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10 Things We Learnt In May, 2024

Posted on 1 June 2024

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Here at Gowing Life, we are keeping our fun record of everything we learn in 2024, be it longevity-related or something else entirely. Here is a selection of our newly acquired neural connections for the month of May!

1: Despite how it may appear, this flamingo is not pecking its partner’s brains out to feed their young. The red fluid is not blood but crop milk, a milk produced and regurgitated by some birds. Flamingo crop milk is red for the first few weeks, and flamingo couples will sometimes feed their young by dribbling the milk down each other’s heads. Unlike mammals, both male and female birds produce crop milk with the exception of penguins – only male penguins produce milk.

Science Channel, Instagram

2: The Higgs bison: No, that’s not a typo! Named after the Higgs boson particle whose existence took half a century to prove, the Higgs bison was an extinct species of bison thought to have roamed Europe over 10,000 years ago. Scientists first noticed indications of the Higgs bison when they were studying the genomes of ancient steppe bison (ancestor of the American bison). Genetic analysis revealed sections of DNA that looked like they came from another undiscovered species. The ‘breakthrough’ came when French cave scientists noticed that cave paintings of bison seemed to change around 13,000 years ago to depict creatures with distinct features like small horns and more balanced proportions. Further genetic analysis suggested that this species was the hybrid offspring of the steppe bison and the now-extinct aurochs. An experiment is planned for 2030 in which two European bison will be smashed into each other at near-lightspeed to see if a Higgs bison is produced.

Reproduction of cave art from Lascaux cave in France (a, ∼20,000 years old) and from Pergouset cave in France (b, at most 17,000 years old).
Early cave art and ancient DNA record the origin of European bison

3: Why do insects fly towards the light? Everyone knows that insects fly towards and around artificial light sources, but scientists have long struggled to produce a satisfying explanation for this simple behaviour. Proposals include everything from insects seeking out heat sources to attempts at ‘lunar navigation’. But in a recent study, researchers argue that the explanation is even simpler. They used a high frame rate camera to record insects flying around different types of artificial light sources placed in different locations and orientations. They found that insects exhibited different behaviours depending on the species and light source, but the common factor was that the insects were not trying to fly towards the light, but rather to position their backs facing the light, resulting in them flying in a circle. This is called the dorsal light response, and is a known instinct that allows insects to fly parallel to the horizon by keeping their top side facing the sky. In other words, the insects aren’t trying to orbit the light – they’re actually trying to fly straight, but become trapped because they perceive the light as ‘up’.

Diagrams and frame by frame recordings of how insects behave when circling lights from different orientations.
Why flying insects gather at artificial light

4: The Pomato: A grafted plant that produces cherry tomatoes on the vine and potatoes under the soil.

By Jonas Ingold (LID) – öga 2014, CC BY-SA 2.0,

5: Accidental geoengineering: Scientists believe that fuel regulations introduced in 2020 that sharply cut sulphur dioxide emissions by the shipping industry resulted in an ‘inadvertent geoengineering experiment’ leading to significant ocean warming. Sulphur emissions form particles that reflect sunlight back into space, and also increase water droplet formation in clouds to increase their reflectiveness. This is why large volcanic eruptions can lead to global cooling. It may be possible to counter global warming by deliberately releasing sulphur dioxide, but many are resistant to this idea, since it does not address the root causes of climate change.

Photo by Andy Li on Unsplash

6: Siblings generally aren’t sexually attracted to each other, but what is the biological mechanism for this? The evolutionary advantages are pretty obvious, as offspring of people who are closely related are more likely to inherit two copies of the same faulty gene. But some research suggests that evolution has developed an interesting way of preventing incestuous relationships, and it relies on scent. The human nose can detect a molecule called major histocompatibility complex, or MHC. MHC is present on most of our cells, and allows the immune system to distinguish what belongs to our body and what doesn’t. When a patient’s immune system rejects an organ transplant, it’s because their immune system recognises the organ’s MHC as foreign. Studies suggest that various animals, including humans, prefer the smell of MHC that is different from their own. One study even found that couples with dissimilar MHC were more likely to want children.

7: Things that have been to space smell burnt. One proposed explanation is that oxygen molecules are split into oxygen atoms by UV radiation from the Sun, stick to objects in space, and subsequently react with diatomic oxygen in the airlock. Another explanation is the presence polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons produced by dying stars, but also produced when charring food. NASA commissioned a biochemist to recreate the smell so that astronaut training could be more realistic. If you want to smell like space, you can buy his perfume, Eau De Space.

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

8: The speed of the International Space Station, visualised in Microsoft Flight Simulator by Airplane Mode on YouTube.

9: The Coin Rotation Paradox: If one coin is rolled around the rim of another coin of equal size, how many full rotations will the moving coin make? Your first intuition might be to say that it makes one rotation, since it must roll a distance equal to the circumference of the stationary coin. In actual fact, the coin makes two full rotations. The reason for this is that the moving coin must not only roll a distance equal to the circumference of the stationary coin, but also move in a circle, which accounts for the second rotation. To visualise this, imagine sliding the moving coin around the stationary one, such that the point of contact on the moving coin remains the same the entire time. Even though the coin is not rolling, it would still have to make one full rotation to get back to where it started. If the coin is rolling and not sliding, then it must additionally rotate a distance equal to the circumference of the second coin, resulting in two rotations in total.

By AtomicShoelace – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

10: Brook’s law: The observation that adding manpower to late software projects makes them complete later, not earlier. Though its namesake (computer scientist Fred Brooks) admits it’s an oversimplification, the general idea is as follows: some tasks can be divided into separate tasks that can be completed independently. For example, 10 cleaners can be expected to clean hotel rooms about 10 times as more quickly than a solitary cleaner, assuming they don’t get in each other’s way. Yet when people are working on the same task, like coding a piece of software, everyone needs to know what everyone else is doing, and the time it takes to communicate this information rapidly increases as more people are involved. New people also need to be educated on previous work, which takes time away from existing workers.

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