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Search for Intraterrestrial Life Scores Big

Single-celled organisms may be tiny, but what they lack in bulk they make up for in volume and importance.  Scientists have been appreciating more than ever the ubiquitous presence of microbes on our planet and the roles they play to sustain the biosphere.     PhysOrg reported that half of the world’s life may lie […]

Robotic Pothole Crew Keeps Your Genetic Highways in Good Repair

What a thought – a repair crew of molecular machines roaming the strands of your DNA, fixing errors 24 x 7.  It happens.  New techniques are showing the machines jumping from strand to strand like fleas, stopping at suspicious points, and fixing errors, reported Science Daily.  Dr. Bennett Van Houten (U of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute) […]

Fruit Flies: From Darwin to Design

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is an icon of evolution.  Since the 1930s these poor little bugs have been mutated endlessly and watched for signs of Darwinian change.  So far, though, only useless mutants, unable to survive in the wild, have been produced.  Recently, scientists seem more enamored with their design.  Two recent articles had […]

This Tree of Life Is Real

Imagine a tree that can provide both nutritious food and clean water.  Moringa oleifera is such a tree.  It grows in Africa and Asia and is being looked at as a life-giving plant that can reduce bacterial contamination of water by 90 to 99.99% by filtering water with its seeds.     Science Daily has […]

Flight Design: Flies and Birds Get it Wright

Parse the following sentence for logical consistency: “Just as the Wright brothers implemented controls to achieve stable airplane flight, flying insects have evolved behavioral strategies that ensure recovery from flight disturbances.”  That is the first sentence from a paper in PNAS yesterday about the stabilizers in fly wings.1  Ristroph et al just compared design principles […]

Making Evolution Simple

Getting the vast diversity of highly complex creatures seems an impossible task for evolutionary theory, but some recent stories claim it’s not so hard.  Beak of the finch:  Darwin’s finches keep pecking their way into the media.  A new study claims that the wide diversity of beak shapes that have evolved can be explained by […]

Spider Hair: The Perfect Water Repellant Surface

To keep dry, make like a spider.  “Engineering researchers have crafted a flat surface that refuses to get wet,” began a press release from University of Florida.  “Water droplets skitter across it like ball bearings tossed on ice.  The inspiration?  Not wax.  Not glass.  Not even Teflon.”  The audience waits breathlessly for the answer.  “Instead, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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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