Blind cavefish not so blind, Beetlemania and other tidbits…

Stories about cavefish are like buses – you get a seeming infinity of nothing and then loads turn up at once. Just 10 posts ago, I wrote about a study which found that you can restore sight to blind cavefish by cross-breeding individuals from different caves.

The different populations lost their eyes through changes to different sets of genes and in the hybrids, each faulty version was paired with a working one. As a result, the hybrids had fully formed and functional eyes despite having lived in darkness for a million years.

Now, a new study shows that the larvae of blind cavefish can detect light (or more accurately, shadows) too, even without working eyes. They can detect shadows and seek shelter in them, just like the sighted surface-dwelling versions of the same species. The key to the behaviour is their pineal gland, a small organ that regulates the body clock and, in some species, is sensitive to light.

I wrote up the research for Nature News; mosey on over for the full story and some possible explanations for why the fish’s pineal has retained the ability to detect light, even though its eyes have been lost.

Some other things to mention:

Encephalon #38

UPDATED – Following a tiny admin issue, I now have the full selection of entries. This, then, is the Director’s Cut of Encephalon #38, now fortified with extra bloggy goodness.

Once again, thanks to Mo from Neurophilosophy, who kindly asked me to host this fortnight’s edition of the neuroscience carnival Encephalon. This site, Not Exactly Rocket Science, is dedicated to provide posts on new discoveries that are interesting and understandable to everyone, even people with no scientific background. With this in mind, posts are ordered (very, very roughly) in order of complexity of language, so that earlier posts can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone, while those later on demand a bit more technical knowledge.

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Several new carnivals are up. For a whirlwind tour of recent science writing, have a look at:

Encephalon 37 (on neuroscience) over at A Blog Around the Clock

Carnival of the Blue 7 (on marine life) over at Natural Patriot

Tangled Bank 94 (on all things science) over at Life Before Death

More carnivals

I’ve been a bit remiss in plugging carnivals, so here’s a bit of catch-up.

Updated: Tangled Bank 93, on anything and everything scientific, is up at From Archaea to Zeaxanthol.

Encephalon 36, a carnival of neuroscience, is up at Brain in a Vat including my article on delayed brain development in ADHD children.

Oekologie 11, a carnival of ecology, is up at 10,000 Birds with an article I wrote about toads that mate with other species at times of drought.

Carnival of the Green 104, on environmental issues, is up at Savvy Vegetarian with a post of mine on ancient buried carbon.

All four are chock full with great stuff from all around the sci-blogosphere. Take a look…

New carnivals

A couple of carnivals have new issues up, with some posts of mine kindly included. Have a look at these for some interesting collections of science posts (although I can’t guarantee that these’ll be aimed at non-scientist readers).

The 33rd edition of Encephalon (a carnival on neuroscience and psychology) is up at GNIF Brain Blogger, with a post I wrote about how doctors repress their empathy to the pain of their patients. I especially like a post from PsyBlog where a scientist narrates his own stroke and two posts from Distributed Neuron on how birds sense magnetic fields and how getting neurons to grow could help to treat Huntington’sDisease.

Elsewhere, The Other 95% is hosting the 90th edition of Tangled Bank (a miscellaneous science carnival), with a post I wrote on how bacteria turn into super-virulent bugs after a trip into space. You might also want to check out posts on the timing of childbirth from A Blog Around the Clock, the problems facing coral reefs from Planet Doom, dengue fever from A Mad Tea-Party and horned dinosaurs from Living the Scientific Life.

Updated: Friday Ark #160 has just come out with posts from me about how bees scare elephants away and cycads manipulate insects for sex with heat and toxic odours.