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Sugar-Dried Blood: Just Add Water

A discovery might save lives on the battlefield, or any other place where blood platelets are hard to come by.  A simple sugar named trehalose can replace water in platelets and perhaps red blood cells.  This could provide an alternative to freeze-drying, making blood platelets (necessary for clotting) available with a shelf-life of months or […]

Cellular Cowboys: How the Cell Rounds Up Chromosomes Before Dividing

Two cancer researchers from UC San Diego describe mitosis (cell division) in the Mar. 4 issue of Nature.1  Pulling together the latest findings about this elaborate and important process, they begin by describing the puzzle that the cell needs to solve: At the beginning of mitosis, the process of cell division, chromosomes are organized randomly […]

Fiber-Optic Sponge Makes Deep-Sea Lamps

Last year, it was announced that a deep-sea sponge named the Venus Flower Basket possessed glass strands similar to fiber optic cables (see 08/20/2003 headline).  Now, a five-member team from Bell Labs has performed the first detailed optical analysis of the fibers.  They indeed found these structures to be “remarkably similar to commercial silica optical […]

Evolution Is Like the Matrix Revolutions

Matthew L. Albert enjoyed the Matrix movies.  In his review in the Feb. 20 issue of Science,1 he thought the movies were parallels of evolutionary biology.  The machines keeping the rebels alive are like retroviruses, he thinks: “These retroviruses are responsible in part for our evolution, while other retroviruses are attacking us.  So, who is […]

Learn to Speak: Toss a Spear

Human language evolved after our ancestors learned to throw a spear, according to William H. Calvin, in his new book A Brief History of the Mind: From Apes to Intellect and Beyond (Oxford, 2003).  Robin Dunbar is not too sure about this, in a book review in the Feb. 26 issue of Nature.1  Although he […]

Respect the Conch Shell

Engineers and materials scientists seem to never run out of examples in nature that should fill us with awe.  In the Feb. 19 issue of Nature,1 Rosamund Daw brings our attention to the construction ability of the conch shell: Giant conches are seldom treated with the respect they deserve.  Their impressive shells are prized as […]

Birds Are Memory Champs

We humans lose our keys and often can’t remember the location of half a dozen identical items.  “Maybe it takes a bird brain to find the car keys,” teases Susan Milius in the cover story of the Feb. 14 issue of Science News.1  Ornithologists have been intrigued with how birds remember where they stash their […]

DNA Is a Code Operated by Another Code

The discovery in the 1950s that DNA stored a coded language was amazing, but recently a new level of complexity has come to the awareness of biochemists.  Apparently, another code determines which DNA genes will be opened for expression and which should be suppressed.     The Feb. 14 issue of Science News1 describes the […]

Your Internal Motors Can Run Nanotech

In each cell in your body, and in that of every living thing, there exists a tiny motor named ATP synthase that Science News1 calls “the ultimate molecular machine.”  It converts electrical to chemical energy, writes Alexandra Goho, “with amazing efficiency.”  Now, Japanese have harnessed some of these motors (only 12 millionths of a millimeter […]

Happy Darwin Day?

Humanists hope to have a new international holiday by 2009: Darwin Day.  (Feb. 12 was Darwin’s birthday as well as Abe Lincoln’s, so it’s already set aside as a holiday in America, but promoters want this to be an international event.)  According to Robert Evans’ story in Reuters, the British Humanist Association believes such a […]

“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 […]

Darwinians Excel at Games

Martin Nowak (Harvard) sure got good press for his evolutionary game theories last week.  In Nature,1 he retold the glorious story of how he and Karl Sigmund met in an Austrian mountain cottage and applied the “prisoner’s dilemma” game to a new theory for social evolution.  The same week, in Science,2 as part of a […]

Comets as Cosmic Storks

Chandra Wickramasinghe and colleagues at Cardiff University have raised the bar on tale-telling ability.  They believe that comets splatting on earth can carry away germs of life that gradually spread farther and farther out, eventually escaping the sun’s pull.  Over time, they might spread life to other worlds.  They estimate that since the origin of […]

How Snakes Lost Their Limbs

Penn State scientists have a story for how snakes, which presumably evolved from lizards, lost their legs.  They had to burrow through tight places.     Part of their story involved disproving that snakes evolved from sea-going reptiles, like mosasaurs, explains the press release from Penn State’s Eberly College of Science.  They compared genes from […]

Proof of Life in Martian Meteorite Alleged – Again

Some Aussies are trying to scoop the Mars prize, it seems from a headline in the down-under Daily Telegraph.  While two American rovers are busily sniffing about for evidence of water (as a prerequisite for life) on opposite sides of the surface of Mars, the Australians are saying, “No worries, mate,” they already found Martian […]
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