The Curious Case of the Platypus

The platypus is native to Australia. (Photo Credit: Peter Scoones/Photo Researchers, Inc.)

The platypus is a curious animal. It has a bill like a duck, it produces milk and has fur like a mammal, and it lays eggs like a reptile. Scientists recently sequenced the entire genome of a platypus and discovered that its odd appearance is in fact a testament to its bird, reptile, and mammal ancestors. [Read more…]

Hate Cilantro? Blame Your Genes

New research indicates that your love (or hate) for cilantro depends on your genes. (Photo credit: Marnie Burkhart/Fancy/Alamy Images)

When it comes to the taste of cilantro in a spicy bowl of soup or wrapped up in a burrito, where do you stand? Do you find its taste refreshing? Or does it seem like you’re eating a mouthful of soap? This seemingly-benign herb elicits a love-hate relationship for many people. New research indicates that your genes may dictate your initial reaction to the flavor of this green herb.

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The Science Behind an Airplane Meal’s Lackluster Flavor

airplane food

Don’t blame the airplane food — it’s your senses (or lack thereof) that make it taste so bland. (Photo credit: Alex Segre/Alamy)

Airline meals have long been maligned for their bland flavor and strange textures. It turns out that at least some of the blame lies in an airline passengers sense of taste. [Read more…]

Bringing Heritage Turkeys Back to the Thanksgiving Table

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Turkey is a common sight on Thanksgiving. (Photo credit: Photodisc/Getty Images)

The centerpiece of many Thanksgiving dinners in the United States is a roasted turkey. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), it is expected that over 240 million broad-breasted white turkeys–the standard turkey found in your local supermarket–will be raised in the United States. [Read more…]

I Am Mouse, Hear Me Roar

mouse

Mice and many other rodents make ultrasonic sounds that they use to attract mates and defend territories. (Photo credit: Digital Zoo/Getty Images)

Stammering speech, or stuttering, has traditionally been thought to be an indication of anxiety or stress. A large amount of evidence, however, has long supported the idea that it must have some genetic component. For instance, identical twins often both stutter, as do other family members. In 2008, scientists at the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders identified that those who stuttered often had a mutation in the gene Gnptab. The discovery was particularly interesting, because, previously, the gene had only been believed to be related to “general housekeeping” of the body, such as digestion. How could a gene that affects every cell of the body cause something so mechanical as stuttering? [Read more…]

Ambergris: A Perfume Ingredient with an Unusual Origin

ambergris

Ambergris is a valuable substance that originates in a sperm whale’s digestive system. (Photo credit: Michael Freeman/Corbis)

When a “strange and mysterious” object washed ashore on a public beach in Wellington, New Zealand, rumors began to spread that it was ambergris. Soon after, fortune hunters arrived and tore the mysterious substance apart with shovels, collecting pieces in plastic bags. [Read more…]

Pyrosomes: The Ultimate Social Networkers

pyrosome

This pyrosome is made up of thousands of tiny organisms linked together as one. (Photo credit: Mark Conlin/Alamy)

If you’re looking for a strange sea creature, you can’t get much weirder than the giant pyrosome.

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Drones Launch Wildlife Research to New Heights

drone launching

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, also called drones) can cover more ground and easily access hard-to-reach areas. (Photo credit: Sander van Andel/REX Shutterstock/Associated Press)

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—more familiarly known as drones—are quickly becoming a key piece of equipment for wildlife researchers. UAVs are safer, less costly, more efficient, and more precise than other, more traditional wildlife research methods. [Read more…]

Revamping the Reputation of the Vampire Bat

vampire bat

Scientific studies indicate that the much-maligned vampire bat may hold the key for treating heart disease and strokes. (Photo credit: Kozoriz Yuriy/Shutterstock)

For many centuries, people have associated bats with eerie places. Perhaps its because most bats appear primarily at night and seem to move stealthily in the dark. [Read more…]

Practice Makes Perfect When It Comes to Birdsong

bird singing

Singing before daybreak helps songbirds to perfect their repertoire. (Photo credit: zakharov aleksey/Shutterstock Images)

It’s pitch black outside, but you can hear a bird trilling its little heart out. Why would a bird start singing before the sun rises? Doesn’t it know you’re still trying to get a little shuteye before the day begins? Scientists at Canada’s University of Lethbridge think they might have found the answer. [Read more…]