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Earth & Life Sciences Archives | OUPblog

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What’s so fascinating about plants?

On 18th May plant lovers around the world take part in Fascination of Plants Day to raise awareness of the importance of plant science to our lives. Well, what is so fascinating about plants? We asked some of our authors and editors to share why they think plants are fascinating and why they are worth studying.

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For the love of trees

I used to climb trees when I was young (and I still, on occasion, do). As a boy in Iraq I had a favoured loquat tree, with branches that bore leathery, serrated leaves, shiny on the upper surface, and densely matted with fine hairs underneath. It seemed so big, though I now reflect it was probably rather small. I would haul myself up and over the lowest branch, making whatever use of the twists and folds of the trunk as provided purchase to my small feet.

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The evolution of the word ‘evolution’

It is curious that, although the modern theory of evolution has its source in Charles Darwin’s great book On the Origin of Species (1859), the word evolution does not appear in the original text at all. In fact, Darwin seems deliberately to have avoided using the word evolution, preferring to refer to the process of biological change as ‘transmutation’. Some of the reasons for this, and for continuing confusion about the word evolution in the succeeding century and a half, can be unpacked from the word’s entry in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

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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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