TLDR: Why is it that our brains are all wrinkly?

Some mammals have smooth brains (rat), while others have a lot of folds (dolphins). Higher folds lead to greater surface area and denser connections between neurons, which in turn help increase the brain’s computing speed and allow for specialisation of certain regions.

The obvious question then, and one that Robert Toro asks in a new paper is: Are these folds encoded in our genes or is it because larger brains have to fold up to be accommodated in a smaller space?

Toro finds that it has little to do with genes and mostly to do with brain size. This observation explains it succinctly: The back part of our brain which develops earlier has greater space to grow in and thus has fewer folds compared to the front of our brains (ie the neocortex).

The growth of the human brain is the most important thing that happened in our evolution. Understanding how it happened is just as important as having a large, wrinkly brain to wield.

Reference: Roberto Toro, Evol. Bio. 2013, 600. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11692-012-9201-8

Further reading: Carl Zimmer on the Loom (http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/02/22/on-the-possible-shapes-of-the-brain/)

Image credit: Roberto Toro

TLDR: Submerged continent found in the Indian ocean

The island M stands for Mauritius

Scientists have discovered a submerged continent in the Indian ocean, between Madagascar and India. According to sediments found on the coast of Mauritius, at some point during the last 2 billion and 600 million years ago, there was an archipelago that separated from Madagascar and the Indian sub-continent. They then got submerged during the tectonic plate movements that resulted in the way land masses exist today.

Reference:  Torsvik, T. H. et al. Nature Geosci. 2013, 223. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/NGEO1736

Further reading: Sid Perkins in Nature News

Image credit: Nature Geoscience (Supplementary information)

Update: A reader pointed out that perhaps this was the origin of the legends of Lemuria. Although that is not accurate, the Wikipedia article on Lemuria is worth a read.