SONG: "Jump, Jump, Jump."

SONG: “Jump, Jump, Jump”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “Fish and Adaptation: Mangrove Fish Jumps into Air in Warming Water”, Nature World News, 21 Oct 2015, as used in the post “Global warming might make the fish jump.”

ABSTRACT: First, let me say that this was done on time, even early. It started as a jokey thing I was singing to my son while he was watching me play guitar on the couch, and I decided what the hell. They call it “playing” music for a reason. (I guess if I spoke …

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SONG: All Praise Black Ice

SONG: “All Praise Black Ice”.

ARTIST: grant.

SOURCE: Based on “New Horizons Finds Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto”,, 8 Oct 2015, as used in the post “There’s water ice on another planet. Not Mars. Pluto.”


Laryngitis followed by a business trip and here I am, a couple weeks late. I hope the brass section makes up for that.

(Yes, there’s brass in there, somewhere. I really need help mastering these things, but one does what one can in between everything e…

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Science Art: Taf. V: Feuer-Salamander by Bruno Dürigen.


Fire salamanders.

They don’t look so hot.


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Science Art: Chemical Laboratory room. Experimental Research labs, Burroughs Wellcome and Co. Tuckahoe, New York

Click to embiggen

Welcome to Wellcome.

They’ve got all kinds of wonderful things in their image gallery, including this marvelous experimenter in an even more marvelous experimental lab.

In 1935, this was where the future was made.

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Science Art: Idolo de ignota localidad, Idolo de Arica, Idolo de ignota localidad.

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Three idols, from the Anales del Museo Nacional de Chile, published between 1892 and 1910.

I found them in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, which is usually full of biological specimens.

These three, however, are a little different… even if no one knows where two of them came from. Arica is a port city near two valleys that divide the Atacama Desert in north Chile.

He (or more likely she, even though as described in the text, “no hai tetas” and “la barba es d…

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A bionic rose, for electronic lovers – growing circuitry inside.

24 November 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature reports on the creation of a rose implanted with electronic circuits: Researchers at Linköping University have created bionic roses by incorporating plant-compatible electronic materials into them. One of their modified roses has simple digital circuits running through its stem: another’s leaf changes colour when a voltage is applied. The scientists want to make tools for biologists to record or regulate plant physiology — the plant equivalent of medical implants such as pacemakers. Electronic components might also be a way to engineer plants instead of manipulating their DNA, adds Magnus Berggren, a materials scientist at Linköping University who led the research, published in Science Advances. … Berggren started by submerging the cut end of a rose stem into a solution of PEDOT, a conducting polymer that is commonly used in printable electronics and is soluble in water. Capillary action pulls the polymer up into the rose’s vascular tissue or xylem. There, the polymer came out […]

If you’re looking at a plant in a museum, there’s a better than 50% chance it’s named wrong.

17 November 2015 // 0 Comments

Motherboard checks out the state of our nomenclature, and the findings are not good: n a study published on Monday in the journal Current Biology, researchers from Oxford University and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh describe how many plant specimens in the world’s natural history museums might currently be masquerading under false identities. They started off by evaluating 4,500 specimens of the African ginger genus Aframomum, on which a detailed monograph was conducted in 2014. A monograph is a complete revision of organisms (usually a family or genus), which involves sorting out all of the names associated with it. The researchers found that before this new monograph, up to 58 percent of the Aframomum specimens had outdated names, were misidentified, or only identified to the genus or family as opposed to the species level. In 2004, researchers found a similar problem with insects. … In their study, the researchers also give the example of […]

Italian police pressure scientists investigating olive blight.

2 June 2015 // 0 Comments

Nature uncovers just how hard it can be to do research when your subjects keep dying: In the past year, plant scientists at various institutes in Bari, the capital of the Puglia region, have seen their work and their motivations criticized by local campaigners. Most recently, they have been subject to a police investigation about whether they are responsible for the introduction of the bacterium, Xylella fastidiosa, into Puglia, or for allowing its subsequent spread. Police have called in several researchers involved in Xylella research for questioning and confiscated computers and documents from scientific institutes. “We’d just like to be left to do our work without this suspicion and this stress,” says Donato Boscia, head of the Bari unit of the CNR Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection (IPSP), whom police questioned in April. “The scientists in Puglia working on the Xylella outbreak have been working non-stop for two years,” adds Rodrigo Almeida, a Xylella expert […]

Wood chips (of the computer variety).

27 May 2015 // 0 Comments

Science Daily peers into the smoke clouds to see the truth behind biodegradable computer chips make from wood: Portable electronics — typically made of non-renewable, non-biodegradable and potentially toxic materials — are discarded at an alarming rate in consumers’ pursuit of the next best electronic gadget. In an effort to alleviate the environmental burden of electronic devices, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers has collaborated with researchers in the Madison-based U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) to develop a surprising solution: a semiconductor chip made almost entirely of wood. … “The majority of material in a chip is support. We only use less than a couple of micrometers for everything else,”[UW-Madison electrical and computer engineering professor Zhenqiang “Jack” Ma] says. “Now the chips are so safe you can put them in the forest and fungus will degrade it. They become as safe as fertilizer.”

Science Art: Peppergrass, by Zoe Keller

22 June 2014 // 0 Comments

Click to embiggen I love peppergrass. This is a great illustration of the middle part of the plant – there are actually some narrow, spiky-looking leaves that are even tastier. (I am not alone in this. The roots can apparently be used like the plant’s cousin, horseradish.) Discovering peppergrass was probably one of the best consequences of playing softball as a kid. I was always in the outfield. What else was I going to do? Found on Tumblr: “My corner of the studio smelled like mustard by the time this study was done.” It always seemed more like nasturtiums or watercress, but mustard… yes, I can see that. Planning on using some in cocktail bitters experiments now.

This vine changes shape to fit in with whatever’s nearby.

28 April 2014 // 0 Comments

How can this vine *know* what to look like? Science looks at the first known case of shape-shifting mimicry in the vegetable kingdom: Fewer examples of mimicry—or crypsis—are known for plants. But as in some mistletoe species in Australia, all of these imposters copy only one other species. That’s not the case with the woody vine Boquila trifoliolata, which transforms its leaves to copy a variety of host trees. Native to Chile and Argentina, B. trifoliolata is the first plant shown to imitate several hosts. It is a rare quality—known as a mimetic polymorphism—that was previously observed only in butterflies, according to this study, published today in Current Biology. When the vine climbs onto a tree’s branches, its versatile leaves… can change their size, shape, color, orientation, and even the vein patterns to match the surrounding foliage…. If the vine crosses over to a second tree, it changes, even if the new host leaves are […]

Boeing announces (with much hype) new way to turn deserts into biofuel farms.

30 January 2014 // 0 Comments

Energy Post calls it “the BIGGEST BREAKTHROUGH EVER!” That seems a bit much, but it is interesting that a Boeing-sponsored group in Abu Dhabi has figured out how to make super-clean, super-cheap oil from salt-tolerant desert plants: What researchers at the Masdar Institute have been studying is a category of plants called halophytes. These plants have naturally evolved to be able to live on salt water. Not only that: they are also able to live in arid lands, in deserts. “If you look around you here [in Abu Dhabi], most of the plants you see are halophytes.” Clearly if it is possible to grow plants in deserts around the world, and use them for biofuels, that would be an ideal solution. It would solve the major problems of traditional biofuels – use of fresh water and arable land – at one stroke. “Twenty per cent of the world’s land is either desert or becoming desert […]

Plants hear herbivores coming. No, really.

22 August 2013 // 0 Comments

National Geographic reveals what really goes on in a plant’s… mind?… when sap-thirsty plant killers are on the prowl: [University of Wisconsin researcher John] Orrock and botanist Simon Gilroy show that black mustard plants can “hear” the chemical signals of approaching plant-eaters—and prepare to fight back. “One of the things that makes plants so ecologically interesting is that they can’t run away,” says Orrock. Forced by their immobility to get creative, plants have evolved a whole host of spectacular defenses—from thorns and poison darts to awful-tasting chemical juices—against would-be predators. … Orrock and Gilroy used water mixed with snail mucus to slime the soil at the base of a number of black mustard plants. (Because snails secrete a slimy trail of mucus everywhere they go, the presence of mucus is a sure sign to plants that a snail is nearby.) The team then offered the slime-exposed plants to hungry snails, along with a control group […]

Science Art: Plate from Kitab fi al-adwiyah al-mufradah by Abu Ja`far al-Ghafiqi.

21 July 2013 // 0 Comments

In the 11th century, this was the pinnacle of medical knowledge – a book called Kitab fi al-adwiyah al-mufradah compiled by an Andalusian scholar Abu Ja`far al-Ghafiqi. It’s an illustrated guide to medicinal plants – a materia medica. Al-Ghafiqi, according to later historians, was “the greatest savant of medicinal plants, their names and their properties, and his work had no equal in this field.” If you’re curious about the state of medicine in Islamic Spain, check out McGill University’s Ghafiqi Project, where I found this keen flower painting.

Plants talk. Using fungus-phones.

10 May 2013 // 0 Comments

BBC opens the weird world of vegetable communication, revealing the fungal networks plants use to signal one another: But below ground, most land plants are connected by fungi called mycorrhizae. The new study, published in Ecology Letters, is the first to demonstrate these fungi also aid in communication. Researchers from the University of Aberdeen, the James Hutton Institute and Rothamsted Research, all in the UK, devised a clever experiment to isolate the effects of these thread-like networks of mycorrhizae. The team concerned themselves with aphids, tiny insects that feed on and damage plants. … As the researchers allowed single plants in the sets to be infested with aphids, they found that if the infested plant was connected to another by the mycorrhizae, the un-infested plant began to mount its chemical defence.

Science Art: Cattleya Maxima Backhousei by John Nugent Fitch, 1886

20 January 2013 // 0 Comments

A hothouse flower, far from home. Mr. Fitch drew this picture – one of an awful lot – for The Orchid Album: Comprised of Coloured Figures and Descriptions of New, Rare and Beautiful Orchidaceous Plants, a book published by B.S. Williams “at the Victoria and Paradise Nurseries, Upper Holloway, N.” I found it in the Bio Diversity Library, which is not Victorian nor paradisiacal, but offers glimpses of both states of being.

Durian mystery revealed: why *does* it stink so deliciously?

3 December 2012 // 0 Comments

Laboratory Equipment plunges to the bottom of a pressing mystery – why the “king of fruits” packs such a pungent punch: Martin Steinhaus, from the German Research Center for Food Chemistry, and colleagues … set out to identify the big chemical players in the durian’s odor signature. In doing so, they pinpointed 41 highly odor-active compounds, 24 of which scientists had not identified in durian before. Among the most prominent were substances associated with fruity, sweet, sulfurous and oniony smells. The oniony smelling odorants belonged to a compound class that had rarely been found in food before. Four of the newly discovered chemical compounds were previously unknown to science.

What does the zombie-making fungus fear? Its own parasite.

15 November 2012 // 0 Comments

Science Tech Daily says in the parasite world, it’s turtles all the way down. No matter how much of a *parasite* you are… like the brain-eating cordyceps fungus, for example… there’s going to be some kind of fearsome parasite that feeds on you: Ophiocordyceps fungi depend on ants to reproduce and spread. …Eventually, the ant will clamp down onto a leaf, roughly 25 cm off the forest floor, which is optimal for the fungus’ later stage in which it ejects spores onto the soil directly below. The bites are synchronized near noon (possibly cued by clock genes in the fungus) and usually occur in a north-northwestern orientation. … The zombie-ant fungus is not the end of the parasitizing line. It meets its own death at the work of yet another parasite. A secondary fungus, a hyperparasite, can cover the original fungus and its stalk, preventing the fungus from ejecting its spores. The second-level parasite seems […]

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