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Migrating Birds Measure Longitude

Migrating birds are able to get back on course, even when released 1000 km east of their normal migration path.  This shows that long-distance migrating birds are capable of true bicoordinate navigation: the ability to make course corrections both in latitude and longitude.  The results of experiments, published in Current Biology,1 left the researchers baffled: […]

Did Birds Evolve Aeronautical Engineering?

Two news stories on birds may not seem to flock together.  One is about their supreme aeronautical engineering.  The other ponders when they evolved.     A story on EurekAlert and Science Daily describes how engineers are eyeing birds, bats and insects for design ideas.  The appeal is clear from the following comparisons: A Blackbird […]

Nose Code Rockets Smell Discrimination

You have a code in your nose.  Scientists working on fruit fly olfactory systems have found that a mapping mechanism between components maximizes the fly’s ability to discriminate smells.  The coding system provides a non-linear response that appears finely tuned to maximize the information content of odor inputs.     The components of this system […]

A Pitcher of Health, and Reasons to Love Slime

Pitcher plants contain chemicals that just might help medicine and agriculture, reported PhysOrg.  A Japanese team found a myriad of interesting proteins in this “evolutionary marvel,” a plant that eats insect meat.     Now for some slimy good news.  PhysOrg said, “You know algae.  It’s the gunk that collects on the sides of a […]

Getting a Hand on Facts and Meanings

What could be more simple than pressing a button with your finger?  That “seemingly trivial action is the result of a complex neuro-motor-mechanical process orchestrated with precision timing by the brain, nervous system and muscles of the hand.”  So says a press release from University of Southern California posted on EurekAlert.     Simple, everyday […]

Butterfly Wings Flash Shiny Optical Tricks

You can get brilliant colors without pigment if you build patterns near the wavelengths of light.  Butterflies have the trick down to a science.  Their wings shimmer and shine with brilliant colors produced by nanostructures that scientists want to imitate.     Science Daily told how butterflies and moths, even the white-winged varieties, use nanostructures […]

Solar System Super Snapshots

Here are some of the most fascinating new images coming from spacecraft out there on duty – but they didn’t just come in on their own.  They are brought to you by highly intelligent and dedicated human beings: the navigators, instrument teams, deep space network engineers, flight controllers and scientists who gather and distribute the […]

Quality Control Ensures Accurate Cell Division

Cell division (mitosis) is a very complex process in which every part must be accurately duplicated and sent to the proper destination.  Picture a marching band where each flute player or tuba player is able to clone itself.  The players congregate at the center in two lines, divide, and move apart, forming two marching bands […]

The Bible on a Pin

Israeli scientists have reproduced the Old Testament on a chip smaller than a pin head reported PhysOrg.  They’re calling it the world’s tiniest Bible.  A picture of the chip, the size of a grain of sugar, was included in the report on the BBC News.     The scientists managed their feat, the article explains, […]

DNA Translation Has Codes Upon Codes

The DNA code is protected by another code, and is read with a machine that reads a third code.  This is an emerging picture from ongoing research into DNA transcription, as reported in Science.1     In the 1950s, scientists were astonished to find a code at the genetic basis of life.  DNA’s four-letter alphabet, […]

Geology Sinks in the Mud

Question: what is the most abundant sedimentary rock in the world?  Follow-up question: what would happen to the science of geology if the consensus theory of how this most abundant sedimentary rock was deposited turns out to be wrong?  Prepare for a paradigm shift: experiments have shown mistakes in long-held assumptions about mudstone formation. Here’s […]

What Keeps Skin Strong? Velcro!

Skin would fall to pieces were it not for velcro-like molecules that bind its cells together.  These molecules, called cadherins, make skin strong but also supple.  Their secret was explained by Ashraf Al-Amoudi of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, quoted in Live Science.  “The trick is that each cadherin binds twice: once to a molecule […]

Cell Gatekeepers: Diverse, Complex, Accurate

Cargo moves around rapidly and ceaselessly in every cell.  Some moves in and out of the external membrane, and some moves in and out of organelles and the nucleus.  In a system of protected domains surrounded by impermeable membranes, how does the cell control what should pass?  Details of the amazing gatekeeping mechanisms embedded in […]

Dealing with Light at the Extremes

“Light is the most important variable in our environment,” wrote Edith Widder, a marine biologist.  The inhabitants of two different ecosystems have to deal with either too little or too much.  Let your light so shine:  A thousand meters below the sea surface, all sunlight is extinguished.  Yet for thousands of meters more, creatures live […]

Nature Inspires Useful Products

Some day soon you may be able to extract water out of thin air, decorate your walls with detachable wallpaper, read street signs clearly in fog, and employ reusable tape underwater.  These are some of the innovations coming from biomimetics – science inspired by nature’s designs. Venus flytrap:  Alex Crosby at University of Massachusetts was […]
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