Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

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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“Watermelon snow” on glaciers: sustaining life in colour

Glacier surfaces around the world often host active communities of specialized organisms, including annelids in Alaska , insects in the Himalayas, and rotifers in Iceland. But these organisms, like all life, need liquid water in order to survive. The most strikingly visible signs of life on glaciers come from the microbes responsible for “watermelon-snow” – so-called both for its colour, and its smell.

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The secret of the Earth

One of the questions currently keeping astrobiologists (the people who would like to study life on other planets if only they could find some) awake at night is, what is the crucial difference that allowed the emergence and evolution of life on Earth, while its neighbours remained sterile? In their violent youth, all the inner planets started out with so much surplus heat energy—from planetary accretion and radioactive decay—that their surfaces melted to form magma oceans hundreds or thousands of kilometres deep.

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Celebrating the first women Fellows of the Linnean Society of London

Diversity in science is in the news today as never before, and it is hard to imagine what it might have been like to be a woman scientist in 1900, knocking at the doors of learned societies requesting that women be granted the full advantages of Fellowship. It might seem trivial to us now, but in the past these societies were the primary arena in which discussions took place, contacts were made and science progressed.

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The science behind the frog life cycle [interactive guide]

Most of us remember learning the life cycle of a frog when we were young children, being fascinated by foamy masses of frogspawn, and about how those little black specks would soon be sprouting legs. That was a while ago, though. We think it’s about time that we sat you down for a grown-ups’ lesson on the life cycle of a frog. Frog eggs face a plethora of challenges from the moment they are laid.

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The illegal orchid trade and its implications for conservation

When most people think of illegal wildlife trade, the first images that spring to mind are likely to be African elephants killed for their ivory, rhino horns being smuggled for medicine, or huge seizures of pangolins. But there is another huge global wildlife trade that is often overlooked, despite it involving thousands of species that are often traded illegally and unsustainably.

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Animal of the Month: 13 facts about frogs

The Anura order, named from the Greek an, ‘without’ and oura, ‘tail’, contains 2,600 different species and can be found in almost every continent on Earth. These are frogs, and they comprise 85% of the extant amphibian population on earth. They hop around our gardens, lay swathes of frothy eggs in our ponds, and come in a wide variety of exciting colours, but apart from that, how much do you really know about them?

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