Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Can environmental DNA help save endangered crayfish?

Most people have a passing familiarity with crayfish: as an occasional food item, or as animals routinely caught by children wading in streams and ditches in the summer. Yet few people likely realize how astoundingly diverse crayfish are globally. Our planet is home to approximately 600 species of crayfish, which use habitats ranging from caves to streams and lakes to terrestrial burrows.

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Animal of the Month: 8 things threatening koalas [slideshow]

Despite being found only on one continent in the world, many of us appreciate everything koalas have to offer. We celebrated this endearing marsupial earlier this month on Wild Koala Day and have continued the revelries by providing interesting facts throughout the month. Highlighting this iconic Australian mammal is of continued importance as the wild population continues to decrease. According to some estimates, the koala population in Queensland between 1996 and 2016 decreased by as much as 80%. Here, we present some of the leading threats Phascolarctos cinereus face in their bid to survive in the modern world.

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Organic farming genetics and the future of food

What does the drug insulin have in common with cheese, Hawaiian papaya and a vegan burger? All were developed using genetic engineering, an approach established more than 40 years ago. In the early 1970s, researchers in the San Francisco Bay Area demonstrated that it was possible to genetically engineer bacteria with a new trait. They showed that genes from different species could be cut and spliced together and that the new genes could be reproduced and expressed in the bacteria.

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Animal of the Month: 11 facts about koalas

Koalas: the adorable fluffy mascots of Australia who seem to cuddle everything in sight. It’s no wonder that tourists flock to visit them, photograph them, and feed them the leaves of their all-time favourite food, eucalyptus. Apart from their tree-hugging habits and rigid diet though, how much do you actually know about them? The koala is part of the marsupial family, which is around 80 million years old.

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Medical mycology: an introduction

The spectrum of fungal disease has evolved exponentially over the past four decades, and so has the emergence of fungal diseases as an increasingly important problem in global healthcare systems. If a medical mycologist who had retired in the 1970s returned to the discipline today, they would inevitably find it irrevocably changed—almost unrecognisable.

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How do male hummingbird dance moves alter their appearance?

Many animals use colorful ornaments and exaggerated dances or displays to attract mates, such as birds of paradise. Some animals go even further and have colors that can change as they dance, such as in peacocks or morpho butterflies. This special type of color is called iridescence, and its appearance changes based on the angles of observation and illumination.

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Soil protists: a fertile frontier in biology research

For many years, soil has been considered the ultimate frontier to ecological knowledge. Soils serve many ecosystem functions for humans; for example, they provide the basis for most of our nutrition. Yet, the organisms which act as the catalysts for those services—i.e. the soil microbiota—still remain a relatively unexplored field of research.

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Animal of the Month: ten facts about penguins

Penguins are some of the most varied and remarkable creatures on the planet. With 17 extant species’ inhabiting the earth, this bird family contain a vast range of sizes, habitats, skills, and behaviours. This April, to honour our animal of the month, we celebrate 10 amazing facts about the penguin.

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Earth Day 2018: ending pollution [quiz]

Happy Earth Day! Celebrated across the world, this day was created to help raise awareness and encourage action around environmental protection. This year’s earth day focus is on ending plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is threatening the survival of our planet, and is especially harmful within marine environments.

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Sustainable libraries: a community effort

To celebrate Earth Day, Katie D. Bennet takes a look at how environmentally conscious libraries from all over the world are using using sustainable architectural methods to achieve their green-goals. The team at the Vancouver Community Library shed some light on the steps they have taken to build an environmentall sustainable library that aligns with the ideals of the community.

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The promising strategy of rewilding

Since the 1950s there has been dramatic increase in threats to the world’s plant and wildlife. Scientists around the world agree that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction. In response, numerous laws have been enacted in order to halt or slow down this rate of extinction. Scientists and conservationists have teamed up and developed new methods in the field of conservation biology to combat this issue.

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Learning to live in the age of humans

A new “great force of nature” is so rapidly and profoundly transforming our planet that many scientists now believe that Earth has entered a new chapter in its history. That force of nature is us, and that new chapter is called the Anthropocene epoch. Will the Anthropocene become a story of awakening and redemption, or a story of senseless destruction? At this point in Earth history, the Anthropocene is still young and the jury is still out.

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What’s the deal with genetically modified (GM) foods?

It’s complicated; but here is a quick summary of what the controversy over genetically modified foods is all about. GM engineering involves reconfiguring the genes in crop plants or adding new genes that have been created in the laboratory. Scientific modification of plants is not something new. Since time began, nature has been modifying plants and animals through natural evolution, meaning that the plants and ani­mals that adapt best to the changing environment survive and pass their genes on to their offspring. Those that are least fit do not survive.

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Animal of the Month: the lesser known penguins

Penguins have fascinated zoologists, explorers, and the general public for centuries. Their Latin name—Sphenisciformes—is a mixture of Latin and Greek derivatives, meaning ‘small wedge shaped’, after the distinctive form of their flightless wings. The genus of penguins comprises more than just the famous Emperors of the Antarctic, and while public awareness is growing, many of the seventeen extant members of this bird family, their habitats, and threats to their survival, remain relatively unknown.

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The art of microbiology

Sir Alexander Fleming famously wrote that “one sometimes finds what one is not looking for”. The story of Fleming’s serendipitous discovery of penicillin in the 1920s is familiar to most microbiologists. While the Scottish scientist and his family were on vacation, a fungal contaminant spread across – and subsequently killed – a lawn of bacteria growing on agar plates from one of his experiments.

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An interview with March Mammal Madness founder Dr. Katie Hinde

March Mammal Madness was created by Dr. Katie Hinde of Arizona State University and is a program which presents a bracket of 64 species of animals. Participants use scientific research to predict which species would win in a face-off. Virtual “battles” between contenders are then narrated on Twitter using scientific research and an element of chance. The species are narrowed down and eventually one winner is declared.

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