New Year, New(ish) Edition

I missed my regular update on the latest edition of Australasian Science at the start of January, but since this edition is on the shelves for two months, there is still plenty of time to grab a copy.

It’s cover is a magnificent impression of an Archaeopteryx by Nobumichi Tamura, a creature not only stunning in its beauty, but with an unrivaled capacity to get up the noses of creationists – and therefore one of my favourite extinct animals. The article itself briefly covers the more famous controversies the 11 fossils have inspired, but primarily deals with the question of whether Archaeopteryx was the key transition species between the birds and dinosaurs, or just one feathered dinosaur amongst many.

Then we step forward to an even more controversial evolutionary step, the development of the arrogantly named “higher primates”. Annoyingly the article doesn’t define what a primate has to be to earn the adjective, so to save you checking wikipedia, I did. It turns out the higher primates are all the animals I think of as primates, that is not only apes but monkeys. It excludes lemurs, bush babies and the like (presumably also fruit-bats if the theory they’re actually primates ever gets wings.) The article discusses the way jumping genes, genes that move around the genome, drove this evolutionary development, as well as subsequent shifts in primate evolution.

Other features are an optimistic account of the provision of the bionic eye, and an explanation of how unami, or the fat taste, contributes to the obesity epidemic. Short version – it’s not what you probably think. People who are more sensitive to unami eat less, not more.

Oh and there is where to find Dark Matter, why agave could be a biofuel that doesn’t compete for food (maybe just with Tequila production) and how rammed earth could resolve the remote communities housing crisis at far more realistic prices than the products currently been used.

As for my contribution: The Cool Scientist is Robyn Arianrhod, a mathematician who spent years in an intentional community without electric power, or most other modern conveniences. She was inspired to return to maths when she finally acquired a radio, and found the connection to the outside world so powerful she started reading up in electro-magnetism by candlelight. She’s since written two books on the history of mathematics, one on two women who played an important role in disseminating Newton’s work, but have until now largely been written out of the history of science.

Browses include a piece exploring the effects of methodrone, more popularly known as the party drug meow meow has on rodent brains. After years of scaremongering about every elicit drug to hit the market it seems possible the prohibitionists have finally got one right – meow meow really may be as addictive as we’ve been warned.

Then there is a piece on the extraordinary behaviour of the eclectus parrot, which I introduced here, and some really cool findings on ways to strop the cane toad invasion.

There is also something on dolphin mating behaviour, but I think I’ll give that it’s own post.

About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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