Lightning Cooks Up Weird Science

Get a charge out of this headline from New Scientist.  A couple of scientists from University of Arizona studied fulgurites, the structures formed in sand by lightning strikes.  They found that they contain phosphites (oxidized phosphate molecules).  They theorized that lightning strikes could have provided phosphites which the primordial soup used to build RNA and […]

A Rat Race to Build Whiskered Robots

Some scientists at Bristol Robotics Lab are pretty proud of themselves for building a robot with whiskers.  It can seek out and identify objects using its whiskers, just like rats do.  But they should still take their hats off to their living model, because the rat’s technology is far superior.  Science Daily mentioned several facts […]

How Did the Turtle Get Its Shell?

The cover story of Science this week is about turtle evolution.  The caption on the cover illustration, which compares the skeleton of a turtle, chicken and mouse, reads, “The turtle body plan is unusual in that the ribs are transformed into a carapace, and the scapula, situated outside the ribs in other animals, is found […]

Greening the Cambrian Explosion

Some scientists came up with an idea that simple green plants may have invaded the land earlier than thought, and that this might have helped speed up the rise of animals in the Cambrian explosion.  “The plants were only tiny mosses and liverworts, but they would have had a profound effect on the planet,” said […]

Origin-of-Life Researchers Caught Playing With Toys

A “virtual primordial soup” cooks up life in a computer program in a “toy universe,” according to reporter Leslie Mullen at  She wrote, “The power of computer processing could one day solve the riddle of life’s origin.”     EvoGrid is “a computer creation concept that would be a digital version of the primordial […]

Evolution of Foraminifera Questioned

A long, long time ago, primitive sea creatures called foraminifera lived on the ocean bottom.  One day, some of them invaded a new ecological niche: the ocean surface.  There, they became part of the plankton zoo.  When the catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs occurred, most of the surface foraminifera died.  But they recovered in […]

How the Animals Learned to Count

Any evolutionary article that begins with “How…” should be checked for Kipling-style just-so storytelling.  Characteristics to watch for include (1) fanciful speculation without evidence: i.e., “made-up” tales that provide an answer to a childish question without appeal to rigorous proof, and (2) statements made with dogmatic authority, like a parent would explain to a child […]

Paper View: Darwin, of All the Nerve

American neurons are due to get a workout this day.  The taste buds and olfactory neurons will get their exercise first at Independence Day barbecues across the land, then the visual cortex and auditory neurons will max out as the fireworks start after dark.  Escorted by the Editors of Science Magazine, Darwin is here in […]

Divining Plant Evolution from Uncooperative Data

A new book on plant evolution came out.  How well does it do explaining the diversity of the world’s plants via Darwin’s theory of natural selection?  The answer depends on how forgiving you can be with details that don’t fit very well.     The book is Paleobotany The Biology and Evolution of Fossil Plants. […]

Animals Are Not Malthusians

According to Malthus and Darwin, the struggle to survive favors those who have the most fitness to take advantage of limited resources.  A study by the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology in Vienna, reported by PhysOrg shows this is not the case: Charles Darwin and his contemporaries postulated that food consumption in birds and mammals […]

Dakota Dino Reveals Skin Cells

“Absolutely amazing” and “absolutely gobsmacking” are exclamations made by scientists analyzing the fossilized skin of a hadrosaur known as Dakota.  The researchers found cell structures and organic matter in the skin and layers that resemble the skin of birds and crocodiles.     The specimen was uncovered in 1999 on a North Dakota ranch and […]

The Elephant Explosion

The title is not intended to suggest pieces of pachyderm flying all over the place, but rather one paleontologist’s theory about the rapid pace of elephant evolution 60 million years ago.  He bases his ideas on a small fossil he found in Morocco.  According to him, the primitive ancestor of all elephants (order Proboscidea) lived […]

Warning: Do NOT Mutate This Protein Complex

In each cell of your body there is a complex of 8 or more proteins bound together called the BBSome.  This protein complex, discovered in 2007, should not be disturbed.  Here’s what happens when it mutates: “A homozygous mutation in any BBSome subunit (except BBIP10) will make you blind, obese and deaf, will obliterate your […]

How Cells Proofread DNA Is Still Mysterious

An amazing fact about DNA transcription is that the machinery not only copies DNA onto RNA, but checks it for errors.  A story in Science Daily says that researchers would expect 100 times more errors statistically than the actual results of transcription in the cell.     One of the mechanisms revealed in more detail […]

Computer Programmers Borrow Eye Technology

Computer processing of video images may become twice as accurate with 10 times the speed of earlier models, thanks to what scientists are imitating in the human eye.  “The linear solution to one of the most vexing challenges to advancing computer vision has direct applications in the fields of action and object recognition, surveillance, wide-base […]
All Posts by Date