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The Evolution of Cultural Diversity

Darwinism can explain anything these days, including everything from war (see 09/16/2003 headline) to the Golden Rule (see 02/22/2004 headline), so why not culture?  All the arts, sciences, and languages are candidates for naturalistic explanation this week.  The self-proclaimed successors of Adam Smith, Mark Pagel and Ruth Mace, put forward their conjectures in “The cultural […]

Much Ado About Nothing

How much can you say about nothing?  Some people can say quite a lot.  One astrobiologist just wrote a large book about it: Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life by David Grinspoon (Harper Collins, 2003).     Larry R. Nittler reviewed this new book in the March 12 issue of Science.1  Nittler describes […]

The Evolution of Omnipotence

With a headline like “New Theory: Universe Created by Intelligent Being,” one might think that National Geographic News has gone creationist and rediscovered Genesis 1.  The opposite would be true.  The article by John Roach explores the radical thinking of a lawyer/scientist named James Gardner, who has just published a book, Biocosm: The New Scientific […]

Chameleon Tongue Beats Jet Aircraft

Did you know a chameleon’s tongue is so fast as it shoots out toward its prey, it reaches 50 G’s – five times faster than a fighter jet can accelerate?  Science Now describes how the chameleon does it.  Scientists only recently found out the secret with high-speed photography and careful examination of the tongue structure, […]

Rethinking the Geological Layers

One of the most formative ideas in Darwin’s intellectual journey was the concept of gradualism, the principle of “small agencies and their cumulative effects.”  This idea became a dominant motif in his philosophy of life.  Describing how the assumption of gradualism permeated his last book (on earthworms) shortly before his death, Janet Browne, in her […]

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 […]

“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 […]
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