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Trees Communicate with Aspirin

Trees talk to each other in a chemical language (02/21/2006), but till now, no one realized they sound an alarm with aspirin.  Trees emit a vaporous form of aspirin when under stress, reported Science Daily, that talks on the ecological network.  This was an unexpected finding.     Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric […]

Leaves Don’t Fall; They’re Pushed

Rocks may fall (thus the need for warning signs on highways), but leaves are pushed off of trees by a genetic program.  The process, called abscission, has been mysterious for a long time.  A team from the University of Missouri has mapped out, for the first time, the abscission pathway in one plant.  Being this […]

Turing Test Stands: Your Brain Outperforms Computers

What is the speed of thought?  Computer speeds are measured in megahertz and gigahertz, but that’s only part of the story.  The ability to compute an answer to a problem depends on the programming, too.  How does the brain compare with our best computers?  A scientist from UC San Francisco and one from the Salk […]

Star Death Amazing – but Puzzling

Twinkle, twinkle, little stBOOM!  The explosions of some dying stars are so powerful yet so rapid, mere measurements seem inadequate to describe them.  Two death-star events were reported in recent articles.  Despite the bravado of textbook orthodoxy, the articles both mentioned that astronomers really don’t understand what’s going on all that well.     Eta […]

Animals Got Rhythm; Scientists Don’t

Here’s a biological puzzle with plenty of room for young researchers to solve: the workings of biological rhythms.  All animals respond to rhythms in periods of hours, days, weeks, months, and years, but as George E. Bentley (UC Berkeley) wrote in Current Biology,1 how they do it is only partially understood.  “Sometimes the questions are […]

Butterfly Wings Xeroxed

If you can’t build it, copy it.  Scientists have had a hard time reconstructing the photonic crystals that make butterfly wings shimmer with light (01/29/2003), so they made, in effect, a carbon copy.  PhysOrg described how scientists at Penn State made impressions of the regularly-spaced geometric shapes from a butterfly wing and transferred it to […]

Cellular Machines Work Like Cameras, Winches and Turboprops

The discovery that cells are filled with molecular motors is one of the major achievements of late 20th-century molecular biology.  Biochemists routinely use the word “motor” when describing cellular processes, because, in fact, machines made of protein actually do use energy to perform work.  Now we have a new hybrid science – biophysics – that […]

Plant Perfume Manipulates Pollinator Behavior

You’re a plant, stuck in the ground.  Around you are organisms with wings flitting freely about.  You need to get them to land on your flowers, but not linger too long.  How do you do it?  Attract them with sweet smells, but send them away with a bitter aftertaste.  That’s how the tobacco plant manipulates […]

Use Your Cow Compass

Cattle and deer seem to align themselves to magnetic north.  German and Czech scientists, reporting in PNAS,1 used aerial observations to detect the tendency of grazing herds to line up in north-south directions.  The alignment was to magnetic north, not true north—indicating a sensitivity to earth’s magnetic field, as known to exist in migrating birds, […]

How Chromosomes Pack Without Exploding

When preparing to divide, a cell has to copy all its DNA accurately and pack it into chromosomes.  A professor at U Chicago told Science Daily this is “like compacting your entire wardrobe into a shoebox.”  The cell has another difficulty in this compaction process, though: DNA, being negatively charged, resists packing.     Eukaryotes […]

Membrane Switches Keep Your Brain Humming

Tunnels with rotating gates and rocker switches – this sounds like mechanical engineering.  It’s the machinery that helps power your brain, reported scientists from UCLA and the Pasteur Institute.     Their paper in Science described the structure of just one of many kinds of membrane channels.1  Cell membranes are lined with elaborate one-way gates.  […]

Cassini Survives Enceladus Geyser Plunge

The Cassini spacecraft has done it again – returned some of the most stunning outer planet images ever taken.  Zipping by at just 30 miles over the active surface of Enceladus, Cassini did a “skeet shoot” of high-res images achieving 7 meters per pixel in places – the highest resolution of any shot of a […]

These Bugs Have the Right Stride

If there were an Olympic event for walking on water, the water strider would lead the pack.  Science Daily reported on work by European biologists that show the water bug has perfectly proportioned legs for being able to balance on the surface tension of water: “Long enough to provide maximum weight support but not long […]

New Camera Imitates Eyeball

Scientists at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University have succeeded in manufacturing stretchable optical electronic sensors on curved surfaces.  This will open up a whole new world of new imaging products – inventions that imitate the human eyeball.  The team said this about the eyeball in their paper in Nature:1  The human eye is […]

Wet Cave with Fossils Found in Dry Desert

The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the driest places on earth – it gets about 1mm of rainfall per year, if that – but scientists just discovered a wet cave there.  Robert Roy Britt reported for Live Science that these desert caves can contain water, and at least one is loaded with fossils […]
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