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“Utmost Precision” Found in DNA Repair Enzyme

The cell has many helper enzymes that can repair DNA damage.  One such enzyme, named MutY, has been described in the Feb. 12 issue of Nature.1  Reviewer Tomas Lindahl sets the stage: “Damaged DNA must be removed with the utmost precision, as mistakes are costly.  The structure of a repair enzyme bound to its substrate […]

How Do Plants Know When to Bloom?

Scientists like to use big words to impress the rest of us, so they have a term for how a plant decides when to bloom: vernalization.  But making up a word for a phenomenon is not the same as explaining it.     Everybody observes that plants seem to just “know” that spring is here, […]

Your Accelerated Eyes

When a beam of light hits your eye, a chain of events is set off that is really quite amazing.  Kendall J. Blumer (Washington University School of Medicine) describes a little of it in the Jan. 1 issue of Nature.1  You don’t have to understand the following description; just be glad you don’t have to […]

Life Runs on Waterwheels

The cells of every living thing are filled with molecular machines, and one of the most fascinating is a rotary motor called ATP synthase (see April 2002 back issue, opening paragraph).  This is a true mechanical/electrical motor, found in every living thing from bacteria to elephants and palm trees.  It is really two motors in […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]
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