Babbage’s Computer May Be Built

The “Analytical Engine,” a 19th-century computer conceived by Charles Babbage, may finally be built 140 years after his death.  The remarkable contraption was to be powered by steam and would fill a warehouse, but the eccentric old man could not get the Royal Society to back it.  His idea, 100 years ahead of its time, […]

Migrating Whales Fertilize the Sea

Two recent discoveries about whales show them to be not only benign but beneficial.  PhysOrg reported on work at the University of Vermont that indicates whale waste carries nitrogen nutrients to the depths of the ocean, fertilizing the food chain and increasing the production of ocean fisheries.     In another article on PhysOrg, a […]

Hairy Bacteria Walk and Talk

Little hair-like projections on some bacteria, nearly invisible with light microscopes, are not just for decoration.  They do amazing things – as a pair of recent discoveries brought to light.  They help bacteria walk and talk. But can they dance?  Bacteria swim, but they also land on surfaces – and when they do, they put […]

Brain Rewires for Lost Senses

Born without vision or hearing?  The brain can apparently rewire itself to accommodate the loss, reported the BBC News.  Dr Stephen Lomber, who led research published in Nature Neuroscience, said: The brain is very efficient, and doesn’t let unused space go to waste.     The brain wants to compensate for the lost sense with […]

DNA Performs the Linking Rings Trick

Those who love a good magic show should be aware of a world-famous trick going on inside their own bodies.  The “Chinese linking rings” trick is done by a team of protein magicians in the cell – but it’s not for entertainment, it’s to repair damage that could lead to cancer.     PhysOrg echoed […]

More DNA Repair Wonders Found

One of the most phenomenal discoveries since the structure of DNA was revealed must surely be the discovery of multitudes of protein machines that repair DNA (01/04/2002).  The repair machines are themselves coded by DNA, but DNA would quickly decay into nonsense without them.  Another “fundamentally new” repair mechanism was discovered by researchers at Vanderbilt […]

Mere Biochemistry: Cell Division Involves Thousands of Complex, Interacting Parts

In biochemistry, the stem -mere means “part” (as in centromere, telomere) and -some means “body” (as in chromosome, ribosome).  Biochemists are learning that these cell organelles are not -mere bit parts, but -some fit bodies. Telomeres and chromosomes:  PhysOrg reported that the chemical “caps” on the end of chromosomes, called telomeres, have a special code […]

Piston Engine Joins Rotary Engine in Cells

The rotary engine ATP synthase has been discussed frequently in these pages (e.g., 12/22/2003, 08/10/2004, 08/04/2010) as an exquisite “molecular machine” that produces the cell’s energy pellets (ATP) with a rotary, turbine-like mechanism.  Now, a piston-driven engine has been found at work in every cell’s energy factory.     ATP synthase operates at the end […]

Synonymous Codons: Another Gene Expression Regulation Mechanism

Some words in English have alternate spellings, but sound the same.  If the sound is the same, how would a recording device tell them apart?  Would it make any difference?  It shouldn’t, but now scientists are realizing that genetic codons spelled differently can influence the protein formed – even when the spellings, called “synonymous codons”, […]

Archer Fish See Like People

An archer fish can spit out a man’s cigarette.  That’s actually a humorous scene at the end of a video clip on The Scientist that talks about the amazing eyes of this underwater sharpshooter.  New research shows that these freshwater fish, known for their ability to spit bugs off bushes, have a mammal-like ability to […]

Nerve Traffic Cop Identified

What makes signals go in one direction in neurons?  It’s important, because a reflex signal from a bump on your knee needs to go in the direction of the controlling muscle and on to the brain, not any which way.  Is there some kind of traffic cop that directs the placement of “one way” signs […]

World’s Top Chemists Can’t Match a Plant

There’s a race on: a race to get cheap energy from the sun.  “The design and improvement of solar cells is one of the most vibrant areas of science,” said the BBC News, “in part because sunlight is far and away the planet’s most abundant renewable energy source.”  Two recent articles show that top labs […]

Flying Fish Tested in Wind Tunnel: Match Bird Flight

Sometimes engineers investigate things biologists take for granted.  Flying fish have been observed by countless sailors and cruise passengers, and have been described by life scientists.  It took an engineer, however, to investigate these “unexpected fliers” in a wind tunnel.  Surprisingly, though many have speculated about these creatures, “detailed measurement of wing performance associated with […]

Clever Animals Amaze and Inspire

The living world is an endless source of wonder and inspiration.  There’s an octopus that does a convincing imitation of a flatfish (Science Daily, Live Science), and a red crab species that emerges from its lethargic life around Christmas and migrates miles to the sea by the millions (PhysOrg).  There’s a tiny frog that can […]

Specialized Molecules Make Cells Work

Reports continue to show that vital cell processes depend on finely-tuned proteins and RNA molecules.  Most of the papers that discuss these specialized molecules fail to mention how they might have evolved, as shown in three papers in the recent issue of Science. Walker with muscle:  A paper by Kaya and Higuchi from the University […]
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