Deep sleep, brain magnets and memory

Deep non-REM sleep appears to affect how well we commit a new task to memory Sleep specialists like to divide sleep into one of two states: rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (non-REM). Since the discovery of REM and its tight link to dreaming in 1953, there has been a lot of research focused on this paradoxical wake-like state. But as we experience much more non-REM than REM during the night, non-REM or deep sleep might be the more important of the two states. It’s likely there are many functions of non-REM. It could simply be

The horrors of sleep deprivation

The definitive demonstration of the horrors of sleep deprivation appeared in a celebrated paper published by sleep research pioneer Allan Rechtschaffen and his colleagues in Science in 1983. They used rats. What nobody had managed until then was to design a set-up in which both experimental and control animals received exactly the same conditions but different amounts of sleep. The solution Rechtschaffen and co. came up with is as ingenious as it is disturbing. They installed a pair of rats in neighbouring cages. In the bottom of each cage was 3cm of water, but by standing on a record-player-like disk

Gessner’s bear

Last month, I hosted a post by historian Florike Egmond on my Guardian blog Animal Magic, one that proved incredibly popular. A few years ago, Egmond was in the Amsterdam University Library when she discovered an amazing collection of 16th-century drawings and watercolours of animals collected by the founding father of zoology Conrad Gessner and his fellow Swiss successor Felix Platter. These and many more illustrations feature in her new book on early modern natural history illustration, Eye For Detail (Reaktion Books, 2017) and I invited Egmond (with the kind permission of Amsterdam University Library) to put together a gallery

Is the panda really endangered?

Weird isn’t it, but we still don’t know how many giant pandas there are. So it’s time for another census of this curious beast. The final figure, when it comes in a few years time, is really rather important. For it’s this estimate that will inform where the giant panda sits on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species and this matters to a lot of very influential people. Last week, for example, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (the most powerful man on earth?) confirmed the imminent arrival of giant pandas to Edinburgh Zoo, trading on the pull that their Red

How have conservation brands evolved?

I have an opinion article in today’s Nature that I’m quite pleased with. It’s called “The art of conservation”, which could make it the first time that a title I proposed at pitch has not mutated en route to publication. I have been thinking about conservation imagery for many years, making a brief survey of it in my first book Lonesome George and again in The Way of the Panda. With the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s panda logo 50 years old in July (almost certainly 16 July if you want to be precise), it seemed a good moment to reflect

Cameroon’s Gagarin: the afterlife of Ham the Astrochimp

In February 2007, journalists descended upon the the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. in the wake of Washington Post allegations of mind-boggling bureaucracy, cockroachy conditions and substandard treatment of injured war heroes. Later that year, I stood outside the very same Medical Center on a bright November morning and, as I approached the security gates, I was distinctly uneasy. The massively framed, heavily armed guards, I was sure, would not take well to the appearance of a journalist bearing a notepad , camera, minidisc and microphone. If they asked me the purpose of my visit, how ridiculous