Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The true meaning of cell life and death

Two hundred years ago, William Lawrence blew the roof off the Hunter Lecture Series at the Royal College of Surgeons by adding the word “biology” to the English language to discuss living physiology, behavior, and diversity as a matter of gunky chemistry and physics, sans super-added forces.

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Enslaved ants and cuckoo bees

Many of us know that some birds trick other host parents from a different species into rearing their young. Best known is the common cuckoo in the UK and much of mainland Europe, However, this type of deception is not only the forte of birds – many insects ‘brood parasites’ too, especially ants, wasps, and bees.

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Earth’s climate: a complex system with mysteries abound

We are living with a climate system undergoing significant changes. Scientists have established a critical mass of facts and have quantified them to a degree sufficient to support international action to mitigate against drastic change and adapt to committed climate shifts. The primary example being the relation between increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and the extent of warming in the future.

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Can re-wilding the uplands help to prevent flooding in the lowlands?

The recent flooding in the north of England has prompted calls for better flood defences and river dredging. But these measures are unlikely to work by themselves, especially with the increased likelihood of extreme weather events in the coming years. A new approach is needed that considers whole catchment management – starting with the source of rivers in upland areas.

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Lead poisoning of Flint, Michigan—penny wise, pound foolish, and criminal

The tragedy of children poisoned by lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan is not an isolated incident. More than 11 counties in New Jersey have children with higher lead levels than those of Flint. Since 2008, drastic cuts in funding for public health programs across the board have slashed programs to educate parents and pediatricians to test young kids for lead poisoning or test water for its residues.

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Beyond the noise barrier

Noise barriers are not regarded with a great deal of affection. In fact, they’re not much regarded at all; perhaps not surprising, given that the goal of their installers is to ensure that those who benefit notice neither the barrier nor the noise sources it hides. The majority are basic workmanlike structures, built according to tried and trusted principles.

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The evolution of humans [infographic]

Where did we come from? How did we become human? What’s the origin of our species? It is hard to imagine our understanding of humanity without, of course, Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Our own family tree testifies to this age-old pattern of extinction, adaption, and evolution.

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Illusions for survival and reproduction

Much of what we think we see is not real – it’s an illusion. A favourite pastime for many visual psychologists and artists is to baffle and confuse our perception by making things appear that are not really there, or manipulating the way that we might see patterns or colours. The origin of many illusions lies in the fact that the brain often receives incomplete or conflicting information.

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The Cancer Moonshot

Announced on January 13th by President Obama in his eighth and final State of the Union Address, the multi-billion dollar project will be led by US Vice President, Joe Biden, who has a vested interest in seeing new cures for cancer. Using genomics to cure cancer is being held on par with JFK’s desire in 1961 to land men on the moon.

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Why soil matters more than we realise

The soils surrounding the village where I live in the north west of England have abundant fertility. They mostly formed in well-drained, clay-rich debris left behind by glaciers that retreated from the area some ten thousand years ago, and they now support lush, productive pasture, semi-natural grassland and woodland. Although the pastures are managed more intensively than they were in the past, most of them are well drained, and receive regular dressings of manure along with moderate fertiliser, and are regularly limed, which keeps the land productive and the soil in good health.

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Name that plague! [quiz]

Though caused by microscopic agents, infectious diseases have played an outsized role in human history. They have shaped societies, lent us words and metaphors, and turned the tide of wars. Humans have eliminated some diseases, but others continue to plague us. In this quiz, find out if confusion is contagious or if you’re immune to the challenge.

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We should all eat more DNA

2016 is here. The New Year is a time for renewal and resolution. It is also a time for dieting. Peak enrolment and attendance times at gyms occur after sumptuous holiday indulgences in December and again when beach wear is cracked out of cold storage in summer. As the obesity epidemic reaches across the globe we need new solutions. We need better ways to live healthy lifestyles.

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New Year’s Eve fireworks cause a mass exodus of birds

As the days get shorter, the Netherlands, a low lying waterlogged country, becomes a safe haven for approximately five million waders, gulls, ducks, and geese, which spend the winter here resting and foraging in fresh water lakes, wetlands, and along rivers. Many of these birds travel to the Netherlands from their breeding ranges in the Arctic.

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Climate change poses risks to your health

When heads of state and other leaders of 195 nations reached a landmark accord at the recent United Nations COP21 conference on climate change in Paris, they focused primarily on sea level rise, droughts, loss of biodiversity, and ways to decrease greenhouse gas emissions in order to reduce these consequences. But arguably the most serious and widespread impacts of climate change are those that are hazardous to the health of people.

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How is snow formed? [infographic]

Every winter the child inside us hopes for snow. It brings with it the potential for days off work and school, the chance to make snowmen, create snow angels, and have snowball fights with anyone that might happen to walk past. But as the snow falls have you ever wondered how it is formed? What goes on in the clouds high above our heads to make these snowflakes come to life?

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