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Year-End Closeout

The sun is rising on 2011, but we need to clear the deck from 2010.  Here are ten 2010 headlines to acknowledge as the ball drops in Times Square, to avoid dropping the ball completely before moving on to 2011. Cells:  Many cancer cells have an “eat me” tag, said Science Daily. Early Man:  “Rodents […]

Plants Outsmart Darwin

There are wonders in plants that continue to be uncovered with the tools of science.  Two recent papers in PNAS lend support to the feeling that plants are smarter than assumed. Trash collection:  Humans usually only employ one trash collection service, but plants have two.  Four Chinese investigators found redundant pathways in plant cells for […]

Christmas Stocking

Christmas is upon us, and then the new year.  Many interesting news stories have come prancing from the roof with too little time to unwrap them.  We leave them hanging on the mantle, with our astute readers able to pick the fresh oranges from the fruitcakes, the hot picks from the lumps of coal. Morality:  […]

Brain Synapse Machinery Is Finely Tuned

The New York Times published a brief article on brain facts that is astonishing, when you think about all that goes on in thinking.  Nicholas Wade reported on a new inventory of the proteins involved in the synapses, the key junctions between neurons.  The research team, led by Seth Grant of the Sanger Institute near […]

Mummified Trees Found in Arctic

Like Narnian children finding a zoo of lifeless stone statues in the White Witch’s wintry realm, scientists have come across frozen trees, leaves and seed pods deep in the Canadian arctic.  “The dry, frigid site is now surrounded by glaciers and is completely treeless,” said National Geographic News.  What deep magic left this mummified forest […]

Plant Wonders Are in the Details

When you step on a weed growing out of a crack in the sidewalk, do you have any idea what kind of amazing machinery you stepped on?  Maybe a closer look will help. Communications and switching systems:  When a seed sprouts, it needs to first grow upward in the dark while trying to protect itself.  […]

Sunday Potluck

Here’s a list of quick headlines with minimal comment for mental snacking.  Then it will be time to clear the kitchen for another week of more deep-fried reporting. Magician fools scientists:  Skeptic/magician James Randi tricked a group of scientists, then warned them to doubt their own infallibility (except when it comes to atheism); see Live […]

Cells Manage Stress and Death

Like soldiers in a foreign land, cells sometimes find themselves in unexpected situations.  Key equipment breaks down, or the environment puts stress on their resources.  Without the ability to adapt, they could perish – and in worst-case scenarios they must, like a squadron under ambush with no way out.  In such cases, like spies carrying […]

Even Your Trash Can Is High-Tech

Cells have the same problem as cities: disposing of trash.  Each of your cells has elaborate trash collector machines that not only dispose of damaged or unneeded proteins – they recycle them, too.  The structure of the proteasome, a fragile machine difficult to crystallize for imaging, has just become clearer thanks to researchers in Germany […]

Boggle Your Brain

A new animation of a trip through a brain shows mind-boggling complexity in more detail than ever before.  The animation, posted by freelance journalist Elizabeth A. Moore on CNET News, represents years of work by Stanford University School of Medicine.  Using green fluorescent protein in a mouse brain to light up synapses, and photographing the […]

Dinosaur Fossils Flaunt Physics

Recent announcements about dinosaurs show that even the large ones exhibited physics fitness.  Their size did not inhibit their mobility. T. rex racer:  Maybe Jurassic Park got it right after all.  According to Science Daily, “Tyrannosaurus rex was far from a plodding Cretaceous era scavenger whose long tail only served to counterbalance the up-front weight […]

A Tale of Two Mavericks

Two men who recently died are now being honored for their willingness to have stood up to the majority and advanced views that were unpopular at the time.

Venus Flytrap Uses Chemical “Brain”

There’s a lowly plant that has a botanical version of muscles and a brain – the Venus flytrap.  It has muscle in its ability to snap its traps shut faster than a bug can escape.  And it has a brain in its ability to distinguish between debris and edible prey.  More about its chemical brain […]

Cells Can Be Transformed

An astonishing feat has been performed in a Canadian lab: scientists turned human skin cells into blood cells.  Bypassing the need for stem cells, the technique provides hope for a supply of blood from a person’s own skin. Live Science calls it a “modern miracle.”  The technique avoids “the ethical concerns concerning embryonic stem cells […]

All Kingdoms of Life Have Ideas We Need

Inventors aren’t partial.  They are willing to find inspiration in plants, animals, and microbes.  Here are three examples showing that all kingdoms of life have great engineering ideas that researchers involved in biomimetics are seeking to understand. Plants:  We don’t fight walled cities with catapults any more, but storing elastic energy can still be useful.  […]
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