Top Story: September 3, 2010

IPCC, Teamwork and Babies

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IPCC Rehaul, Evolutionary Teamwork and Sour Babies: here are a few headlines that we didn’t want you to miss this week.

Environmental Groups Need Reform

An independent review panel reported to the United Nations early this week that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should be fundamentally reformed. According to ScienceInsider, the review gave the IPCC

a solid B+ for its two decades of assessments of the global climate system. But the panel assembled by the InterAcademy Council, which is made up of science academies from around the world, says that there are plenty of areas in which IPCC could do better. Its 113-page report, issued today, calls for a new leadership structure with shorter terms, tighter review procedures, and better lines of communication.

The IPCC shared the Nobel Peace prize with Al Gore in 2007, but errors in a report that year, per the New York Times,

threatened to overshadow the United Nations’ message that climate change is a significant threat requiring urgent collective action.

Another organization formed to protect the environment, in this case marine fisheries, came under attack this week in the journal Nature. You’ll need a subscription to read the article, but the New York Times has a great summary of how the Marine Stewardship Council is “giving its stamp of approval to industrial fisheries that some scientists say are anything but environmentally sustainable.”

Evolutionary Teamwork

There were two recent stories in the news about creature self-sacrifice and evolution.

The first to break was about the idea of kin selection—wherein certain species have sterile members who take one for their relations, such as ants and bees whose workers do everything for the queen’s offspring and have none of their own. Last week scientists, including the venerable E.O. Wilson, disputed the idea of kin selection in the journal Nature. This week, two articles in the New York Times and Science News had scientists taking sides and putting on their boxing gloves over this. Controversies keep science fun and interesting!

“Charitable” might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of E. coli bacteria, but the second story describes how charitable bacteria share with others to become resistant to antibacterial agents. Studying E. coli, scientists found that “just a few drug-resistant bacteria can release a protective substance that makes a whole population resilient to drugs.” [Science News]  The protective substance is a molecule called indole, which is known to help E. coli handle stress. And as Ed Yong reports in Discover, even though it takes the E. coli a lot of energy to produce indole,

Having multiplied from common ancestors, the bacteria in the group are all related to one another and carry virtually the same genes. In this light, making a small sacrifice for the sake of genetically identical others is a good move.

I wonder where that puts them in the kin selection argument?

Sour Babies

This one is purely for fun but does relate to a Science in Action video we produced a while ago describing how facial expressions are innate and not learned. Scientists studying babies’ faces found that babies make the same expressions whether they are tasting something sour, sweet, salty, or bitter for the first time. This video of babies tasting lemons and limes on YouTube will probably make you laugh—and perhaps give you some observational data to judge whether the babies’ reactions seem innate or learned.  Or it might inspire you to perform the innocent experiment on a baby you know…

What did you find fun in science news this week? Share with us!

Baby image by Chris Denbow

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