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Dolphins keep lifelong social memories

Dolphins can recognise their old tank mates’ whistles after being separated for more than 20 years — the longest social memory ever recorded for a non-human species.

The remarkable memory feat is another indication that dolphins have a level of cognitive sophistication comparable to only a few other species, including humans, chimpanzees and elephants. Dolphins’ talent for social recognition may be even more long-lasting than facial recognition among humans, since human faces change over time but the signature whistle that identifies a dolphin remains stable over many decades.

An End to Sunburn Pain?

The molecule that causes the pain of sunburn could be blocked in a sunscreen additive.

The painful, red skin that comes from too much time in the sun is caused by a molecule abundant in the skin’s epidermis, a new study shows.

Blocking this molecule, called TRPV4, greatly protects against the painful effects of sunburn. The results were published the week of Aug. 5 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) Early Edition online. The research, which was conducted in mouse models and human skin samples, could yield a way to combat sunburn and possibly several other causes of pain.

How the brain keeps eyes on the prize

Dopamine signal strengthens as long-term goal draws nearer.

As anyone who has traveled with young children knows, maintaining focus on distant goals can be a challenge. A new study from MIT suggests how the brain achieves this task, and indicates that the neurotransmitter dopamine may signal the value of long-term rewards. The findings may also explain why patients with Parkinson's disease — in which dopamine signaling is impaired — often have difficulty in sustaining motivation to finish tasks.

The work is described in the journal Nature.

A new branch of life found in a pond in Melbourne

By Susan Lawler

Pandoravirus promises future surprises

The pandoravirus is a brand new form of life, and it’s a bit like a knitted potato. No one can imagine a knitted potato. Klara Kim

Are doctors to blame for superbugs?

Who is to blame re the mess we are in regarding antibiotic-resistant superbugs? Doctors, livestock farming, airlines, drug companies, nursing homes, or a mixture of them all?

How Australia and other developed countries have ended up in their current predicament of infections showing increasing resistance to antibiotics has been addressed in a session at the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases (ASID) Gram Negative Superbug meeting on the Gold Coast.

Climate change is at a record pace

Climate change occurring 10 times faster than at any time in past 65 million years.

The planet is undergoing one of the largest changes in climate since the dinosaurs went extinct. But what might be even more troubling for humans, plants and animals is the speed of the change. Stanford climate scientists warn that the likely rate of change over the next century will be at least 10 times quicker than any climate shift in the past 65 million years.

Climate strongly affects human conflict

The Earth's climate plays a more influential role in human affairs than previously thought – both now and in ancient times.

Shifts in climate are strongly linked to human violence around the world, with even relatively minor departures from normal temperature or rainfall substantially increasing the risk of conflict in ancient times or today, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University.

Happy National Orgasm Day

By Rob Brooks

New research has tested two predictions concerning womens' orgasms as signals of the likelihood of fidelity and conception.

Today, I have just learned from Katherine Feeney’s column in the Sydney Morning Herald, is National Orgasm Day. What that is and how you celebrate it remains a little opaque to me*. Will there be organised pageantry and fireworks later on? Should one share this knowledge with a loved one? Or simply mark the occasion alone?

Chief Scientist Calls for a National Strategy for Science

By Professor Ian Chubb

A transcript of the Chief Scientist's launch of the position paper: ‘STEM in the national interest: A strategic approach’

Today, I am launching a position paper urging a strategic approach to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (which I will call STEM) in Australia. For those who do not have a copy but who do have an interest, the paper is available on the website of the Office of the Chief Scientist.

For today, I have planned a talk, this launch, in essentially three parts.

Helium rationing, a looming crisis – and a sinking feeling

By Brent McInnes, Curtin University

With helium demand rapidly outpacing supply and rationing inevitable, Macquarie University has launched a helium recovery system.

Helium demand is rapidly outpacing supply, cheap helium is gone forever and rationing is inevitable.

More disturbingly is that a global helium supply crisis is looming this year. The fact is that the US Senate has until October 1 2013 to pass a bill overturning a current law that stipulates that on that date the US Federal Helium Reserve (35% of current global supply) will be closed to non-government users.