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Sex in the Economy

Paris Hilton

Only those with sufficient resources can afford to waste them, making conspicuous consumption attractive to a potential mate.

By Jason Collins

The imprint of the competition for mates and status can be seen in the past and present shape of our economy.

Each mating season, the bowerbirds of Australia and New Guinea display and strut in front of their elaborately constructed bowers. Male bowerbirds invest significant time and effort to build these structures out of sticks and decorate them with brightly coloured objects. They then use the bower to attract a mate.

Jason Collins is a PhD student in the University of Western Australia’s Business School. He blogs at Evolving Economics (www.jasoncollins.org).

Drilling for Sub-Seafloor Life

The Japanese deep-drilling vessel DV Chikyu can core up to 4000 metres below the seabed and in areas where there is a potential danger of striking oil or gas. Photo courtesy of the Japan Agency for Marine–Earth Science and Technology

The Japanese deep-drilling vessel DV Chikyu can core up to 4000 metres below the seabed and in areas where there is a potential danger of striking oil or gas. Photo courtesy of the Japan Agency for Marine–Earth Science and Technology

By Chris Yeats

Extreme sub-sea temperatures, noxious fumes and broken drilling rods made life difficult onboard a scientific expedition that set out to sample life deep beneath the sea.

The International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) is an international marine research collaboration that employs drill ships to recover samples of sediment, rock, fluids and living organisms from deep beneath the seafloor. In 2010 I was a member of IODP Leg 331, which drilled five sites at the Iheya North hydrothermal field in the Central Okinawa Trough back arc basin south of Japan.

Neurogenesis in the Emotion-Processing Centre of the Brain

Credit: Photographee.eu

Credit: Photographee.eu

By Dhanisha Jhaveri

The generation of neurons during adulthood can affect our behaviour and alter our mood, so the discovery that this occurs in the amygdala could lead to new strategies for the treatment of anxiety-related disorders.

The discovery that some parts of the adult brain continue to generate new neurons has revolutionised our understanding of brain plasticity and opened up new remedial opportunities. However, whether this process occurs throughout the adult brain or is restricted to specific regions is still the subject of debate.

Neural Interfaces: From Disability to Enhancement

Credit: Jaimie Duplass/Adobe

Credit: Jaimie Duplass/Adobe

By Scott Kiel-Chisholm

Neuroprosthetic arms, mind-controlled exoskeletons and brain–computer interfaces are already enabling the disabled, but what happens when these and other devices become mainstream consumer products that blur the lines between enhanced human and machine?

The human brain communicates with every part of the body by sending neural impulses through the central nervous system. Neural interface devices mimic this by recording neural impulses and decoding what the brain is asking the specific body part to do before instructing an assistive device. These neural interface devices include neuroprosthetic limbs, bionic eyes and even a bionic spine.

The Cutting Edge of Cognition

Acheulean handaxe

Four views of an Acheulean handaxe created 300,000–500,000 years ago in France. Credit: Didier Descouens/Wikimedia Commons

By Natalie Rogers

Modern brain scans are revealing whether Stone Age hominins planned to make specific tools or whether their craftsmanship determined the outcome of their endeavours.

For many decades, people have been fascinated by the archaeology of ancient Stone Age societies – the ancestors to our own species, Homo sapiens. What were these pre-human like? Did they think and behave like us?

A Kink in the History of Sex

The first act of copulation in vertebrates

The first act of copulation in vertebrates was in these 385 million-year-old antiarch fishes from Scotland (Microbrachius dicki). The male (right) uses his bony L-shaped claspers to inseminate the female (left). Credit: Brian Choo

By John Long

The discovery of the first vertebrate to have copulated reveals not only the genesis of different male and female forms but also some surprising kinks in how sex has evolved.

The evolutionary origin of the intimate act of copulation has been discovered in ancient armoured placoderm fishes called antiarchs. Fossils of the 385 million-year-old antiarch Microbrachius dicki show males with large bony L-shaped claspers for sperm transfer, while females bore small paired bones to help dock the male organs into position.

Did Standing Up Drive Human Evolution?

Credit: travenian /iStockphoto

Credit: travenian /iStockphoto

By Mac Shine & Rick Shine

Watching a toddler learn to walk has led to a new hypothesis that bipedalism drove the evolution of the human brain.

Although lots of animals are smart, humans are even smarter. No other species can build spaceships that fly to the moon, or write operas, or understand the intricacies of mathematical theory. How and why do we think so differently from other species?

Watching a child learning to walk has suggested a new explanation to that age-old question. The generation of the hypothesis, recently published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, has been a family affair: the child in question (Tyler Shine) is the son and grandson of the two authors of that paper (and of this article).

Along Came a Spider

A large female golden orb-web spider

A large female golden orb-web spider is often surrounded by many small males competing for proximity to her on the web. But size isn’t the only factor determining who wins each fight.

By Michael Kasumovic

The comparative size and weight of two animals determines the outcome of 80% of fights. Now a small spider has revealed the physiological factors that help explain the other 20% of contests.

Predicting winners and outcomes in sporting events is a billion dollar industry. There are complex algorithms that use winning and loss percentages, the location of the game, the players playing and even personal player feelings. Given all the variables, it’s quite impressive that anyone can predict anything at all!

Why Don’t Birds Fall Over When They Take Off?

Credit: NickVorobey.com/Adobe

Credit: NickVorobey.com/Adobe

By Ben Parslew

An analysis of the biomechanics of the powerful jump of a bird taking flight gives inspiration for the future of agile robots.

A plump pigeon with fluffy grey feathers is perched comfortably on the window ledge of my apartment. Its head twitches jerkily from side to side as its fiery orange eyes scan the pavement below for a dropped crumb.

Space as a Military Centre of Gravity

Credit: US Navy

The USS Lake Erie launched a Standard Missile-3 at a non-functioning National Reconnaissance Office satellite as it travelled in space at more than 27,000 km/h over the Pacific Ocean on 20 February 2008. Credit: US Navy

By Malcolm Davis

There is a common misconception that space is a pristine global commons that sits above terrestrial geopolitical rivalries. Nothing could be further from the emerging reality.

With the establishment of Australia’s Space Agency in July, Australia is taking its first steps towards being a more serious participant in a rapidly growing global space sector. This is an exciting time for Australia’s space community, with the space agency seeking to establish civil space policy and strategy, coordinate domestic space activities, develop and grow a space industry, and more proactively engage in developing international partnerships as well as inspiring the next generation of space entrepreneurs.