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Earth & Life Sciences Archives | OUPblog

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DNA: The amazing molecule

DNA is the foundation of life. It codes the instructions for the creation of all life on Earth. Scientists are now reading the autobiographies of organisms across the Tree of Life and writing new words, paragraphs, chapters, and even books as synthetic genomics gains steam. Quite astonishingly, the beautiful design and special properties of DNA makes it capable of many other amazing feats. Here are five man-made functions of DNA, all of which are contributing to the growing “industrial-DNA” phenomenon.

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Minding your stems and crowns

Since evolution became the primary framework for biological thought, we have been fascinated—sometimes obsessed—with the origins of things. Darwin himself was puzzled by the seemingly sudden appearance of angiosperms (flowering plants) in the fossil record. In that mid-Cretaceous debut, they seemed to be diversified into modern families already, with no evidence of what came before them. This was Darwin’s famous “abominable mystery.”

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Man’s best friend: companion or animal?

Most scientific inquires, referring to animals en masse, neglect the idea of individuality among animals. However, disregarding this academic approach, many people view their animal companions as family members. Dogs, often called ‘man’s best friend,’ are no exception. Despite this old saying, science had generally neglected research on dogs until the end of the 19th century.

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A thousand words: Photography in the Lincoln era

Lincoln was not the first president of the United States to be photographed, but he was the first to be photographed many times, and not only in the portrait studio. His photo archive makes him a modern figure, a celebrity. His short presidency happened just at the time when photography first became straightforward and reliable. Many of the Lincoln photographs were taken by Scottish-born Alexander Gardner.

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Are you an “earth ranger”? [quiz]

No time to plant a garden or ride your bike to work this Earth Day? Don’t worry–you can still do your part to honor Mother Nature today by staying informed about our global environment. Test your knowledge of water, weather, air, sea, and soil with the Earth Day quiz below, featuring content from Oxford Bibliographies in Environmental Science.

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Earth Day: A reading list

To celebrate Earth Day on 22 April, we have created a reading list of books, journals, and online resources that explore environmental protection, environmental ethics, and other environmental sciences. Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 in the United States. Since then, it has grown to include more than 192 countries and the Earth Day Network coordinate global events that demonstrate support for environmental protection. If you think we have missed any books, journals, or online resources in our reading list, please do let us know in the comments below.

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Fool’s gold and the founding of the United States of America

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” the hard-bitten newspaperman, Maxwell Scott says to Ransom Stoddard in the classic western film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance. So many legends have been attached to the founding of the United States it is sometimes difficult to see through the haze of myths to the real beginnings.

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DNA, colour perception, and ‘The Dress’

Did you see ‘blue and black’ or ‘white and gold’? Or did you miss the ‘dress-capade’ that exploded the Internet last month? It was started by this post on Tumblr that went viral. Many people warned their heads risked exploding in disbelief. How could people see the same dress in different colours? It appears the variation lies in the way we judge how light reflects off objects of different colours, as Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker explained in Forbes. A follow-on, calmer discussion started about whether this trait could be in our DNA.

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Independent water providers in Kisumu and Addis Ababa

In order to build the future we want, we must consider the part that water plays in our ecosystems, urbanization, industry, energy, and agriculture. In recognition of this challenge, the United Nations celebrates World Water Day on 22 March each year, including this year’s theme: ‘Water and Sustainable Development’.

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Why does entomology matter?

What makes entomology the most interesting profession in the world? If you ask an entomologist what makes their profession–the study of insects and related arthropods–interesting and important, you will get an answer. A surprisingly relatable, impassioned, and compelling answer.

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X-rays: a century of discovery, diffraction, and dynamical theory

The International Year of Light provides a good opportunity to revisit the early studies on the optical properties of X-rays. X-rays were discovered by W. C. Röntgen on the evening of 8 November 1895 while he was redoing some of Hertz’s experiments on cathode rays. By the end of the year, even before informing the world of his discovery, he had observed the basic properties of X-rays: like light, they propagate as straight lines and are diffused by turbid media, but are not deflected by a prism, nor refracted or reflected by matter; they pass through bodies, as shown by the radiograph of his wife’s hand.

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Spiders: the allure and fear of our eight-legged friends

What’s your first reaction when you see this picture? Love? Fear? Repulsion? If you are like many Americans, when you come across a spider, especially a large, hairy one like this tarantula, the emotions you experience are most likely in the realm of fear or disgust. Your actions probably include screaming, trapping, swatting, or squashing of the spider.

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The third parent

The news that Britain is set to become the first country to authorize IVF using genetic material from three people—the so-called ‘three-parent baby’—has given rise to (very predictable) divisions of opinion. On the one hand are those who celebrate a national ‘first’, just as happened when Louise Brown, the first ever ‘test-tube baby’, was born in Oldham in 1978. Just as with IVF more broadly, the possibility for people who otherwise couldn’t to be come parents of healthy children is something to be welcomed.

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The Oxford Comment – Episode 20 – Living with the Stars

Everything is connected. Animals and asteroids, bodies and stardust, heart valves and supernovas—all of these rise from the same origin to form the expanse of the universe, the fiber of our being. So say our guests of this month’s Oxford Comment, Karel Shrijver, an astronomer who studies the magnetic fields of stars, and Iris Schrijver, a physician and pathologist. We sat down for a captivating discussion with the co-authors of Living with the Stars: How the Human Body is Connected to the Life Cycles of the Earth, the Planets, and the Stars.

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What to do with a million (billion) genomes? Share them

A Practical Genomics Revolution is rolling out, owing to the dropping cost of DNA sequencing technology, accelerated DNA research, and the benefits of applying genetic knowledge in everyday life. We now have ‘million-ome’ genome sequencing projects and talk of ‘billion-omes’ is growing audible. Given the expense – even at only $1000 a genome, a million still costs $1 billion US dollars — it is only right to ask, “What will the impact be?”

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