How bees prove to be skilled mathematicians and 3 other amazing science stories you may have missed

By Colm Gorey, Science Communications Manager


At Frontiers, we bring some of the world’s best research to a global audience. But with tens of thousands of articles published each year, many often fly under the radar. Here are just four amazing papers you may have missed.

  1. What are the odds? Honeybees join humans as the only animals known to be able to tell the difference between odd and even numbers

A study published to Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution has created quite a ‘buzz’ among academics after it was found honeybees possess maths skills beyond what was originally thought.

Previous studies have shown honeybees can learn to order quantities, perform simple addition and subtraction, match symbols with quantities, and relate size and number concepts.

However, this time around, the bees were tasked with solving a parity experiment which involves categorizing two sets of objects as ‘odd’ and ‘even’.

The bees were split into two groups: one trained to associate even numbers with sugar water and odd numbers with quinine, a bitter-tasting liquid familiar to gin drinkers.

The second group was trained in the reverse with odd numbers linked to sugar water, and even numbers with quinine. Amazingly – unlike humans – the results showed bees have a learning bias towards odd numbers. The hope is that by seeing how bees and other animals respond to maths puzzles, we can learn more about how maths and abstract thought emerged in humans.

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2. Clean energy potential found in bacteria that produces electricity after consuming methane

Researchers in the Netherlands has found it is possible to generate electricity while purifying the environment of greenhouse gases thanks to some methane-munching bacteria.

Publishing their findings in Frontiers in Microbiology, the team set out to know more about the conversion processes occurring in the bacteria, Candidatus Methanoperedens. The bacteria use methane to grow and thrive in ditches and lakes where the groundwater is contaminated with nitrogen.

Using the bacteria, the team created a biological battery with two terminals: one biological and one chemical. The bacteria was grown on one of the electrodes, to which the bacteria donate electrons resulting from the conversion of methane.

Through this approach, the researchers managed to convert 31% of the methane into electricity, but they aim at higher efficiencies.

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3. US population study finds those who stay hydrated face lower mortality risks

Despite it being essential for our survival, we often need to remind ourselves to stay hydrated on a daily basis. Now, researchers in China analyzing the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of more than 35,000 people has shown that those who drink water regularly have a lower mortality risk than those who don’t drink enough.

Interestingly, most of these significant associations were seen in women but not in men, indicating that gender is an effective modifier of the water intake and mortality risk associations.

The researchers now hope that to see similar studies conducted among people outside the US to confirm their findings published to Frontiers in Nutrition.

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4. Players in the youngest underage national soccer teams are unlikely to ever make it to senior level

A study published by researchers in Norway is unlikely to win over the managers of underage national soccer teams. In their findings published to Frontiers in Sports and Active Living, the researchers showed that playing in the under-17 age category for a national team was an insignificant or a negative predictor of subsequent participation at a senior elite level.

However, those playing in the under-21 category were significantly likely to make the jump to representing their country at a senior level and playing in international competitions with their clubs. The data was obtained from online football databases, which helped identify 1,482 male football players from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, and Portugal who had international football experience.

The researchers said their findings indicate that sport governing bodies need to re-consider their strategies for talent identification and development. This would include spending less on pitting young players against each other at an international level, and instead focus on local talent development at the grassroots level.

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