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Update on Interplant Internet

One of the early “amazing” stories reported in these pages concerned the startling observation that plants use a kind of “email” system in their own interplant “internet” (see 07/13/2001).  What has been learned in the nine years since that story appeared?  Quite a lot, and another fascinating article about plant communication appeared this week in […]

Maxwell’s Demon Helps Run Your Muscles

James Clerk Maxwell once speculated that the second law of thermodynamics could be violated if an agent or “demon” could sort the hot and cold molecules at a barrier, thus overcoming the tendency toward thermal equilibrium.  Something like this has been found at work in the molecular machines in our muscles.  The actin-myosin motor is […]

Genetic Subcode Discovered

Computer programmers know all about subroutines.  One master program can easily call other programs, which can return results back to the master program.  That’s very 1960s.  Today’s modular software responds dynamically from disparate sources and responds to feedback from embedded triggers.  They can call routines written in other codes or languages.  We’re beginning to find […]

Blind Fish Lead the Blind

Imagine miniature subs that can negotiate tight spaces or murky waters in the dark.  Meet Snookie: a device created by researchers at the University of Technology Munich, who took their inspiration from blind cave fish.     The report on Live Science says that the blind Mexican cave fish Astyanax mexicanus is born with eyes […]

Leapin’ Lizards: Giant Lizard Discovered

A large species of lizard unknown to science has been discovered alive and well in the Philippines.  The BBC News has a picture of the monster, a class of monitor lizard, that measures 2 meters from snout to tail.  That makes it about 2/3 the size of its famous cousin from Java, the Komodo Dragon.  […]

Elephants Equipped with 4WD

An elephant is built like a four-wheel drive vehicle, say scientists from the Royal Veterinary College in London.  Unlike other mammals, which divide acceleration and braking between the front and rear legs, “power is applied independently to each limb,” reported PhysOrg from a paper in PNAS.1 “Elephant limbs operate analogously to four-wheel-drive vehicles,” the authors […]

Biomimetics: Science for Now

Do you want science that makes a difference in our lives?  Look at real plants and animals with real solutions to practical problems.  That’s where researchers are making amazing discoveries with practical spinoffs. Shellfish materials:  Strong, lightweight structures are coming, thanks to the imitation of oysters and shellfish.  PhysOrg reported that researchers at the University […]

Beetle Pulls 1,141 Times Its Weight

Ever watch those contest shows for the World’s Strongest Man?  Compared to dung beetles, they’re wimps.  Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London found that the strongest beetle tested could pull an astonishing 1,141 times its own weight – “the equivalent of a 70kg person lifting 80 tonnes (the same as six full double-decker buses),” […]

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, […]
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