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Why Your Knuckles Pop

Science reporter Corey Binns occasionally decorates LiveScience with articles about the human body that are informational as well as amusing.  His latest is about cracking knuckles and creaking joints.  We have four kinds of joints (pivot, ball-and-socket, sliding and hinge), which he illustrates with diagrams that look like machinery.  The pops and creaking noises, he […]

Plants Use Electrical Sunscreen

Perhaps only a scientist, or a kid, would worry about how a plant doesn’t get sunburn, but it took elaborate scientific work for six months to find the answer.  EurekAlert told about research at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State that found how plants get rid of excess solar energy.  They use carotenoids, molecules responsible […]

Rubisco “Highly Tuned” for Fixing Atmospheric Carbon

Rubisco sounds like a brand of cracker or something, but it’s actually an air cleaner your life depends on.  It’s an enzyme that fixes atmospheric carbon for use by photosynthetic microbes and plants.  In doing so, it sweeps the planet of excess carbon dioxide – the greenhouse gas implicated in discussions of global warming – […]

Reach Out and Touch Some Robot

The news media were excited to report an advance in materials science last week that could pave the way for touchy-feely robots (see BBC News, News @ Nature, LiveScience and National Geographic News, for instance).  Two scientists produced a thin film with touch resolution comparable to that of a human finger, an order of magnitude […]

Foot Facts: Frogs and Flies Fulfill Feet Feats

How do frogs walk on wet leaves without slipping?  Eric Jaffe in Science News1 describes how they have dual-purpose footwear: a mucous film that holds on by wet adhesion, plus microscopic bumps that protrude above the wet layer to make dry contact.  Though a frog foot doesn’t appear as fancy as that of a gecko, […]

Plant Hula-Hoop Railroads Build Cell Walls

Solving a long-standing mystery about how plants build cell walls, Stanford scientists imaged molecular machines traveling along hoop-shaped rings around the inside of the cell.  Publishing in Science, Paradez, Somerville and Ehrhardt proved that cellulose synthase (CESA), a machine that manufactures cellulose composed of six subunits arranged in rosettes, rides like a rail car on […]

Beavers Achieve Environmental Reprieve

In what might be considered an unexpected convergence between geology and zoology, it has been found that beaver dams influence large tracts of land both above and below ground.  “Impact of beaver dams wider than thought” announced a headline on LiveScience summarizing studies by scientists in Rocky Mountain National Park.     The dams take […]

Protein Dressing Room Has Electronic Walls

Properly folded proteins are essential to all of life.  When a polypeptide, or chain of amino acids, emerges from the ribosome translation factory on its way to becoming a protein, it looks like a useless, shapeless piece of string.  It cannot perform its function till folded into a precise, compact shape particular for its job.  […]

Hummingbirds: Small Wonders

Do you enjoy watching the world’s smallest birds, right from your backyard?  Susan Healy and T. Andrew Hurly provided interesting tidbits about them in a Quick Guide to Hummingbirds in Current Biology this week.1     There are 330 species of these small flyers noted for their aerobatics and iridescent colors.  Typically, they weigh a […]

Q: Who Fights With Supercharged Harpoons?  A: Jellyfish

Weak, transparent, limp, and drifting in the water – who would have thought these creatures possess one of the most powerful weapons in the animal kingdom?  Jellyfish and hydras have stinging cells called nematocysts that fire so fast, no one has been able to catch the action of their microscopic harpoons – till now.   […]

Spiders Rappel Without Getting Dizzy

How can spiders drop straight down their dragline silk without going into dizzying spins on the way down?  It’s because spider silk has “shape memory” and a resistance to twisting, due to its unique molecular structure.  Scientists tested three strong threads for shape memory: Kevlar thread, copper thread, and spider silk.  The winner was spider […]

In Praise of Fat

Well, great balls of fat.  Cells have spherical globs of lipid (fat) molecules that never had gotten much attention nor respect.  They have been called lipid droplets, oil bodies, fat globules and other names suggesting they were just the beer bellies of the cell.  Not any more.  Scientists have been taking a closer look at […]

Why You Have Snail Shells in Your Ears

The inner ear has a part, the cochlea, that resembles a snail shell.  Why is that?  First, let’s talk about iPods and stereos.  In recent years, manufacturers have hyped “mega-bass” and other buzzwords that boast about how their devices beef up the bass frequency for that sound that rocks.  Scientists have wondered if the cochlea […]

Why Your Brain Has Gray Matter, and Why You Should Use It

Vertebrate brains have an outer layer of “gray matter” over the inner “white matter.”  Why is this?  “By borrowing mathematical tools from theoretical physics,” a press release from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory announced, two researchers found out. Based on no fewer than 62 mathematical equations and expressions, the theory provides a possible explanation for the […]

Health Depends on Robust Cell Machinery

When we think of health, we typically visualize the big things: firm muscles, energy, lack of a protruding stomach and the like.  Cell biology, though, is showing us how our health depends on the proper functioning of countless myriads of molecular machines.  Here are some recent samples from the science journals: Heroic Underdogs in the […]
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