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Intracellular Railroad Has Park-and-Ride System

Cells are like miniaturized cities, with elaborate transportation systems ferrying their cargo to and fro (see Feb. 25 headline).  Just like a city may have railroads, busses, cars and monorails, the cell has multiple kinds of transport motors: dyneins, kinesins, and myosins.  Scientists have learned that most of the roadways are like one-way monorails: actin […]

Elaborate Quality Control Governs the Cell’s Protein-Folding Factory

If it weren’t for quality control in our cells, we’d be dead.  That’s the gist of an amazing Insight article in the Dec. 18 issue of Nature.1  “Aberrant proteins are extremely harmful to cells,” the authors begin.  How harmful?  Here is a short list of diseases that can result from improperly folded proteins or failures […]

Future of Computers Lies in Harnessing DNA Circuitry

According to EurekAlert, researchers at University of Minnesota are making progress using DNA molecules for information storage and processing.  A DNA scaffolding that is being studied has the potential to hold information “1,000 times as densely as the best information processing circuitry and 100 times the best data storage circuitry now in the pipeline.” This […]

Why Workouts Work for Humans, Not Pickups

Space Daily began an article on space medicine with a thought-provoking comparison: Most machines don’t improve with use.  Old pickup trucks don’t gradually become Ferraris just by driving them fast, and a pocket calculator won’t change into a supercomputer by crunching lots of numbers.  The human body is different.  As weightlifters know, the more that […]

Flight Design Inspires Research

There are flying machines hovering over our planet that can turn on a dime, making rapid 90-degree turns.  Their instruments process images ten times faster than we can, and possess precision gyros that tell them how fast they are rotating in space – yet their computers are smaller than the head of a pin.  They’re […]

Sponges Use Fiber Optics for Interior Lighting

51; Sponges are among the simplest of multicellular organisms, but they contain an advanced human technology: fiber optics.  In a case of reverse biomimetics, scientists have determined that one of the products of proud human engineering was already at work in a lowly sponge.     Fiber optical properties of sponge spicules was already known, […]

Big Bird Was Scary

51; A giant fossil bird with a serrated-edge beak was found in Chile, reported Science Daily, PhysOrg, Live Science, and New Scientist.  The projections on its beak look like teeth but are not true teeth.  They probably helped the sea bird hold onto fish.  The artist reconstruction gives the bird a scary-looking demeanor.     […]

Plants Are World Travelers

We think of plants as stationary life forms anchored to the soil, but National Geographic News reminds us that they have remarkable ways of getting around via seed dispersal mechanisms.  Some fly through the air with parachutes or helicopters, some float in the water, and some rely on animals.  It appears that some exotic species […]

Harnessing Cellular Machines for Humans

The cell is loaded with molecular machines, so why reinvent the wheel?  or the whole truck?  Martin G. L. van den Heuvel and Cees Dekker wrote in Science that engineers ought to put the existing technology to work.1  The biological cell is equipped with a variety of molecular machines that perform complex mechanical tasks such […]

Amazing Animals on Parade

You have to admire animals.  They have tricks humans still need to learn, and possess technologies that engineers are striving to imitate. Spiders:  Don’t let the black widow scare you; it’s only a picture on Science Daily.  Scientists are amazed at how these animals produce one of the best dragline silks in spiderdom.  It is […]

White Blood Cells Walk to Infection on Tiny Legs

51; How do white blood cells know where to go when infection strikes?  The cells have tiny little feet and crawl like millipedes, against the blood stream, if necessary, following signals from the infection site.  When they arrive, more signals tell them where to slip through the cells of the blood vessel to get to […]

Genetics: Alternate Reading Frames May Be Common

Imagine a book written in a language where there were no spaces, and every word was three letters long.  Now imagine that you could get one story by starting at the first letter, and a different story by starting at the second letter, and another by starting at the third letter.  That’s the situation with […]

Teeth Resist Cracking

51; Here’s a story to share with your dentist.  You can crack a tooth, but it takes a lot of force.  This should be surprising, since tooth enamel is as brittle as glass.  The way the enamel develops, researchers found, absorbs excess energy and gives your teeth an extraordinary crack resistance.     “Human enamel […]

Your Inner Postal Service

51; Zip codes – those five- or nine-digit numbers on mail – have an analogue in every one of your cells.  Like a city,1 a cell has information to ship from place to place.2  To make sure that the manufacturing instructions for protein parts arrive at the appropriate assembly site, the shipper puts a molecular […]

Crows Use Tools in Sequence

51; Watch a one-minute video clip on the BBC News.  A New Caledonian crow in New Zealand figures out how to use three tools in sequence to get at food that is out of reach.  This amazing display of animal intelligence surprised researchers at the University of Auckland who already knew about the legendary problem-solving […]
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