Somebody Studies That!

In our work at SciLine, we run into an amazing diversity of scientists driven by curiosity to understand the fascinating world in which we live. We regularly highlight a topic you might be surprised or delighted to know is the subject of scientific scrutiny.

Here are some recent Somebody Studies That! postings.

Starting from scratch

Some scientists are using electron microscopes to study, at spectacularly high magnification, a class of proteins in the body that appear to be responsible for the feeling of an itch. By looking at these proteins at an atomic resolution of billionths of an inch, they hope to design new and better anti-itch medications.

Fishing for longevity

Some biologists aim to unravel the mystery of human aging by studying Pacific Ocean rockfishes—some species of which live up to 150 years, largely because they are very good at repairing DNA damage that accumulates naturally over time. Their work suggests people might live much longer if scientists could boost the DNA repair systems in our cells.

Fit to be tide

Some scientists study the “personalities” of sea anemones to understand why some individuals react differently than others to various perturbations. The work could inform efforts to preserve species diversity in the face of climate-change-related stresses.

Toward painless pirouettes

Some physiotherapists are attaching artificial-intelligence-enabled motion sensors to ballet dancers to analyze body postures, such as thigh elevation and spine angle, during specific ballet poses. They hope the data they capture may help them understand the causes of hip and back pain among dancers and thus prevent and better manage it.

Fish step aerobics

Some fish physiologists study air-gulping, amphibious species that spend part of their life on land, to see if they have cognitive advantages over other fish. Their finding that these fish learn to navigate mazes more quickly suggests that living on land—with its great variety of environments—may help drive spatial learning and evolutionary success.

Fonts for funding

Some consumer science researchers have found that when charities communicate with prospective donors, matching fonts to the nature of the messages being conveyed—such as handwriting-style fonts when appealing to emotions—can make donations more likely.

Your tongue nose how to smell

It has long been known that the human brain perceives flavor by combining the stimuli of taste receptors in the tongue with smell receptors in the nose. Now some cell biologists have found odor receptors in human taste cells found on the tongue, which means the interaction between taste and smell may begin before reaching our brains.

Electronic dance mosquito

Some entomologists are investigating possible music-based protections against mosquito-borne diseases. They found that when exposed to the electronic dance music of Skrillex, certain mosquito species copulate less than when not exposed. This could potentially lead to new types of control measures against the diseases spread by this species of mosquitoes.

Jaws the two of us

Some marine scientists using acoustical tracking data to monitor the movement of sharks have found that, despite the “lone shark” stereotype, gray reef sharks in the Pacific form lasting social groups that continue for years, with many sharks showing clear friendship-like preferences for certain sharks over others.

Ant-i itch scheme

Zoologists have observed a mysterious “anting” behavior in crows and hundreds of other bird species in which the birds sit on top of an anthill and rub their bodies with ants. One explanation: when threatened, many ants emit formic acid, which may be soothing to molting birds’ skin and potentially helpful in controlling parasites.

Arachno-flow-bia

Some arachnologists, using leaf blowers to create various degrees of breeze, have studied how jumping spiders sense—and then perfectly compensate for—wind direction as they plan their leap onto unsuspecting prey.

Magnetic approaches to studying roaches

Some biophysicists are studying the minerals in cockroaches that may allow those insects to sense the Earth’s magnetic field—work that could shed light on the biological role of similar minerals in the human brain.

The bear necessities

Some bear biologists, using camera-enabled drones, have documented a dietary switch among polar bears from seals to common eider duck eggs—a change apparently prompted by climate-change-related melting of ice floes that once provided easier access to seals.

How birds in tuxes handle heat fluxes

Some physicists have studied the huddling behavior of Emperor penguins to inform mathematical models about the physical dynamics of heat distribution.

An examination of ant sanitation

Some myrmecologists study the special rooms in ant nests where the insects go when nature calls, and they are probing why ants—which are otherwise fastidious tenants—tolerate the buildup of waste from indoor toilets.

Braaaaaaains!

Some psychologists have used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of people watching horror movies—shedding light on the neuroscience of fear and its relationship to excitement.

Walk this way

Some paleontologists have attached heavy tails to chickens to shift the birds’ centers of gravity rearward, enhancing the scientists’ models of how two-legged dinosaurs walked.

That sparkle in your eye

Some neuroparasitologists study worms that take over crickets’ brains and drive the insects to drown themselves; caterpillars that compel ants to serve as personal bodyguards; and wasps that turn skittish cockroaches into couch potatoes—in each case an induced change in behavior that enhances the parasite’s survival.

Menacing mind melds

Some neuroparasitologists study worms that take over crickets’ brains and drive the insects to drown themselves; caterpillars that compel ants to serve as personal bodyguards; and wasps that turn skittish cockroaches into couch potatoes—in each case an induced change in behavior that enhances the parasite’s survival.

Cloudy with a chance of spores

Some mycologists track the tiny breezes that mushrooms can make— convective currents created by their release of water vapor—which help shrooms spread their spores even when the air is otherwise still.