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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.  […]

Windows into the Mind

What would it be like to see things for the first time?  You can watch the reaction on Live Science #1 and Live Science #2.  Blind patients were implanted with a microchip that allowed them, for the first time, to roughly sense the visual input of objects in front of them.  Amazing as it was, […]

Cells Know Their Physics

At the microscopic level of cells, forces come into play that are unfamiliar to us at the macro level: quantum mechanics, Brownian motion, and subtle elastic forces that we might overlook.  Two recent papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explored physical mechanisms cells use to good advantage.  Good thing cells know […]

Amazing Insects Defy Evolution

Two recent articles about insects call for the ring buoy on the H.M.S. Darwin.  The first is about fossil amber from India, reported by the BBC News.  “We have complete, three-dimensionally preserved specimens that are 52 million years old,” one of the discoverers announced with astonishment, “and you can handle them almost like living ones.”  […]

Automatic Turnstiles Found in the Cell

One of the things students learn about in high school biology classes is active transport: the ability to control flow through a semi-permeable membrane.  Contrary to osmosis, in which the flow goes naturally from high concentration to low concentration, cell membranes employ active mechanisms to push or pull the molecules through their membranes according to […]

Weekend Grab Bag

Here’s another unclassified assortment of news stories readers can follow and evaluate on their own (cf. 10/18/2010).  Take your Baloney Detector along and discern the Amazing from the Dumb. Fast Lane: Nick Lane explains how life became complex: cells invented mitochondria (Science Daily).  Gem from his paper in Nature:1 “If evolution works like a tinkerer, […]
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