Pokemon_Red

The biology of Pokémon

Those were the days: training up a super-squad of Pokémon on your Game Boy Classic, draining enough AA’s to power a minor principality in the process. Of course, in the sixteen years since Pokémon was first released, numerous generations of players have discovered the charm of Nintendo’s monster franchise (there’s been a staggering twenty-one games excluding spin-offs since its inception). And so, with Pokémon’s ability to influence so massive, I thought a discussion on how biological concepts are communicated through the games was in order. As anyone still reading will probably know, all the Pokémon games follow the same basic storyline; a central character (controlled by the player) travels through a fantasy world capturing and battling Pokémon in order to level-up and achieve master ranking. Now, the influence of the real outdoors throughout this fantasy region is vast: it’s split into numerous virtual habitats (deserts, forests, icy-mountains etc) and the game’s developers have designed these habitats to accurately reflect the tapestry of …

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Hell hath no fury like a Venus scorned

From a distance, the planet Venus looks a calm and serene place. But take a closer look, and things might not be quite so peaceful. Named after the Roman goddess of beauty, the surface of Venus is actually a very unattractive place to be, with choking fumes of sulphur dioxide and a surface temperature hot enough to melt zinc. Things have got even uglier, as scientists get more evidence of active volcanoes on its surface. This hellish image is really an artists impression of what an active volcano on the surface of Venus might look like. Although, the surface of Venus is littered with shield volcanoes, most have been inactive for millions of years. Evidence comes not from the surface of Venus, but from its atmosphere. Although on average its atmosphere only has 0.015% sulphur dioxide, this is concentrated in the lower sections. Higher up, interactions with radiation from the sun break it down into different chemicals. The Venus Express spacecraft …

rivermonsters

Book Review: River Monsters by Jeremy Wade

River Monsters Author: Jeremy Wade Published: 18 October 2012 Publisher: Orion Summary: A fascinating, engrossing read whether you’ve ever cast a line or not. We’ve all heard a fisherman’s tale before. Those far-fetched stories concerning ‘the ones that got away’ shared in the corner of dimly lit pubs by liquor-soaked men with missing teeth. Well, oddly enough, it turns out some of them were true. Of course, zoologist and extreme angler Jeremy Wade has known this for a long time and, for the past twenty-five years, he’s been travelling the world collecting the stories of ferocious freshwater attacks previously written off as folklore by the masses. From tales of sharks attacking horses at river crossings (yes, sharks in rivers!), to spiked fish lodging themselves inside gentlemen’s nether regions, it really is incredible how many of the myths Wade investigates in River Monsters turn out to be fact. From the opening sentence, it’s clear Wade can write (he’s previously been employed as …

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World Aids Day

For World Aids Day, we thought we would feature this visualisation of the HIV virus, created by a team of scientists, designers and animators known as VisualScience. It is based on dozens of recent scientific publications – from fields such as virology, X-ray analysis and NMR spectroscopy – in order to produce this beautiful portrait of a pathogen that produces such an ugly disease. The HIV virus is roughly 120nm across (one thousand times smaller than the thickness of a piece of paper) and covered in a viral envelope made of cell membranes and projecting glycoproteins which allow the virus to attach to and invade cells). Once inside, it forces the cell’s own machinery to create more copies of itself. Internally, there are layers of structural protein, which cover the capsid – a conical structure containing the virus’s DNA. Mouseover the image to see the capsid shown in pale orange. FYI You can donate to World Aids Day by visiting …

tiger-wars

Book Review: Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall

Tiger Wars Author: Steve Backshall Published: 24 May 2012 Publisher: Orion Children’s Summary: A superb, action-packed read for young adults and green oldies alike.   Steve Backshall is undoubtedly one of television’s best known wildlife presenters. Currently working for the BBC’s Natural History Unit, he’s fronted numerous television programmes including Deadly 60; a hugely successful children’s series that sees the adventurer tracking down and coming face to face with some of the world’s most dangerous creatures. Whilst Tiger Wars isn’t Backshall’s first book (he’s released a string of factual titles and television tie-ins) it does represent his first foray into young adult fiction. The novel follows Sinter, as she flees from an arranged marriage to a much older man, and Saker, as he is hunted by The Clan – a shadowy sect that provides young renegades for hire, most recently, to a Chinese overlord who specialises in tiger poaching. Backshall’s writing is fast-paced and crisp; there are no overly verbose descriptions …

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Futuristic knitting could help arthritis

This may look like a close up of a knitted sweater, but the fabric pictured here is much more useful. It is a woven scaffold of artificial fibres, created by scientists at Duke University, which cartilage cells can latch on to and grow in large numbers. The scaffold has been designed to be used within the human body, where it gradually dissolves away, leaving the cartilage cells to replace those that have been worn by disease or age. Preparing cartilage in this way has the advantage that it can be grown in large quantities and performs just like normal cells would. “If further experiments are successful, the scaffold could be used in clinical trials within three or four years,” said Franklin Moutos, a graduate student in the Orthopedic Bioengineering Laboratory who designed and built the weaving machine. “The first joints to be treated this way would likely be hips and shoulders, though the approach should work for cartilage damage in …

sciencequiz

Unpopular Science’s famous science quiz

Welcome to Unpopular Science’s first quiz. Each week we will put up a new quiz on a different area of science. After 5 weeks, whoever has the highest cumulative score will win a copy of Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall. * You can still take part in the competition. Make sure to do every week’s quiz though, for the best best chance of winning. Quiz 2 can be taken here. This week, to start with, there’s no real theme. 10 questions with most areas of science covered very briefly. They start easy, and get progressively more tricky. Some answers you might know straight away, some might take some googling and some might involve searching through our archives to solve.       More posts from Unpopular Science Did penicillin change our view of sex? Penicillin is arguably one of the greatest achievements of modern times. Discovering that infections were not just something we must live with and potentially die from, but something that could …

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Did penicillin change our view of sex?

Penicillin is arguably one of the greatest achievements of modern times. Discovering that infections were not just something we must live with and potentially die from, but something that could be actively fought, revolutionised the field of medicine. Since its discovery, countless lives have been saved in the operating theatre, the maternity ward and on the battlefield. Penicillin has the power to sustain life, but we haven’t stopped to think what such a powerful force is having on the lives that are being saved. Specifically, did penicillin pave the way for the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and the modern view of sex? It took 13 years from the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in a sample of mould in 1928 before the first clinical trials took place showing penicillin was an effective cure for syphilis. Prior to this, syphilis had a number of nasty symptoms making sex quite a dangerous option for many people. Syphilis usually starts with open …

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