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Robot Legs Can’t Keep Up With Animals

Robot designers are envious of animals.  Insects, crabs and lizards leave them in the dust.  Alison Abbott in Nature (Jan 18) described the latest attempts to get the bugs out of insect-imitating “biological robots.”1  “Programming a robot to think like an insect is tough,” the subtitle reads, “but it could help breed machines as manoeuvrable […]

Tiny Fish Smell for Miles

Fish hatchlings no more than a few millimeters in size are able to find their way home by smell, scientists from James Cook University found.  After hatching from a reef, baby fish are often swept out to sea for miles.  The scientists were curious how they are able to get back to the particular spot […]

Your Body Knows Its Allies at Gut Level

How come your body doesn’t fight its good bacteria?  It sounds like a question only a scientist or a kid would ask, but think about it.  Your body jumps to arms to fight off pathogens, but lets millions of bacteria live in the intestines.  These bacteria help you digest your food, but are not “you.”  […]

This Bug Is Whiter than White, Brighter than Bright

Detergent manufacturers should get a load of this beetle.  Cyphochilus, a resident of southeast Asia, is clothed in one of the brightest white surfaces (per unit thickness) known.  British scientists reporting in Science1  were intrigued how the bug accomplishes this shining performance.  Most bright-white surfaces, such as paint and paper, need a hundred times the […]

Woodpecker Heads Absorb Shocks

Pounding a tree with your head 12,000 times a day would tend to give one a headache, but for woodpeckers, it’s all in a day’s work.  How do they manage?  Corey Binns on Live Science interviewed Ivan Schwab (UC Davis) who explained some of the specialized adaptations in a woodpecker head: thick muscles, spring-like bones, […]

This Bacterium Moves Like a Tank

Mark McBride (U of Wisconsin) has been trying for a decade to figure out how a gliding bacterium glides.  His conclusion: the microbe has tire treads like a conveyor belt that make it roll over a variety of surfaces, like an all-terrain vehicle.     According to a U of Wisconsin press release, the Department […]

Human Endurance: Is It Evolutionary?

Some people are gluttons for punishment.  Many a couch potato is probably content to watch an Ironman or Ultramarathon on HDTV from a recliner, but the ones who take part in the grueling endurance contests gaining popularity illustrate some human capabilities scientists are only beginning to understand.  Nature1 described one called the Primal Quest adventure […]

Cell Zippers, Linemen and Editors Put on a Show

The golden age of cell biology continues.  Scientists keep unlocking the secrets of cellular machinery with newer and better techniques.  With the curtain rising on a show we could not previously imagine, played out on a stage so small it took centuries of scientific work to even see it, biochemists are discovering amazing tricks that […]

How Your Brain Conducts Itself at Attention

The conductor taps the stand.  All the musicians, who had been warming up or conversing with neighbors, suddenly hush and rivet their attention on the conductor.  The downbeat comes, and a marvel of coordination comes to life, each skilled player contributing to a unified yet diverse exhibition of harmonious sound.     Something like that […]

Plant Pores March to Their Own Beat

Plants have pores called stomata that open and close (see 09/13/2006).  These gates of the leaf surface provide plant protection from invaders, and allow the transpiration of gases and water vapor in and out, depending on conditions.  The stomata of many plants open wide during the day to allow in carbon dioxide, but close at […]

Animal Plan IT

Imitating animal technology is one of the hottest areas in science.  The engineering and information technology (IT) observable in living things continues to astonish scientists and makes engineers want to imitate nature’s designs.  Biomimetics is leading to productive, useful discoveries helping solve human problems and leading to a better life for all.  Here are some […]

How Your Joints Auto-Lubricate Themselves

Motion sets up an automated process that produces more lubricant for the joints, scientists at UC San Diego found.  EurekAlert explains how shear forces on cartilage stimulated it to produce proteoglycan 4, which secretes joint fluid where it coats and lubricates cartilage surfaces.  This way, the fluid is produced according to the need of the […]

The Physics of Gecko Toes

Why would anyone want to know the details of physical forces when gecko feet walk on glass?  Here’s why: “The results have obvious implications for the fabrication of dry adhesives and robotic systems inspired by the gecko’s locomotion mechanism.”  A team of scientists from Santa Barbara and China watched gecko toes peel off glass and […]

Darwin Missed the Beetle Can Opener Trick

You know those big horns on rhinoceros beetles?  They’re not just for showing off.  Scientists at Indiana University found a “surprising function” for them.  It turns out “horned beetles use their young horns as a sort of can opener, helping them bust out of thick larval shells.”  The function of horned beetles’ wild protrusions has […]

How Does the Emperor Penguin Dive So Deep?

Using a small recorder mounted on an emperor penguin, researchers at Scripps Institute measured the bird diving as deep as 1,800 feet – six times the depth any human has survived unassisted.  This is much deeper than scientists had expected.  Live Science surmises that if we could figure out how they do it without getting […]
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