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Cells Optimize Their Tasks

The key to design in manufacturing is optimization – hitting the “sweet spot” between competing interests. It’s not always possible to have all the elements of a product be ideal. A laptop computer, for instance, can’t have an extra-large monitor and simultaneously have long battery life and compact design. A muscle car cannot be expected to have the best gas mileage. In the heyday of “faster, better, cheaper” spacecraft, engineers often joked, “pick any two.” In the same way, living cells have to optimize their operations. A couple of recent papers explore how they find that sweet spot.

Biomimetics for Your Christmas Wish List

Biomimetics (the imitation of nature) continues to promise cool gadgets and useful materials that will someday yield prized gifts under the tree. Some of them might even save your life.

Methuselah Seed Now a Tree

The world’s oldest viable seed is now a tree 8 feet tall. The Methuselah palm, discovered in the 1960s as a seed at the Judean fortress of Masada, sprouted in 2005 under controlled conditions. It is the oldest seed verified by radiocarbon dating to be 2,000 years old – from the time the Romans were besieging the mountain fortress built by Herod the Great.

Incredible Small Creatures That Deny Evolution

While the largest of animals impress us with their size and bulk, some of the most amazing are those you could hold in the palm of your hand. Here are three worth appreciating a little more.

Animal Plan: It Works Well

There were Greek and Roman naturalists who were intrigued by what they saw in the living world, but their observational tools were limited to their five senses. Modern science has expanded our senses far beyond the capabilities known just a century ago. We are privileged to live in an age of discovery that is revealing even more wonders beneath the surface of living things, wonders worth knowing about. Here are just a few.

Engineers Tip Hat to Nature

It’s conventional in blogging to give an HT (hat tip) to a friend who makes you aware of a cool item. Engineers are giving hat tips to plants and animals as they seek for amazing new products that do wonderful things, just like the ones in nature.

Preventing Aging Through Darwin-Free Science

Will new discoveries in biochemistry lead to longer lives? There are hopeful signs that aging can be delayed, if not prevented. Whether or not that happens in our lifetimes (causing new worries for Social Security), scientists are learning amazing things about how cells work that should give us more reason for Thanksgiving.

Animal Magnetism and Other Wonders

What is it that so attracts us to animals? Is it animal magnetism? Some animals do have magnetic senses that can guide them across oceans. The more we learn about animals, the more we should admire their high-tech equipment. Here are some recent examples of amazing animals, some of them suitable for Halloween decorations.

Amazing Bird Tricks

“Angry Birds” are perhaps the best known species among electronic bird-watchers these days, but we should never forget that real birds are amazing creatures. Incredibly diverse (think ostrich to hummingbird to penguin), they continue to fascinate scientists and laymen. Here are some recent science stories about our feathered friends.

Your Motor/Generators Are 100% Efficient

ATP synthase astounds again. The molecular machine that generates almost all the ATP (molecular “energy pellets”) for all life was examined by Japanese scientists for its thermodynamic efficiency. By applying and measuring load on the top part that synthesizes ATP, they were able to determine that one cannot do better at getting work out of a motor – a motor that is also a generator.

Biomimetics to the Rescue of Science

The booming field of biomimetics (imitating nature’s designs) is fascinating not only for the amazing products it promises, but for the fresh new opportunities it provides for science and engineering. From viruses to mammals, everything in the living world is now being seen in a new light: agents of innovation that humans can learn from. Here are just a few examples in recent news, arranged in order from large to small inspirational creatures.

Mighty Mitochondria Conduct Energy Exquisitely

None of us could live without mitochondria. These are the power centers ubiquitous in eukaryotic cells. They contain molecular machines in factories whose jobs are to generate and conduct electrical currents. The currents run turbines that packetize the energy in molecules of ATP, which are then used by most processes in the cell. New discoveries continue to fascinate scientists with how mitochondria work. Some scientists use their energy to find ways Darwinian evolution could build the machinery of life.

Enjoy Your Body Gifts

When you eat right and exercise to do your body good, you may have little idea how much your body is giving back all the time. From recent scientific discoveries, here’s a look at a few mechanisms under our skin that not only keep us alive, but provide us with a shopping mall of good things.

Amazing Adaptations

All biologists agree – creationists and evolutionists alike – that organisms show remarkable adaptations to their environment. They differ only in their explanations for how they got that way. Here are some remarkable examples of adaptation that will challenge any theory of origins.

It’s Still a Rare Earth

Now that hundreds of extrasolar planets are known, how do they compare to ours? The Kepler spacecraft has found a varied assortment of all sizes and distances away from their parent stars. Only a few reside in their star’s habitable zones. But that’s only the first of many requirements for life. Two recent studies indicate that Earth remains a rare bird in the celestial aviary.
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