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Secrets of the Spliceosome Revealed

A husband and wife team from Hebrew University has revealed the structure of the spliceosome, one of the most complex molecular machines in the cell (see 09/12/2002 headline), in more detail than ever before, says EurekAlert.  The spliceosome is responsible for cutting out the introns in messenger RNA after it has transcribed DNA, and also […]

Plants Use Quantum Mechanics to Harvest Light

In a News and Views item in Nature Sept. 16,1 Graham R. Fleming (UC Berkeley) and Gregory R. Scholes (U Toronto) explain how the light-harvesting centers of plant photosynthetic organs take advantage of quantum mechanics to focus energy on their reaction centers.  Their illustration shows a chromophore diagram from a photosynthetic bacterium.  Understanding energy transfer […]

Peering Into Paley’s Black Box: The Gears of the Biological Clock

William Paley’s famous “watchmaker argument” for the existence of a Designer, though intuitively logical to many, has been criticized by naturalists on the grounds that one cannot compare mechanical devices to biological ones.  Biological “contrivances” might operate on totally different principles than mechanical ones made by humans we know.     Michael Behe’s 1996 book […]

Take Out the Garbage?  No– Feed the Worms

Every kitchen needs one, says National Geographic News: a popular new device that turns garbage into fertilizer.  What is it?  A new high-tech electronic machine?  No, something more ancient: a worm bin.  Modern homes are finding old benefits in vermiculture, the art of composting garbage into plant food via worms and bacteria.  A small bin […]

Submarine Engineers Admire Penguins

An ocean engineer from MIT, Franz Hover, says “we never miss marveling at them,” speaking of penguins.  In the cover story of Science News,1 the submarine designer elaborates: Under the power and guidance of its versatile flippers, a penguin can move through the water faster than 10 miles per hour, turn almost instantaneously, and leap […]

Cooing Doves Set Muscle Speed Record

The dove: a symbol of peace, innocence, love, and gentleness, right?  Its cooing call is a soothing song to nature lovers.  Yet hidden in the throat of the dove is one of the fastest-acting muscles in the animal kingdom, report Elemans et al. in the Sept. 9 issue of Nature.1  The cooing song contains a […]

Archer Fish Learns the Laws of Optics

Imagine you’re a kid in a swimming pool, underwater with a squirt gun.  Lurking under the surface, you detect the wavy, distorted image of your big brother standing on the deck.  You sneak up, fire from below– and miss, because you didn’t know how to correct for refraction and distance through the air-water interface.  There’s […]

Researchers Record the Hum of Cellular Motors at Work

Researchers from UCLA placed a probe on a yeast cell and found that it vibrated at 1.6 kHz.  Further tests showed the vibration responded to temperature and to metabolic agents.  They think they have discovered the hum of cellular motors at work, reports Science News.1  “By the UCLA team’s calculations,“ writes Alexandra Goho, “molecular-motor proteins […]

Dragonfly Inspires Hi-Tech Hovercraft for Mars

Exclusive  Dragonflies possess not only compound eyes like other insects, but additional “simple” eyes called ocelli (sing., ocellum) with full-field retinas like mammalian eyes.  These function as a “horizon sensor/attitude reference system,” according to an engineer trying to copy it.  In an engineering project supported by the military and aerospace, Dr. Jaavan Chahla and an […]

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 […]
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