Frontiers | Science News

Science News post list

24 news posts in Life Sciences

Newborns whose mother spoke in a mix of languages during pregnancy are more sensitive to a range of sound pitches

Featured news

22 May 2024

Babies in the womb exposed to two languages hear speech differently when born

Researchers have shown for the first time that newborns of monolingual mothers respond differently to playback of a carefully selected sound stimulus than newborns of bilingual mothers. The findings suggest that bilingual newborns are sensitive to a wider range of acoustic variation of speech, at the cost of being less selectively tuned in to any single language. These results underscore the importance of prenatal exposure for learning about speech.

Featured news

17 Nov 2023

Fishing chimpanzees found to enjoy termites as a seasonal treat

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/Seth Phillips Termites are a crucial source of nutrients for chimpanzees, who fish for them with tools, but they’re not always accessible. Now, researchers copying chimpanzee tools and techniques have shown that chimpanzees living in western Tanzania can only reliably fish for termites in the early wet season, when other foods are abundant. These chimpanzees fish for termites because they can, not because they need to. The results raise the possibility that chimpanzees could even be predicting termite availability before they go fishing. The discovery that chimpanzees use tools to fish for termites revolutionized our understanding of their abilities — but we still don’t have crucial context to help us understand termite fishing and chimpanzee minds. Are chimpanzees fishing for a seasonal treat or trying their luck? Researchers based at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) and University College London (UCL) investigated the relationship between termite availability and chimpanzee fishing. They found that termites are most available early in the wet season. Although other foods are abundant at that time, chimpanzees choose to termite fish then.   “I believe these results set up an interesting hypothesis about wild chimpanzee foraging cognition,” said […]

Featured news

11 Oct 2023

Peregrine falcons set off false alarms to make prey easier to catch

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image: US Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest Region, public domain Can clever predators manipulate prey into taking bigger risks, making them easier to hunt? Scientists have found that, by carrying out attacks which force Pacific dunlins into exhausting evasive maneuvers, peregrine falcons increase the likelihood of successfully hunting those dunlins later. The prey birds are tired out or forced to forage at more dangerous times. Predators must eat to survive — and to survive, prey must avoid being eaten. One theory, the Wolf-Mangel model, suggests predators could use false attacks to tire prey out or force them to take bigger risks, but this has been hard to show in practice. Now, scientists observing peregrine falcons have found evidence that they deliberately exhaust their prey to improve later hunting success. “Although predators are imagined as clever in novels and movies, like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, empirical biologists are generally not inclined to give much credence to such ideas,” said Dr Ronald Ydenberg of Simon Fraser University, lead author of the study in Frontiers in Ethology. “I have often been puzzled when watching raptors by aspects of their behavior, such as prominent perching […]


Climate action

13 Jul 2023

‘Red sea plume’ alga may cut greenhouse gas emissions from cow poo nearly in half

By Deborah Pirchner, Frontiers science writer Image: Methane production in the livestock sector greatly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Animals with four-chambered stomachs produce methane while digesting, however, their manure also emits the gas when decomposing. Recently, natural methane inhibitors have been discussed as a solution. Researchers in Sweden have now examined how supplementing cow feces – rather than cow feed – with such an inhibitor influences methane emission from manure. They found that if a tropical alga was added to dairy cows’ feces, significantly less methane was emitted. Approximately a third of all anthropogenic methane is emitted by ruminant livestock. These animals get nutrients through fermenting food in four-chambered stomachs found in cows, sheep, and goats. They produce methane in two ways: through belching and from the decomposition of their manure under certain conditions. Now, researchers in Sweden have examined if adding the tropical alga Asparagopsis taxiformis (AT), also known as red sea plume, to cow feces impacts greenhouse gas emissions from the manure of dairy cows. They have published their results in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. “We showed that adding AT to the feces of dairy cows significantly reduced methane production from the feces by 44% […]

Image: Jasper Nance/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Featured news

06 Jul 2023

Stressed rattlesnakes found to calm down in the company of a nearby ‘friend’

By Deborah Pirchner, Frontiers science writer Image: Jasper Nance/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) When a creature’s stress levels decrease because of the presence of a companion, it is known as social buffering. In highly social animals, such as mammals and birds, this phenomenon is well studied. Now, researchers have examined social buffering in rattlesnakes and found that the presence of a second snake significantly reduced rattlesnakes’ change in heart rates after they experienced disturbance. It is the first evidence of social buffering in reptiles. When animals suffer from acute or chronic stress, they produce more hormones causing shifts in the nervous system, immune response, and behavior. Some animals, if they are in the presence of a conspecific, can modulate their response to buffer stress. This is known as social buffering. There is some research suggesting that snakes can exhibit complex social behavior. Nevertheless, social buffering in reptiles, as well as in other asocial organisms and solitary foragers, hasn’t been studied extensively. Now, researchers in the US have examined if rattlesnakes inhabiting Southern California use social buffering to alleviate acute stress. “We showed that when two snakes were together and experienced a stressful situation, they could buffer each other’s stress response, much […]


Featured news

08 Jun 2023

Why diversity and inclusion needs to be at the forefront of future AI

by Inês Hipólito/Deborah Pirchner, Frontiers science writer Image: Inês Hipólito is a highly accomplished researcher, recognized for her work in esteemed journals and contributions as a co-editor. She has received research awards including the prestigious Talent Grant from the University of Amsterdam in 2021. After her PhD, she held positions at the Berlin School of Mind and Brain and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Currently, she is a permanent lecturer of the philosophy of AI at Macquarie University, focusing on cognitive development and the interplay between augmented cognition (AI) and the sociocultural environment. Inês co-leads a consortium project on ‘Exploring and Designing Urban Density. Neurourbanism as a Novel Approach in Global Health,’ funded by the Berlin University Alliance. She also serves as an ethicist of AI at Verses. Beyond her research, she co-founded and serves as vice-president of the International Society for the Philosophy of the Sciences of the Mind. Inês is the host of the thought-provoking podcast ‘The PhilospHER’s Way’ and has actively contributed to the Women in Philosophy Committee and the Committee in Diversity and Inclusivity at the Australasian Association of Philosophy from 2017 to 2020. As part of our Frontier Scientist series, Hipólito caught up with Frontiers to tell us […]


Featured news

30 May 2023

Humans evolved to walk with an extra spring in our step

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/ Scientists have discovered that the recoil created by the flexible arch of human feet helps position our legs in the optimal posture for moving forward in bipedal walking. Understanding how our joints help modern humans walk upright could help us track the evolution of bipedalism and improve care for patients with foot problems. A new study has shown that humans may have evolved a spring-like arch to help us walk on two feet. Researchers studying the evolution of bipedal walking have long assumed that the raised arch of the foot helps us walk by acting as a lever which propels the body forward. But a global team of scientists have now found that the recoil of the flexible arch repositions the ankle upright for more effective walking. The effects in running are greater, which suggests that the ability to run efficiently could have been a selective pressure for a flexible arch that made walking more efficient too. This discovery could even help doctors improve treatments for present-day patients’ foot problems. “We thought originally that the spring-like arch helped to lift the body into the next step,” said Dr Lauren Welte, first author […]

Featured news

09 May 2023

Can lions coexist with cattle in Africa?

by Laurence G Frank/Deborah Pirchner, Frontiers science writer Image: Shutterstock  Protecting lions and the interests of cattle producers in Kenya is a difficult balancing act. In a recent Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution article, Dr Laurence G Frank, a researcher at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Mpala Research Centre in Laikipia, Kenya, explored how protecting livestock can help protect endangered lions. As part of our Frontiers Scientist series, Frank, who also is the director of Living With Lions, a conservation research group working in nonprotected areas of Kenya to save the remaining wild lions and other predators outside National Parks, caught up with Frontiers to tell us about his career and research. What inspired you to become a researcher? All children love animals and some who never grow up become zoologists. At the age of 10 I was introduced to field biology at a local community museum, where we were taught basic ecology and animal behavior, collecting and specimen preparation technique, and formal field note format. My weekends were spent pestering local reptiles and trapping small mammals in the Bay Area hills; many of my juvenile specimens are in the California Academy of Sciences […]


18 Apr 2023

Orb weaver spider glue properties evolve faster than their glue genes, scientists find

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/ Orb weaver spiders make the capture threads of their webs sticky with an aqueous glue made in special aggregate glands. Scientists studied different species living in different environments to see how the glue changed and found that although the glue was mostly made of the same components, the proportions of the proteins involved were different, changing the glue’s properties. Spiders that don’t weave good silk don’t get to eat. The silk spiders produce which creates their webs is key to their survival – but spiders live in many different places which require webs fine-tuned for local success. Scientists studied the glue that makes orb weaver spiders’ webs sticky to understand how its material properties vary in different conditions. “Discovering the sticky protein components of biological glues opens the doors to determining how material properties evolve,” said Dr Nadia Ayoub of Washington and Lee University, co-corresponding author of the study published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. “Spider silk fibers and glues represent a fantastic model for answering such questions since they are primarily made of proteins and proteins are encoded by genes.” “Spider silks and glues have huge biomimetic potential,” added Dr […]


13 Apr 2023

Coral-eating fish poo may act as ‘probiotics’ for reefs

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image/ Coral-eating fish are thought to weaken coral reefs because they consume coral tissue, whereas grazer fish are assumed to have positive effects because they eat algae that compete with corals. However, a new study shows that feces from coral-eating fish contain bacteria that can be beneficial to corals. On the other hand, feces from grazers contain high levels of pathogens that can kill corals. Until recently, fish that eat coral — corallivores — were thought to weaken reef structures, while fish that consume algae and detritus — grazers — were thought to keep reefs healthy. But scientists have discovered that feces from grazers leave large lesions on coral, possibly because they contain coral pathogens. By contrast, feces from corallivores may provide a source of beneficial microbes that help coral thrive. “Corallivorous fish are generally regarded as harmful because they bite the corals,” said Dr Carsten Grupstra of Rice University, lead author of the study published in Frontiers in Marine Science. “But it turns out that this doesn’t tell the whole story. Corallivore feces contain many of the bacterial taxa that associate with healthy corals under normal conditions, potentially resulting in the natural […]


22 Mar 2023

Unusual Toxoplasma parasite strain killed sea otters and could threaten other marine life

by Angharad Brewer Gillham, Frontiers science writer Image by Mr Laird Henkel, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Four sea otters that stranded in California were found to have died of an unusually severe form of toxoplasmosis, a disease caused by the microscopic parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Scientists warn that this new strain, never previously reported in aquatic animals, could potentially pose a health threat to other marine wildlife and humans. Scientists in California are raising the alarm about a newly reported form of toxoplasmosis that kills sea otters and could also infect other animals and people. Although toxoplasmosis is common in sea otters and can sometimes be fatal, this unusual strain appears to be capable of rapidly killing healthy adult otters. This rare strain of Toxoplasma hasn’t been detected on the California coast before, and may be a recent arrival, but scientists are concerned that if it contaminates the marine food chain it could potentially pose a public health risk. “I have studied Toxoplasma infections in sea otters for 25 years — I have never seen such severe lesions or high parasite numbers,” said Dr Melissa Miller of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, corresponding author of the study […]