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SciWhys: What’s the difference between bacteria and viruses?

This is the latest post in our regular OUPblog column SciWhys. Every month OUP editor and author Jonathan Crowe will be answering your science questions. Got a burning question about science that you’d like answered? Just email it to us, and Jonathan will answer what he can. Today: what’s the difference between bacteria and viruses?

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The skinny on fat cats

By Bianca Haase
Cats are among the most common household pets and they share the same environment with humans and thus many of the risk factors. Obesity is a growing problem for feline health for the same reasons as it is in humans and has become a serious veterinary problem. Multiple diseases, such as type II diabetes mellitus and dermatosis, are associated with excess body weight and obesity in cats and may result in a lowered quality of life and potentially lead to an early death. Appleton et al. demonstrated that about 44% of cats developed impaired

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For some orcas, inbreeding is a whale of a problem

It’s being called “a whale of a problem,” and not just by me. According to research published in the Journal of Heredity, endangered Southern Resident orcas are mating within their family groups. This “genetic bottleneck” means the whales could be more susceptible to diseases, early mortality or failure to produce calves.

The study’s lead author is Michael J. Ford, a scientist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

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Raining sand

By Michael Welland
It was a double-dose of adrenalin: watching a violently growing volcanic eruption while retaining a firm grip on my twelve-year old daughter to prevent her sliding off the rolling boat and plummeting into the turbulent waters of the Sunda Strait. The boat was a rickety old tub, the Sumatran helmsman grinning cheerfully. The volcano was Anak Krakatoa.

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SciWhys: How does the immune system work?

By Jonathan Crowe
Each day of our lives is a battle for survival against an army of invaders so vast in size that it outnumbers the human population hugely. Yet, despite its vastness, this army is an invisible threat, each individual so small that it cannot be seen with the naked eye. These are the microbes – among them the bacteria and viruses – that surround us every day, and could in one way or another kill us were it not for our immune system, an ingenious defence mechanism that protects us from these invisible foes.

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Lead pollution and industrial opportunism in China

By Tee L. Guidotti

Mengxi Village, in Zhejiang province, in eastern coastal China, is an obscure rural hamlet not far geographically but far removed socially from the beauty, history, and glory of Hangzhou, the capital. Now it is the unlikely center of a an environmental health awakening in which citizens took direct action by storming the gates of a lead battery recycling plant that has caused lead poisoning among both children and adults in the village.

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SciWhys: How does an organism evolve?

By Jonathan Crowe
The world around us has been in a state of constant change for millions of years: mountains have been thrust skywards as the plates that make up the Earth’s surface crash against each other; huge glaciers have sculpted valleys into the landscape; arid deserts have replaced fertile grasslands as rain patterns have changed. But the living organisms that populate this world are just as dynamic: as environments have changed, so too has the plethora of creatures inhabiting them. But how do creatures change to keep step with the world in which they live? The answer lies in the process of evolution.

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A passionate “green” Calvinism

By Belden C. Lane

Who would think to find a green theology, celebrating the earth’s startling beauty, in somber, Calvinist Geneva? Who would expect lusty commentaries on the Song of Songs, delighting in sex and natural beauty, in the austere meeting houses of Puritan New England? Who would imagine a vibrant nature mysticism in the writings of Jonathan Edwards, author

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Chernobyl disaster, 25 years on

On April 26, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power station. Now, 25 years later, the current crisis in Fukushima is being called the “worst since Chernobyl.” Will we avoid another disaster? And further more, in another 25 years, how will we feel about nuclear energy?

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SciWhys: How is a gene’s information used by a cell?

By Jonathan Crowe
In my last two posts I’ve introduced the notion that DNA acts as a store of biological information; this information is stored in a series of chromosomes, each of which are divided into a number of genes. Each gene in turn contains one ‘snippet’ of biological information. But how are these genes actually used? How is the information stored in these genes actually extracted to do something useful (if ‘useful’ isn’t too flippant a term for something that the very continuation of life depends upon).

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Trends in European life expectancy: a salutary view

By David A. Leon

Making a difference to the health of populations, however small, is what most people in public health hope they are doing. Epidemiologists are no exception. But often caught up in the minutiae of our day-to-day work, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Is health improving, mortality declining, are things moving in a positive direction? Getting out and taking in the view (metaphorically as well as literally) can have a salutary effect. It broadens our perspectives and challenges our assumptions. Looking at recent trends in European life expectancy is a case in point.

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Why is Darwin still controversial?

By George Levine
How could Darwin still be controversial? We do not worry a lot about Isaac Newton, nor even about Albert Einstein, whose ideas have been among the powerful shapers of modern Western culture. Yet for many people, undisturbed by the law of gravity or by the theories of relativity that, I would venture, 99% of us don’t really understand, Darwin remains darkly threatening. One of the great figures in the history of Western thought, he was respectable and revered enough even in his own time to be buried in Westminster Abbey, of all places. He supported his local church; he was a Justice of the Peace; and he never was photographed as a working scientist, only as a gentleman and a family man. Yet a significant proportion of people in the English-speaking world vociferously do not “believe” in him.

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SciWhys: What are genes and genomes?

By Jonathan Crowe
I described in my last blog post how DNA acts as a store of biological information – information that serves as a set of instructions that direct our growth and function. Indeed, we could consider DNA to be the biological equivalent of a library – another repository of information with which we’re all probably much more familiar. The information we find in a library isn’t present in one huge tome, however. Rather, it is divided into discrete packages of information – namely books. And so it is with DNA: the biological information it stores isn’t captured in a single, huge molecule, but is divided into separate entities called chromosomes – the biological equivalent of individual books in a library.

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A look back at Snowpocalypse 2010

I was (luckily) in Seattle during the most recent 2010 snowpocalypse, when over 30 inches of snow dumped over parts of New York and New Jersey. I got my first taste of what everyone was going through by watching this incredible time-lapse video by Michael Black. I’m also very grateful to all of our Twitter followers who sent me their photos, some of which I have the privilege of displaying here. To all our wonderful readers, OUPblog wishes you a warm and happy New Year!

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Rocks alive? Yeah, right!

By Steve Paulson
Each year, I seem to have the good fortune to read one book that absolutely mesmerizes me. Last year, it was “The Age of Wonder” by Richard Holmes. It’s a riveting account of how science and art converged in early 18th century England, not only shaping the Romantic movement but also launching a second scientific revolution. This year, the book has been David Abram’s “Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology.”

Abram is a cultural ecologist and environmental philosopher…with a twist. He’s an animist. I confess, I’ve always been intrigued by animism, but I never gave it serious thought until I read Abram’s book. Sure, we may think of our dog – or even our house – as having some kind of personality or living presence. But it’s all just metaphor, right? Not according to Abram. He wants us to feel the presence of grass, wood, the wind, even the buildings we live in.

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