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Scientists Marvel at Enzyme Efficiency

Many chemical reactions occur from simple collisions.  One atom may have spare electrons, another may need them.  Attracted by each other’s valences, the atoms collide and bonds form.  Not so with biological enzymes: these molecular machines owe their efficiency to their three-dimensional shapes.  Made up of hundreds of amino acids, enzymes have “active sites” where […]

Solar System Surprises

In the last few days and weeks, more amazing discoveries were made about bodies in the solar system. Mercury:  Results from the second flyby of Mercury on Oct. 6 by MESSENGER were announced Oct 29.  This pass covered more “hidden” territory that had never been seen before, bringing the coverage to 95%.  According to Space.com […]

Paley’s Watch Found in Bacteria

A clock with cogs, gears and ratchets that keeps accurate time – what more could William Paley wish for?  The 18th century natural theologian used the illustration of stumbling upon a watch in a heath as an example of reasoning from design to a Designer – as from watch to watchmaker.  Skeptics like David Hume […]

Snails Walk on Water

Why is that scientist staring at a snail?  He’s watching a miracle: walking on water.  This is not our exaggeration: Matt Kaplan on National Geographic News entitled his article, “How Snails Walk on Water Is a Small Miracle.”  If we can figure out the trick, we might be able to make little robots do it […]

How Cells Thread a Needle

Your challenge today is to invent a machine that can push a wet noodle through a straw.  It can’t pull it.  First it has to grab the end, then push it through without breaking it.  Oh, and there’s a catch; the straw has a plug at the far end and a constriction inside.  Give up?  […]

Plants Have Thermostats

Plants, being stuck in the ground, have few options when it gets hot.  They may not be able to move into the shade like animals, but they know how to cope.  They have a built-in thermostat that acts like a fire prevention department.  Science Daily tells the story.     Researchers at Michigan State identified […]

Deep Life Is Right at Home in Total Darkness

It seems every year scientists find organisms thriving in environments thought too inhospitable for life.  A new word was coined for these organisms: extremophiles – lovers of the extreme.  Two recent discoveries push the envelope of extreme environments almost to the deep limit. Pressurized fish:  The bottoms of the deep ocean trenches of the Pacific […]

Fastest Squirt Gun in the Fungi

A paper on PLoS One described the highest-speed flights in all nature: the spore discharge mechanisms in certain fungi.  A dozen scientists in Ohio worked to capture the action on ultra-high-speed cameras.  It took 250,000 frames per second to reveal how fast the projectiles accelerate.  The answer: from 20,000 to 180,000 g (where g = […]

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 […]
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