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Inner Ear Hairs Provide Optimum Sensitivity

The inner ear cochlea is lined with hair cells that transduce mechanical vibrations into electrical signals for the auditory nerve.  European scientists publishing in PNAS1 measured the sensitivity of inner ear hair cells to mechanical motion, and considering the noise caused by thermal motion, calculated that the ear operates at the optimum level.  The ear […]

Your Brain Learned Physics and Calculus Before You Did

Tilt your head to the right while moving to the left.  The neurons in your brain just solved Newton’s equations of motion, and performed complex vector calculus equations almost instantaneously.  That’s what four neurologists Washington University of Medicine (St. Louis, MO) essentially claimed in Nature July 29,1 describing how your brain interprets the information coming […]

Spaghetti in a Basketball: How the Cell Packs DNA for Controlled Access

The beginning sentence of an article in Current Biology1 can’t help but grab your attention: Imagine trying to stuff about 10,000 miles of spaghetti inside a basketball.  Then, if that was not difficult enough, attempt to find a unique one inch segment of pasta from the middle of this mess, or try to duplicate, untangle […]

Engineers Envy Diatoms’ Glass-Sculpturing Prowess

What is it?  An ornate crown?  A crystal serving dish cover?  A work of art?  The photo on the cover of the July 17 Science News, labeled “silicon jewels,” is a microphotograph of a diatom, a one-celled organism that lives in the sea and builds itself a glass house too small to see with the […]

You Have Motorized Sunscreens in Your Eyeballs

The pain of walking suddenly into a bright light sets up an amazing reaction, according to EurekAlert.  An alarm is sent to the fire station in the retinal cell.  There, protein firefighters hop onto a motorized shuttle on the molecular railway, and once firmly attached, are ferried swiftly to the scene of danger.  There, they […]

Sparrows Do the Long Haul Without Sleep

During their 2600-mile migrations from Southern California to Alaska, white-crowned sparrows fly day and night without sleep for days on end.  Apparently they don’t have to fly on automatic pilot.  Science Now tells about a University of Wisconsin psychiatrist who watched captive sparrows during their migratory period.  The birds seemed alert and in no way […]

Cell Cargo Speeds On Bidirectional Highways

As reported here numerous times (e.g., 06/14/2004, 12/04/2003, 04/14/2003, 03/28/2003, 02/25/2003, 12/17/2002, 09/26/2002, 03/26/2002, 02/01/2002, 12/06/2001, 08/17/2001, 06/19/2001, 02/21/2001), cells have an elaborate interstate highway system with molecular trucks hauling cargo back and forth.  Scientists have known that the cellular highways have polarities labeled plus and minus, and that molecular motors typically go one way.  […]

Spiderman No Match for Real Spider

National Geographic News took the occasion of the upcoming Spiderman sequel to investigate the superpowers of real spiders.  If you were spidy, you could: Jump 50 times your body length.  That would be like a man jumping 300 feet (the world record is 29 feet, 4.5 inches). Walk upside down on smooth surfaces, with 170 […]

Fungi Supply Plant Communities With Underground Nutrient Pipeline

Dig up a cubic yard of soil, and you may have disturbed 12,000 miles of an extensive network of passageways that supply plant roots with carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus.  This highway is made of fungi.  Their secret lives in the soil rarely see the light of day, but down in their cryptic, dark, subsurface world, […]

How Molecular Trucks Build Your Sensors

In the film Unlocking the Mystery of Life, biochemist Michael Behe, describing the intricacies of cells as we know them today, claimed that there are “little molecular trucks that carry supplies from one end of the cell to the other.”  If that seems an overstatement, you should look at the illustration in Cell June 11 […]

How Many Neurons Does It Take to See a Picture?

Israeli scientists publishing in Current Biology1 attempted to determine how many neurons participate in the representation of a single image.  At least a million was their conservative answer: probably more like 30 or 300 million or more.  They made careful measurements of neural activity when subjects were shown a face or a house.  In the […]

DNA Folds With Molecular Velcro

Many have heard how the inventor of Velcro got the idea from plant seeds that stick to clothing, but now Carlos Bustamente and team of Howard Hughes Medical Institute have found a velcro-like principle operating at a scale millions of times smaller.  Small proteins called condensins are involved in the elaborate folding that DNA undergoes […]

Hippos Sweat Their Own Sunscreen

You know that reddish fluid on hippo skin that turns brown?  It’s not just funny colored sweat.  Japanese scientists reported in Nature1 that it acts as a sunscreen and an antibiotic.  See also the BBC News report on this finding. 1Saikawa et al., “Pigment chemistry: The red sweat of the hippopotamus,” Nature 429, 363 (27 […]

Cormorant Eyes Rapidly Refocus in Dives Into Murky Water

You’re hang gliding over a lake, and you spot a fish below.  From your hovering position, you drop into a rapid, steep dive headfirst into the water.  Whoops; your eyes just went out of focus, and you lost your fish in the murky depths.  Too bad you’re not a cormorant.     Cormorants (a kind […]

Fish Antifreeze Provided by “Pseudogene”

Freezing water forms crystals that can rip and tear at cells.  Yet there are fish in arctic waters that can survive even below the freezing point of sea water.  They accomplish this by means of special “antifreeze proteins” that interfere with the damaging effects of water crystals.     Scientists knew about AFP (anti-freeze protein) […]
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