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For Complex Life, Just Add Oxygen

When you take in a breath of fresh air, you let in a lively but dangerous molecule that would kill you if it were not that your cells have elaborate controls to utilize its energy for good and avoid its damaging potential.  Oxygen makes forests burn to ashes but also powers your muscles.  Astrobiologists realize […]

How to Get Engineering Without an Engineer

The study of complex systems is all the rage these days (see, for example, 08/18/2003 entry).  In the Jan. 28 issue of Nature,1 J. M. Ottino (Northwestern University) mixes up biology with human design in his Concepts essay on “Engineering complex systems.”     “Complex systems,” he explains, “can be identified by what they do […]

10 More Questions

As a follow-up to Jonathan Wells’ popular (or notorious, depending on your point of view) 10 Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Evolution, William Dembski has come up with 10 Questions to Ask Your Biology Teacher About Design.     Dembski has also recently published a new book, The Design Revolution, “Answering the Toughest […]

The New Phrenology Ostracizes Neanderthals

Scientists contrasted different points on Neanderthal skulls to modern human skulls, and concluded Neanderthals were a separate species.  The New York Times report by John Noble Wilford says that not all scientists are convinced, however, by the analysis published by Katerina Harvati et al. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1 Jan. 26 […]

Early Oxygen Causes Evolutionary Gasps

The rise of oxygen in the primitive Earth’s atmosphere has been pushed back 100 million more years, according to Sid Perkins writing for the Jan. 24 issue of Science News.  This is based on studies of sediments in South Africa.  Though estimated at just a millionth of today’s concentrations, the finding comes as a surprise.  […]

La Brea Tar Pits Trap Scientists

Sid Perkins of Science News dropped in at La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, and got stuck, not in tar, but in the sticky evolutionary interpretations of these world-famous fossil deposits.  This fossil bed, right in one of the ritziest parts of Los Angeles (adjacent to the County Art Museum), Perkins whimsically calls “L.A.’s […]

Should Cosmologists Get Worried Yet?

The unexpected finding of mature galaxies in the early universe (see 01/02/2004) has Robert Irion worried, but he seems surprised the theorists are not.  Reporting on last week’s meeting of the American Astronomical Society in the Jan. 23 issue of Science,1 he titles his article, “Early Galaxies Baffle Observers, But Theorists Shrug.”  He begins: “It’s […]

Minnesota Debates Darwin Teaching

Minnesota is next in line in the Darwin wars.  This science framework writing committee has taken the unusual step of submitting two drafts to the legislature, a majority report with the usual Darwin-only rule, and a minority with two improvements, according to Seth Cooper of the Discovery Institute: The first benchmark improvement proposed by the […]

Sex and Gender Cannot Be Separated

A study of male children born with a rare birth defect called cloacal exstrophy demonstrates that sexual identity is biologically determined, not a result of upbringing.  The report in Science Now shows that most of the boys identified themselves as male early on, even though unaware of their condition and “raised as girls” under doctor’s […]

Mars’ Gusev Crater May Be Dry

Preliminary indications from the spectrometer on Spirit, the rover exploring Gusev Crater on Mars, may dash hopes for those looking for evidence of past water there.  According to the NASA-JPL press release, the signature of olivine has been found.  Olivine degrades in water, even at near-freezing temperatures, and it weathers easily.  It is not known […]

Why You Need Sleep

A study in the Jan. 22 issue of Nature1 claims that sleep gives you inspiration.  Sleep is not just a waste of a third of your day; it helps consolidate memories, and provides pivotal insights.  “Insight denotes a mental restructuring that leads to a sudden gain of explicit knowledge allowing qualitatively changed behaviour,” the five […]

Does Microevolution Add Up?

Do numerous small changes add up to big ones, like Darwin thought?  In the Jan. 15 issue of Nature,1 New Zealand kiwi David Penny (Allan Wilson Center for Molecular Ecology and Evolution, Massey University) is hopeful that the new chimp genome will prove it so: The fundamental issue here is Darwin’s bold claim that “numerous, […]

Fossil Worm: Does It Help Solve Cambrian Explosion Puzzle?

A soft embryo of a Cambrian worm, exquisitely preserved, makes Graham Budd (U. of Uppsala, Sweden) ask some hard questions about it and other recently-discovered embryo fossils in the Jan. 15 issue of Nature:1 These fossils raise several questions, to say the least.  First, how could they possibly be preserved?  Second, why are they concentrated […]

Centromere Shows More Gems in “Junk DNA”

A biochemist at University of Wisconsin-Madison and a colleague sequenced a hard-to-sequence part of the rice genome, the centromere, and found four genes in it.  Previously, it was thought to be a vast wasteland of repetitive, non-coding DNA.  The scientist, Jiming Jiang, thinks his work provides a “window to evolution” of the centromere, according to […]

Your Bacteria Ancestors

Dr. Peter Antonelli thinks he has mathematically proven that all multicellular organisms, including plants and animals and human beings, came from two ancient bacteria that met and formed a stable, consistent relationship.  His boast is explained on a University of Alberta press release.  He thinks most biologists don’t comprehend his mathematical models yet, but EurekAlert […]
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