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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

FEMS Microbiology Letters

100 years of E. coli strain Nissle 1917

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a common bacteria found in the the lower intestine of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Whilst most strains are harmless, some can cause serious gastroenteritis, or food poisoning. However, one special strain, E. coli strain Nissle 1917 (EcN), is specifically used to prevent digestive disruption. Since its discovery 100 years ago, EcN is probably the most intensely investigated bacterial strain today.

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Resisting change: understanding obstacles to social progress

The People’s Climate Movement, made up of dozens of organizations working to fight the climate crisis, held their first march in September 2014. On Saturday, 29 April, activists will once again march to demand climate action. As they protest the Trump administration’s drastic approach to climate change, the People’s Climate Movement will aim to “show the world and our leaders that we will resist attacks on our people, our communities and our planet.”

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Earth Day 2017: reading for environmental & climate literacy

Earth Day is celebrated globally on 22 April in support of environmental protection. The theme for 2017’s Earth Day is “Environmental & Climate Literacy” – and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate knowledge of the environment and climate than with a reading list. These books, chapters, and articles can add to your understanding of Earth through topics such as climate change, natural phenomena, and what practical steps are being taken to help protect our planet.

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The mountains are calling and we must act

Muir knew that the wilds surrounding him not only fed his soul but sustain us all. Too many of our current elected officials have forgotten his lesson. They seek to sell off our public lands throughout my western home to view them as little more than sources of oil and gas, and to strip federal oversight that has kept these lands there for all of us, generation after generation.

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In search of a “good” Anthropocene? Physiology can help

While much of the rhetoric surrounding the Anthropocene has been markedly negative, there has recently been a push by many scientists for a more positive narrative. Specifically, researchers are posing the question: can the Anthropocene be good? A good Anthropocene would balance the preservation of the natural world with realistic societal needs and consumption.

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Marvellous murmurations

Shortly before sunset, especially in winter from October to February, flocks of tens of thousands of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) fly in aerobatic displays called murmurations. The flocks swirl and morph, transforming from, for example, a teardrop shape into a vortex, and then into a long rope. The spontaneous synchronised flock turns as if of one mind.

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What has happened to environmental protection?

Fast forward to 2017: with a few possible exceptions, Congress hasn’t addressed any significant environmental problems for over a quarter century and has blocked important environmental legislation; President Trump has promised to gut the EPA; and its new administrator, Scott Pruitt, as Attorney General of Oklahoma, sued the Agency over and over again to kill major environmental regulations.

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Global future challenges, twists, and surprises

From time immemorial, humans have yearned to know what lies ahead. Setting the context is a three-thousand-year romp through the ‘history of the future’ illustrating how our forebears tried to influence, foretell or predict it. Examples extend from the prophets and sibyls to Plato and Cicero, from the Renaissance to the European Enlightenment.

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The unintended effect of calling out “fake news”

CNN’s Don Lemon recently pushed back when Paris Dennard, a conservative pundit, insisted on calling a story they were covering (the cost to the taxpayer of President Trump’s frequent visits to Florida) “fake news.” As Lemon said, “Fake news is when you put out a story to intentionally deceive someone and you know that it is wrong.” Lemon provided an excellent definition for fake news, but it’s also a great definition for “propaganda”.

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Birds’ eye views – a question of reality

A finger on a touch pad can glide us across the globe; we can casually sweep from the view that an albatross apparently gets as it flies to its nest site in South Georgia, to what a vulture apparently sees when looking for carrion in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater. The notion that these really are bird’s eye views is deeply engrained. When we use the term “bird’s eye view”, we actually think that this is how the world looks to a bird.

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Facts about sanitation and wastewater management

After oxygen, fresh, clean water is the most basic requirement for the majority of life on Earth in order to survive. However, this is a true luxury that isn’t accessible for many millions of people around the world. Today hundreds of thousands of people die every year from these types of waterborne diseases, and even though these numbers are declining there is still work to be done.

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Human evolution: why we’re more than great apes

We share with the other great apes a long history, a largely common genetic heritage, a similar physiology, advanced cognitive abilities that permit cultural learning and exchange, and a gathering and hunting way of life. And yet we are not just great apes. There are some radical differences. The least interesting of these, although the ones that almost everyone has focused on, are the anatomical differences, and in particular our upright bipedal stance.

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A cross-section of the Earth

We now know that the Earth is many billions of years old, and that it has changed an unimaginably number of times over millennia. But before the mid-eighteenth century we believed that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. Then scientists (who we now call geologists) began to explore the Earth’s layers and found fossils, suggesting it was much, much older than they first thought.

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How to “bee” a smart animal

The public is turning out to be, whether knowingly or not, animal ethnographers. The diversity of pets, farm animals, and wild animals they track with lens is exposing the rarest of behaviors. These behaviors not only make intriguing viewing but serve to widen our thinking about the animal world and perhaps diminish our iron-gripped hold on cleverness. Might we be less willing to destroy creatures whom we believe are ‘smart’?

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Dance of black holes trembles our Universe

The existence of gravitational waves, or ripples in the space-time, is no more just a speculation but a firm truth, after the recent direct detection of such waves from at least two pairs of merging black holes by the LIGO gravitational-wave detector. In such a binary system, two black holes orbit each other at a close separation, nearly at the speed of light, whirling the spacetime in their neighbourhood.

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In war, the earth matters

Many factors influence the outcome of war. But what has soil got to do with war? I suspect few have given much thought to the influence of soil on war, or, conversely, how war influences the soil. But the role of soil in warfare can be considerable, as can the impact of war on soil, which can often leave it unusable. The most dramatic and emotive examples of the role of soil in war comes from the First World War.

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