but how bird eggs evolved into so many different shapes and sizes has long been a mystery. Now, an international team of scientists took a quantitative approach to that question and found that adaptations for flight may have been critical drivers of egg-shape variation in birds. …

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How do genes get new jobs? Wasp venom offers new insights

A new study describes how four closely related species of parasitic wasps change their venoms rapidly in order to adapt to new hosts, and proposes that co-option of single copy genes may be a common but relatively understudied mechanism of evolution for new gene functions, particularly under conditions of rapid evolutionary change. …

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