Welcome to the April highlights blog from Royal Society Publishing. This month we have mysterious quacking; cancer mutations, or rather non mutations; wolves working together; making waves and not so wise crowds.

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Super sleuth researchers solve the ‘ocean quack’ mystery
bio duckFor decades a mysterious quacking sound in the Southern Ocean, nicknamed the ‘bio-duck’, has baffled researchers. Now sound recording data from acoustic tags has shown that Antarctic Minke Whales are in fact the culprits. According to the authors of this Biology Letters paper the discovery will allow for interpretation of numerous long-term, acoustic recordings and improve understanding of the distribution, abundance, and behaviour of this species. This is critical information for a species that inhabits a difficult to access and rapidly changing sea-ice environment and is the subject of contentious lethal sampling efforts.

 
500-million-year perspective on cancer mutations
Cancer cellsKnowledge of an ancient evolutionary leap has helped reveal new patterns in a huge dataset of DNA mutations in cancers from 7000 patients. Research published in Open Biology reports the exciting discovery that mutations in many cancers block certain routes through these communication networks, forcing information flow through a restricted number of non-mutated pathways. Developing drugs to block the non-mutated components may provide new approaches to anti-cancer therapy.

 
Hungry wolves cooperate for their dinner
WolfCollective behaviour in wolf packs ensures a successful mealtime for all the family, Ramon Escobedo and colleagues report in Journal of the Royal Society Interface. Using computer modelling to understand group dynamics, they show that when hunting the best number of wolves is four or five, forming a regular polygon centred on the prey preventing its escape. There are benefits and drawbacks to this cooperation though; multiple participants may improve the success of the hunt, but lead to smaller portions at the buffet.

 
Making waves
pipesDetermining the remaining wall thickness of vessels and pipes is very important for corrosion detection and this can be achieved by guided wave tomography. Waves travelling within the wall travel at different speeds for different thicknesses, so by producing an image of wave speed, this can then be converted back to thickness since the relationship between thickness and speed is known. This Proceedings A paper describes a new approach to reconstruct the wave speed resulting in improved resolution images whilst also showing how the mapping can break down for complex defects and highlights opportunities to increase resolution in future work.

 
Too many cooks..
crowdThe wisdom of crowds has been widely accepted since 1907 when a large group of villagers at a county fair between them correctly guessed the weight of an ox. However this theoretical paper published in Proceedings B shows that this does not necessarily apply to very large groups and that there is an optimal size for complex decision making. The implication being that when small groups of individuals (human or animal) are observed making a decision they are not necessarily compromising on accuracy.

 

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