Shellfish and the human revolution

About 50,000 years ago, modern humans left Africa and began occupying the rest of the world. The common thought is that a sudden growth in population caused the so-called “human revolution”, which gave birth to language, art, and culture as we know it today. Now, based on something that’s not obviously related to human culture—the size of shellfish fossils—researchers have challenged that model.

Shellfish size may disprove cause of ‘human revolution’. The Conversation, 27 June 2013. Also published on Ars Technica.

Image credit: Breville

Resetting humanity’s clock

Some time in humanity’s past, a small group of Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa before spreading out to every possible corner of the Earth. All the women of that group carried DNA inherited from just one woman, commonly known as mitochondrial Eve, whose DNA was inherited by all humans alive today. But the exact timing of this migration is not clear, and it has sparked debate among geneticists. Now, new research published in Current Biology may help calm both sides.

Fossil DNA used to reset humanity’s clock,  Ars Technica, 28 March 2013.

Image credit: Dongyi Liu

TLDR: Two incredible things about bees and flowers

First: Bees can sense which flowers are “open for business” based on their electric fields. Although animals have been known to be able to detect electric fields, this is a first for an insect.

The way this works is that when a bee flies through it bumps into charged dust particles in the air, which cause it to be stripped of electrons thus gaining positive charge. Flowers on the other hand have negative charge.

This charge difference, however small, not only makes pollens jump from the flower to the bee, but it also helps the bee figure out which flower it should visit. The higher the voltage difference between the flower and the bee, the more the chances that the bee will find nectar in the flower

Second: Flowers attract bees by giving them a dose of caffeine.

Just like in humans, caffeine stimulates the bees. But what’s more is that researchers found caffeine also helps bees long-term memory retention. Thus the nectar of flowers that is laced with caffeine is remembered better by the bee.

It’s a win-win for both. Bees get more nectar and the flower gets to spread more of its pollens.

Bees + electric field: Clarke et al. Science (2013)
Bees + caffeine: Wright et al. Science (2013)

Further reading:
Ed Yong in Not Exactly Rocket Science
Kate Shaw in Ars Technica

Image credit: Ars Technica