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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 […]

Can Worms Outsmart Humans?

Worms may seem creepy to some people, but they possess some amazing abilities.  How many of you had to struggle through calculus class, for instance?  Worms know it by heart, reported Greg Soltis at Live Science.  Their brains instinctively apply the logic of calculus to input signals from sensory inputs.  A University of Oregon biologist […]

Lick Your Wounds

Saliva contains a powerful anti-infection protein, say scientists from the Netherlands.  Science Daily reported that if this compound could be mass-produced, it offers hope for those with diseases, burns and injuries prone to infection.     Saliva is a complex concoction with many kinds of molecules.  With controlled experiments, the researchers were able to identify […]

Cellular Trucks Use Moving Highways

Imagine how cool it would be to get in your car and have the road do the driving.  The highway would stretch or shrink, moving this way or that, till you saw your destination and hopped off.  That appears to be what the cargo-bearing motors do in the cells in your body.  A new paper […]

Love Your Planet

Modern astronomy and space travel have given humans the ability to view the earth from a distance and ponder its significance.  Some astronomers expected the earth to be ordinary-looking.  In many respects, however, astronomy is teaching us otherwise.  Clara Moskowitz, staff writer for Space.com began an article by saying, “Earth is one special planet.”   […]

It’s Networks All the Way Down

New ways of seeing biology are finding life is full of networks.  At both ends of the complexity scale – from humans to bacteria – complex interactions are the rule.  Two teams studying different phenomena had the same reaction – astonishment. Bottom-up complexity:  Who would have thought one of the simplest life forms has a […]

Amazing Cell Tricks: Contour Map Navigation

Watch a cell divide, and if things go well, it always divides in the middle.  How does a cell figure out where its middle is?  It follows its contour map.  PhysOrg titled its entry, “Dividing cells find their middle by following a protein ‘contour map’.”     Cell division, or cytokinesis, is a precisely-controlled operation […]

Leaf Vein Patterns Are Not in Vain

The vein patterns in a leaf approach perfection.  If the requirement is to reach every cell with the shortest and most efficient paths, leaves do it just right.  A team of scientists at Cornell, “inspired by plant leaves,” tried to build a network in a polymer substrate that would maximize distribution of fluid with evaporation-driven […]
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