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The Brain You Use, and How It Uses You

Neuroscientists continue to find out amazing things about the human brain.  In some ways we are responsible to use our brains, but in other ways the brain does things to us.  If nobody has figured out where the dividing line is for thousands of years, it’s unlikely we will today; but the following findings can […]

Molecular Highway Motor Comes into Focus

A beautiful new image of kinesin, a molecular machine that carries cargo on cellular highways, has been produced in greater detail than ever by a team at Berkeley and Brandeis Universities.  Science Daily published a picture and description of how kinesin works.  “Life’s smallest motor – a protein that shuttles cargo within cells and helps […]

Who Should Be Listening to Scientists?

“Stop Listening to Scientists?” is an unusual title for a letter to Science.1  In a commentary last week prompted by the recent scandals regarding climate change, Kevin Robert Gurney (Purdue) made a shocking exclamation: don’t listen to scientists.  Here’s how he began. As a climate scientist and a contributing author to the Intergovernmental Panel on […]

Life Is Smarter Than We Know

How can toads calculate?  How can cells without a brain or central nervous system figure out a balanced diet?  How can bugs navigate the wind for optimum flight time?  These are some of the questions that can arise from observations of the living world.  The more we learn about life, the more we find unexpected […]

Life Masters Physics

Living things, especially cells, have mastered the forces of advanced physics in ingenious ways.  This ingenuity sometimes inspires physicists to try to copy it.  Here are some recent examples: Photosynthesis and quantum mechanics:  Nature reported that plants take advantage of quantum mechanics in photosynthesis.1  “The photosynthetic apparatus of cryptophyte algae is odd – its pigments […]

The Evolution of Religion – or Vice Versa?

A Harvard professor has evolutionized religion again.  Marc Hauser, the one who trains his little boy to adore Darwin (07/03/2007) and wrote a book on how natural selection created morality (10/27/2006), is now saying that religion is a by-product of our evolution.  “These findings suggest that religion evolved from pre-existing cognitive functions,” he wrote in […]

Spider Webs Are Precision Dew Collectors

Photographs of dew drops on spider webs are favorite targets for nature photographers, because they resemble strings of pearls on fine jewelry (example 1, example 2).  But did you know the reason dewdrops bead up so well on webs is due to the fine microstructure of the spider silk?  A team of Chinese scientists studied […]

Building a Cell: Staggering Complexity

“The living cell is a self-organizing, self-replicating, environmentally responsive machine of staggering complexity.”  Thus began a special section on “Building a Cell” in Nature last week.1  The section with five papers explores what is known about gene regulation, cell organization and signalling.  It’s an opportunity, as well, to see what scientists think about what they […]

Scientists Divine Deep Time in Dead Fish

Scientific experiments can certainly take on a wide variety of methods, from recreating the atmosphere of Titan to testing a drug on a genetic disease.  But if educators want to encourage students to become scientists, they had best keep silent about “some very unpleasant experiments” at the University of Leicester reported by the BBC News.  […]

Woese Slays Darwin

The king is dead!  Long live the king!  Such were the oxymoronic cries of olden times when royal succession took place.  Has Charles Darwin been dethroned?  One would think so, after reading Mark Buchanan’s article, “Horizontal and vertical: the evolution of evolution” in New Scientist.  Buchanan sets the stage: Just suppose that Darwin’s ideas were […]

Barefoot Is Better

Who do we wear shoes?  It seems obvious; we expect that they help us avoid injuries and provide comfort.  Maybe we should think of the injuries we are getting by wearing them.     The image of the barefoot person is usually of someone poor, deprived, lower-class, hick, unclean, redneck or something else unattractive.  Shoes […]

Chimps Produce Movie

The BBC is going to air a movie made by chimpanzees.  (Note: This is not a Planet of the Apes remake.)  A primatologist working on her PhD gave some chimps at the Edinburgh zoo a “Chimpcam,” a camcorder in a “chimp-proof” box, to see what they would come up with.  “Despite the fact that the […]

Aliens Invade Science News

What are aliens doing in science news reports?  There is no evidence they even exist.  That has not hindered some scientists from speculating.  BBC News reporters Pallab Ghosh headlined an entry “Astronomers hopeful of detecting extra-terrestrial life,” and adorned it with a Hollywood-style alien corpse.  The article highlighted the optimism of Lord Rees, the president […]

Dogs for Darwin

Science Daily shamelessly announced, “‘Survival of the Cutest’ Proves Darwin Right.”     Chris Klingenberg and Abby Drake, who published a study on mammal skull shapes in American Naturalist on dog breeds, said, “This study illustrates the power of Darwinian selection with so much variation produced in such a short period of time.  The evidence […]

Molecular Machines Use Moving Parts

Research papers into the processes of molecular machines continue to reveal moving parts: “fingers” that open and close, ratchets that lock into place, and feet that move along tracks.  Here are a few samples from the voluminous literature that continues to pour from biophysics labs. DNA Polymerase I:  Scientific papers tend to be reserved in […]
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