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Human Variability Can Be Rapid

All living humans are interfertile – one species by definition. People from all parts of the globe can marry and have children, even though global travel is relatively recent in human history. Yet we know there is considerable variability between tribes and nationalities. Does this variability take millions of years? Does it lead to the origin of new human species? Recent evidence shows that variations can be rapid, both genetic and acquired, without reducing interfertility.

Good Science Requires Good Ethics

Science is conducted by humans for humans. It is not done in a vacuum. Even the lone researcher working in a basement hopes to make a discovery worth sharing. The need for ethical science shows most clearly when humans experiment on humans – with or without their consent. Two recent articles underscore the indispensability of moral grounds for science, and a third raises questions about the source of morality.

Early Man Stories Evolve

Early man evolved, evolutionary scientists assure us. But it's not clear what is evolving more: our ancestors, or the tales told about them.

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.

Follow the Stem Cell Money

A major clinical trial using embryonic stem cells was suddenly halted this week. Meanwhile, trials with adult stem cells are steamrolling ahead. Why the difference?

Selling Confabulation as Science

Science is supposed to be all about demonstrable proof through experiment. Should some scientists get away with confabulation – mere storytelling? Look at these recent headlines published on science news sites and consider whether some serious housecleaning is in order.

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.

Your Copper Pipes

Each of us is part metal. Our bodies contain iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, manganese, vanadium, molybdenum, selenium, and even nickel like the coins in our pockets or purses. Unlike the other common elements of life (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus), our metals are not synthesized and recycled, but must be imported and handled with care. Copper is a good example of a biological metal that performs multiple useful functions – that is, unless something goes wrong with the machinery handling it.

Man, Mammals, and Ice Ages

What do scientists really know about early man and the creatures in his habitat?  Some clues can be found by following science news in a historical fashion: that is, to look for reversals of previously-held opinions, surprises in fossils, and other evidences that scientists are not really making progress in their theories, despite the common […]

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.

Caveman’s Best Friend, Evolution’s Newest Upset

The evolutionary story of the dog-human relationship has had to be drastically revised in light of recent findings. The old story was that wolves tamed themselves into doggish behavior some 15,000 years ago in Asia by frequenting human garbage dumps. Evidence from caves, fossil prints, and the dog genome, though, has required a near complete overhaul of how our animal companions and their relationships to humans evolved, calling into question whether evolution was involved at all.

The Blind Men and the Ape Man

“We have all seen the canonical parade of apes, each one becoming more human. We know that, as a depiction of evolution, this line-up is tosh. Yet we cling to it. Ideas of what human evolution ought to have been like still colour our debates.” So said Henry Gee, editor of Nature. Are other icons coloring scientists’ views of human origins? How close are they to describing scientifically where we come from?

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.

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.
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