Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Of microbes and Madagascar

Microbes are everywhere. On door knobs, in your mouth, covering the New York City Subway, and festering on the kitchen sponge. The world is teeming with microbes—bustling communities of invisible organisms, including bacteria and fungi. Scientists are hard at work cataloging the microbial communities of people, buildings, and entire ecosystems. Many discoveries have shed light on how culture and behavior shape these communities.

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Is yeast the new hops?

In recent years we have seen a revolution in brewing and beer drinking. An industry once dominated by a small number of mega brands has shifted so that bars and retailers across the world are offering a seemingly endless variety of beers produced by craft or speciality breweries. In the midst of all this new […]

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Concerned scientists — World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: Second Notice

It’s been 25 years since more than 1,700 scientists, including a majority of the world’s living Nobel laureates in the sciences, co-signed the Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. This startling document published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, expressed concern about ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine fishery collapses, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth.

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Animal of the Month: 12 facts about reindeer

The reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, is a species of deer of the tundra and subarctic regions of Eurasia and North America. From tales of glowing red noses to debates about the physics behind their annual circumnavigation around the world, talk of reindeer is at an all-time-high this time of year. But there’s a lot more to this charismatic winter mammal than their sleigh-pulling abilities.

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Our Blue Planet

Over the last seven weeks, our Blue Planet II series has focused on the underwater habitats and marine life that live on “our blue planet”, featuring an assortment of captivating creatures, including manta rays, blennies, spinner dolphins, sea turtles, octopus, starfish, and whales; in many different habitats, from the darkest depths, to coral reefs, coastal tide pools, the open ocean, and underwater forests.

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Using evolutionary history to save pangolins from extinction

Pangolins, or scale-bodied anteaters, are a unique lineage of mammals exclusively feeding on ants and termites. Eight species are distributed across Africa and Asia. They all show extraordinary adaptation to myrmecophagy (specialized diet of ants and termites), including a scaled armor covering the body and tail that protects them from bites (both from bugs and large predators!)

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How much do you know about cheetahs? [Quiz]

Today, 4 December, is International Cheetah Day! Cheetahs are easily distinguished from other cats due to their distinctive black “tear stain” markings that create two lines from eye to mouth, their black spots on tawny fur, and black rings at the end of their long tails. Cheetahs also stand apart from other large cats due to their loose and rangy frame, small head, high‐set eyes, and slightly flattened ears.

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Citizen scientists can document the natural world

At the start of the 21st century, it may come as a surprise that we still have not catalogued the detailed anatomy or traits of most plants, animals and microbes whether they are living or fossil species. That we lack much of this basic information – how species’ cells are constructed, what their physiology is like, the details of their bones, muscles or leaves – may be remarkable given that the study of comparative “morphology” (sometimes called “phenomics”) has been underway for centuries.

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The building blocks of ornithology

Museum collections are dominated by vat collections of natural history specimens—pinned insects in glass-topped drawers, shells, plants pressed on herbarium sheets, and so on. Most of these collections were never intended for display, but did work in terms of understanding the variety and distribution of nature.

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Animal of the month: badgers at Wytham Woods [video]

Distinctive and familiar, loved and loathed by different sections of the public, the badger is iconic of the British countryside. But Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) has discovered that, due to their sensitivity to prevailing weather, badgers, like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, are also sentinels of climate change.

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Place of the Year nominee spotlight: the Arctic [video]

The Arctic sea ice has been seen to be in steady retreat since about 1950, a retreat which has recently sped up with an additional factor of thinning. In summer now there is only a quarter of the volume of ice that there was in summer in 1980. This process shows every sign of continuing, so that the Arctic will be ice-free for part of the year. Obviously we view this as a product of global warming, but why should it concern us in other ways?

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Singing insects: a tale of two synchronies

What is a chorus, what is an insect chorus, and why might we be interested in how and why singing insects create orchestral productions? To begin, chorusing is about timing. In a chorus, singers align their verses with one another in some non-random way. When singing insects form a chorus, the alignment may only be […]

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Animal of the month: nine facts about badgers

Badgers are short, stocky mammals that are part of the Mustelidae family. Although badgers are found in Africa, Eurasia, and North America, these animals are possibly best-known from their frequent appearance in literature, such as “Badger” from The Wind in the Willows and Hufflepuff’s house animal in the Harry Potter series, and for being a 2003 internet sensation.

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Herpes and human evolution: a suitable topic for dinner?

Politics and religion are always topics best avoided at dinner and it’s perhaps not too much of a stretch to add STIs to that list. But it was over dinner at King’s College, Cambridge that my colleagues Charlotte Houldcroft, Krishna Kumar, and I first started to talk about the fascinating relationship humans have with Herpes.

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A Q&A with plant scientist, Hitoshi Sakakibara

The reason for my specializing in plant science is that plants are autotrophic organisms supporting life on the earth, and plants give us a wide range of benefits, such as food, materials, and medicine. After my starting university around the mid-80s, I realized that there is great potential hidden in plant science because there are still so many fundamental unanswered questions.

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Blue Planet II returns

Blue Planet returns to our television screens tonight as Blue Planet II, 16 years after the first series aired to great critical acclaim. The series, fronted by Sir David Attenborough, focuses on life beneath the waves, using state-of-the-art technology to bring us closer than ever before to the creatures who call the ocean depths their home. Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be sharing a selection of content from our life science resources

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