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Earth & Life Sciences Archives | OUPblog

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Look away now: The prophecies of Nostradamus

If you like your prophecies pin sharp then look away now. The 16th century celebrity seer Nostradamus excelled at the exact opposite, couching his predictions in terms so vague as to be largely meaningless. This has not, however, prevented his soothsayings attracting enormous and unending interest, and his book – Les Propheties – has rarely been out of print since it was first published 460 years ago. Uniquely, for a renaissance augur, the writings of Nostradamus are perhaps as popular today as they were four and a half centuries ago.

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The Jurassic world of … dinosaurs?

The latest incarnation (I chose that word advisedly!) of the Jurassic Park franchise has been breaking box-office records and garnering mixed reviews from the critics. On the positive side the film is regarded as scary, entertaining, and a bit comedic at times (isn’t that what most movies are supposed to be?). On the negative side the plot is described as rather ‘thin’, the human characters two-dimensional, and the scientific content (prehistoric animals) unreliable, inaccurate, or lacking entirely in credibility.

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Environmental Epigenetics cover

A Q&A with the Editor of Environmental Epigenetics

Environmental Epigenetics is a new, international, peer-reviewed, fully open access journal, which publishes research in any area of science and medicine related to the field of epigenetics, with particular interest on environmental relevance. With the first issue scheduled to launch this summer, we found this to be the perfect time to speak with Dr. Michael K. […]

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Sexual deception in orchids

“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson), but he could have said the same for insects too. Male insects will be following the scent of females, looking for a partner, but not every female is what she seems to be. It might look like the orchid is getting some unwanted attention in the video below, but it’s actually the bee that’s the victim. The orchid has released complex scents to fool the bee into thinking it’s meeting a female.

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BioScience

Five ways nature can improve our health

How does nature benefit our health? Many of us intuitively know that we simply feel better after ‘stepping out for some fresh air.’ Now over 30 years of research has begun to reveal exactly what health benefits we get from nature. Here are five reasons why we need to make space and time for nature in our lives.

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Wenk Blog

How do gut bugs affect brain health?

Our brain lives in a symbiotic relationship with the bugs in our gut. Whatever we eat, they eat. In return, they help our brain function optimally in a variety of ways. During the past few years, it has become increasingly apparent that in the absence of bacteria humans would never have evolved to our current level of cognitive performance. Our brains are profoundly dependent upon a wide range of chemicals produced by these gut bugs.

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TED Talks and DNA

One of the most fun and exciting sources of information available for free on the Internet are the videos found on the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) website. TED is a hub of stories about innovation, achievement and change, each artfully packaged into a short, highly accessible talk by an outstanding speaker. As of April 2015, the TED website boasts 1900+ videos from some of the most imminent individuals in the world. Selected speakers range from Bill Clinton and Al Gore to Bono and other global celebrities to a range of academics experts.

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Zimmer

What can green fluorescent proteins teach us about diseases?

Green fluorescent proteins, or GFPs for short, are visibly advancing research in biology and medicine. By using GFPs to illuminate proteins otherwise undetectable under the microscope, scientists have learned a great deal about processes that take place within our cells.

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plant-cell-physiology

Hop, the essence of beer

Hop (Humulus lupulus L.) is an essential ingredient for brewing beer, and contributes a characteristic bitterness, aroma, and fullness. However, during the Middle-Ages, various other herbs including Rhodomyrtus tomentosa and Salix subfragilis, had also been used for brewing beer in Europe.

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FEMS Microbiology Letters

Is the history of science still relevant?

It was a simple request: “Try and put the fun back into microbiology”. I was about to write a new practical course for first year students, and apparently there had been complaints that microbiology is just another form of cookbook chemistry. Discussions showed that they liked the idea of doing their own experiments without a pre-determined outcome. Of course, with living microorganisms, safety must be a major concern, and some control was needed to prevent hazardous surprises, but “fun” and safety are not mutually exclusive.

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The genetics of consciousness

Nipple of a cat. Nose of a pig. Hair of a poodle. Eyes of a baboon. Brain of a chimpanzee. If this sounds like a list of ingredients for a witches’ cauldron, think again, for it’s merely a reminder of how many general characteristics we share with other mammals. This similarity in basic body parts has a genetic basis. So humans and chimps share 99 percent DNA similarity in our protein–coding genes and even the tiny mouse is 85 percent similar to us in this respect.

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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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