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Now We Know How Birds Fly

Elementary physical science students know how airplane wings generate lift, but bird flight poses special challenges.  The aptly-named swifts, for instance, can practically turn on a dime, dive steeply, and halt in mid-air to catch insects in ways that make a stunt pilot stall.  It’s not just flapping, and it’s not just leading-edge feather shape, […]

Disembodied Brain Flies Jet Aircraft

Researchers at University of Florida claim to have connected rat brains neurons in a dish to electrodes, which learned to run an F22 flight simulator. We can’t speak to the validity of this claim or its interpretation, but what stands out in the article is the awe over the computational abilities of the human brain: […]

Preventing Bird Divorce: Mates Take Different Flights, Arrive Together

A shorebird named the black-tailed godwit presents a puzzle to biologists: “arrival synchrony” (leave it to scientists to give big names to simple concepts).  The males and females of this bird mate for life, but like some humans, live apart for months at a time.  This presents two puzzles: how do they stay apart without […]

Biomimetics Dept: Wear a Pine Cone

EurekAlert says the British are developing new clothes using pine cone technology.  The fabric automatically adjusts to temperature by opening up or closing down, keeping the wearer comfortable in all environments.  “We’ve drawn upon nature,” said one designer of this “fundamental change in clothing.” Makes you wonder how a pine cone figured this out.  The […]

How Plants Send Email: Update

href=”crev07.htm#plant17″>07/13/2001 headline), we reported the startling finding that plants talk to themselves in email.  What’s new in this field?  Is there really an interplant intranet?     In the Oct. 5 issue of Current Biology,1 Norman, Frederick and Sieburth report evidence that a signal molecule named BYPASS1 is sent from the roots to the tips […]

Burnt Bridges, Brownian Ratchets, and Self-Propelled Motors Keep Skin Young Looking

Rock climbers and cavers are familiar with mechanical devices called ascenders that enable them to climb ropes safely and easily.  Ascenders slide up the rope in one direction, but latch onto it tightly when pulled the other direction.  Now imagine the ascender by itself, hanging on the rope, in a flurry of winds blowing in […]

Your Eyes Have Automatic Light Meters

Every pupil knows that pupils constrict in bright light and dilate in dim light, but how?  Physiologists had assumed the retina signalled the iris muscles, but now it appears there is an independent mechanism in the iris itself, at least in birds, and probably in mammals, too.  A report in EurekAlert summarizes a finding from […]

Introducing: The Spinach Cell Phone

The next spinach sandwich you hear about may not be an item at the health food bar but an electronic device powered by the sun.  According to an MIT press release, chloroplasts from spinach leaves have been successfully sandwiched into a solid-state electronic photocell that could be used before long to power cell phones and […]

Termites: If You Can’t Lick ’Em, Mimic ’Em

Termites, despite their bad rap, have something to teach human homebuilders.  Their mounds are self-sufficient, air-conditioned, environmentally friendly and cheap to run, according to a story in EurekAlert.  “The mounds incorporate a complicated network of tunnels and air conduits designed to channel air flow for the control of internal air quality, temperature and moisture levels.” […]

Secrets of the Spliceosome Revealed

A husband and wife team from Hebrew University has revealed the structure of the spliceosome, one of the most complex molecular machines in the cell (see 09/12/2002 headline), in more detail than ever before, says EurekAlert.  The spliceosome is responsible for cutting out the introns in messenger RNA after it has transcribed DNA, and also […]

Plants Use Quantum Mechanics to Harvest Light

In a News and Views item in Nature Sept. 16,1 Graham R. Fleming (UC Berkeley) and Gregory R. Scholes (U Toronto) explain how the light-harvesting centers of plant photosynthetic organs take advantage of quantum mechanics to focus energy on their reaction centers.  Their illustration shows a chromophore diagram from a photosynthetic bacterium.  Understanding energy transfer […]

Peering Into Paley’s Black Box: The Gears of the Biological Clock

William Paley’s famous “watchmaker argument” for the existence of a Designer, though intuitively logical to many, has been criticized by naturalists on the grounds that one cannot compare mechanical devices to biological ones.  Biological “contrivances” might operate on totally different principles than mechanical ones made by humans we know.     Michael Behe’s 1996 book […]

Take Out the Garbage?  No– Feed the Worms

Every kitchen needs one, says National Geographic News: a popular new device that turns garbage into fertilizer.  What is it?  A new high-tech electronic machine?  No, something more ancient: a worm bin.  Modern homes are finding old benefits in vermiculture, the art of composting garbage into plant food via worms and bacteria.  A small bin […]

Submarine Engineers Admire Penguins

An ocean engineer from MIT, Franz Hover, says “we never miss marveling at them,” speaking of penguins.  In the cover story of Science News,1 the submarine designer elaborates: Under the power and guidance of its versatile flippers, a penguin can move through the water faster than 10 miles per hour, turn almost instantaneously, and leap […]

Cooing Doves Set Muscle Speed Record

The dove: a symbol of peace, innocence, love, and gentleness, right?  Its cooing call is a soothing song to nature lovers.  Yet hidden in the throat of the dove is one of the fastest-acting muscles in the animal kingdom, report Elemans et al. in the Sept. 9 issue of Nature.1  The cooing song contains a […]
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