Our highlights blog features all the best content published in our research journals in July. This month we have: the oldest sperm cell in the world, why ageing affects members of the opposite sex differently, tiny robot eyes and proof that Toy Story isn’t bad for your health.

This is just a small selection of the great content we publish every week. For more like this follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. You can also search our latest content here. We’d love to hear what you think.Tweet us to let us know!


July BL

Credit: Bomfleur, B. et al

New discovery comes as a surprise

Earthworms, leeches, and their relatives produce resistant cocoons into which eggs and sperm are released. Sperm cells can apparently become entrapped in the cocoon-wall material before it is completely hardened, and—similar to bugs trapped in amber—can become fossilized and preserved over millions of years. In this open access article in Biology Letters, Swedish researchers report on the astonishing discovery of the oldest fossilized sperm cells ever recorded: preserved within the layers of a 50- million year-old clitellate cocoon from Antarctica.  This finding could lead to better understanding of the evolution of these microorganisms.


July OB credit Allan Ajifo Flickr

Credit: Allan Ajifo, Flickr

New Stem cells let researchers peek into the brain

Induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology has revolutionised the way in which we can study brain disorders. Traditionally, studying brain disorders has been difficult because affected cells are deep inside the skull.  In contrast, iPSCs can be easily generated from patients suffering from brain diseases and are capable to develop into any cell type including nerve cells. This allows, for first time, investigation into living human nerve cells from affected patients. A study published in Open Biology describe the progress and the challenges in using this novel technology to better understand the movement disorder cerebellar ataxia.


July Proc B

Credit: Killian Woods, Wikimedia Commons

Solving an age-old puzzle

Males and females of many species vary in their rates of ageing, often meaning that males show increased rates of senescence compared to females. Using a 35 year study of wild badger populations, Beirne et al show that old male badgers lost body mass at a faster rate than old female badgers. Furthermore, old males who experienced increased competition for mates during early life lost body mass more quickly than those who experienced reduced competition. This provides support for the view that costs of competition can lead to both individual differences and sex differences in senescence.



Credit: Pericet-Camara, R. et al

Bug-eyed bots

Small drones are being developed for disaster relief and delivery services, however traditional cameras and sensors are large and bulk and take up a lot of weight and power. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology drew their inspiration from insects, whose compound eyes are lightweight and low energy. As shown in a paper published in Royal Society Interface making a camera with a low resolution, but high sensitivity to movement and changes in light, small flying drones can see where they’re going with a camera that only weighs 2 milligrams.



Toy Story won’t make you crash your car

As stereoscopic 3D is becoming more widespread in cinema and home televisions, there have been anecdotal claims that watching too much 3D TV can affect balance and motor control. Researchers from the University of Newcastle put this to the test by getting 423 4 to 82 years old to watch Toy Story in either 2D or 3D and measuring their balance and coordination afterwards. Reassuringly for 3D film fans their results, published in Royal Society Open Science found no evidence that watching S3D has any effect on people’s balance, depth perception or motor control.


July Proc AHow Trees shape estuaries

The intricate patterns of tidal channel networks like the one pictured on the front cover of this issue of Prcoeedings A are caused by complex feedback mechanisms between the tide, the shape of the river-bed, and the mud and silt that the river carries in it. A new computer model by a team at the University of Southampton show how mangrove trees can modify the way the tidal channel evolves. The work is important for helping  predict how to cope with rising sea levels.

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