Briefly: Mother of Thousands, MAGIC astronomy, Program chipping

Three brief science stories out today:

How Mother of Thousands makes plantlets: The houseplant “Mother of Thousands” forms complete baby plantlets at the edge of its leaves, but cannot make viable seeds. A new study shows that the plant has co-opted at least part of the mechanism for making seeds to make these asexual plantlets instead.

Gamma ray delay may be a sign of ‘New Physics:’ Recent data from the MAGIC gamma ray telescope may provide evidence for new theories about gravity and the nature of spacetime.

A seriously geeky “Life List”

The latest edition of Symmetry has a Life List of things particle physicists would like to see or do before they die.

Apart from visiting some of the world’s major physics experiments at CERN, Fermilab or the South Pole, nominations include Sir Isaac Newton’s birthplace in Grantham, England; walking in Einstein’s footsteps at the park around the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton; and seeing Galileo’s middle finger, which is in a museum in Florence, Italy.

Got a lifetime ambition to visit a scientific site or relic? Post it here.

Hybrid salamanders thrive but confuse conservation efforts

California tiger salamanderCalifornia tiger salamanders are protected under the Endangered Species Act, to the occasional consternation of people who find them on land set for development. Another species, the barred tiger salamander, was introduced into California from Texas in 1950s. A new study shows that not only do the two species interbreed, but the hybrid offspring are more successful than either of their parent species. This ‘hybrid vigor’ is unusual in animals, where cross-species hybrids are often sterile (eg, mules).

Bluetongue virus on the march

British livestock farmers, already hit by an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease earlier this year, now face the first cases of bluetongue virus in the country. Bluetongue virus affects sheep, cattle and goats, and is carried by small biting insects. The disease is particularly dangerous in sheep, but perhaps the biggest risk is economic — many countries will not accept exports of meat or livestock from countries where bluetongue occurs.

The disease has been moving steadily north into Europe in the past few years. James MacLachlan, a professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and an expert on bluetongue virus, says that climate change may be encouraging the spread of this and other insect-borne diseases. He sent along these comments:

Barack Obama Q&A on law professors’ blog

The ImmigrationProf blog run by Kevin Johnson, Bill Hing and Jennifer Chacon has posted a Q&A on immigration with Presidential candidate Barack Obama. The actual interview is a bit long to re-post, but is available as a pdf here.

The professors/bloggers say they’ve been in touch with other Presidential campaigns and are hoping that they will address the same questions for them.

More UC Davis law blogs here.

MacArthur “Genius” Grants out

Once again I am passed over. However, three people at other UC campuses have been named in this year’s batch. They are:

  • Cheryl Hayashi of UC Riverside, who studies spider silk and how it might be copied or used for other materials;
  • Claire Kremen of UC Berkeley, who studies bees and pollinators. Last year Kremen and Sarah Greenleaf, now a postdoc at UC Davis, published research showing that honey bees are more efficient pollinators when wild bumblebees are around;
  • My Hang Huynh of the Los Alamos National Laboratory synthesizes highly energetic compounds, such as explosives, using environmentally benign chemicals.

Submarines, Sonar and Whales

Marine mammal advocate Joel Reynolds will offer a free, public talk on “Lethal Sound: Submarines, Sonar and the Death of Whales” at UC Davis on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 5-6 p.m., in the AGR Room of Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center.

Reynolds is senior attorney and director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). He currently is lead attorney on an NRDC lawsuit opposing high-intensity sonar training off the Southern California coast near the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

Subsidizing (some) farmers

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyn Lochhead had a long article in Sunday’s paper on the contradictions of federal farm subsidies. Congress recently approved over $286 billion in farm subsidies, but Lochhead points out that although California is one of the largest agricultural producers, very few California farmers get subsidy from the federal government, because crops like fruit, nuts and vegetables are not eligible.

On the other hand, Lochhead argues, a lack of government subsidy has allowed entrepreneurial farmers to flourish in California — Silicon Valley meets Central Valley. UC Davis agricultural economist Dan Sumner agrees.

Upcoming lectures: Investing, economics, Egypt, education, vaccines

There are a bunch of interesting talks coming up on campus in October. Follow the links for more information. All talks are free and open to the public.

Feathers on a velociraptor

Like most people, we at Egghead are suckers for a dinosaur story, so I have to mention a report in Science today showing that the carnivorous dinosaur and “Jurassic Park” star Velociraptor very likely had feathers on its arms, even though it certainly could not fly.

The original Science paper can be found here: if you have access to the journal online there is a nice figure that clearly shows the raised knobs on the forearm bone that the researchers say were attachment points for feathers, along with a turkey vulture arm bone for comparison.