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Smelling Evolution in Bird Genes

The zebra finch genome has been sequenced; it revealed some surprises.  In the chicken, only 70 of the 500 genes encoding smell receptors produce active proteins.  In the zebra finch, 200 do.  What does this mean?  According to a press release from Weizmann Wonder Wander at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, it means Darwin […]

Leapin’ Lizards: Giant Lizard Discovered

A large species of lizard unknown to science has been discovered alive and well in the Philippines.  The BBC News has a picture of the monster, a class of monitor lizard, that measures 2 meters from snout to tail.  That makes it about 2/3 the size of its famous cousin from Java, the Komodo Dragon.  […]

Snakes Alive!  An Evolutionary Tale

Blind snakes that look like worms: they rule the world.  They’re everywhere.  Where did they come from?  “Blindsnakes are not very pretty, are rarely noticed, and are often mistaken for earthworms,” admits Blair Hedges, professor of biology at Penn State University.  “Nonetheless, they tell a very interesting evolutionary story.”  So reported Science Daily.  National Geographic […]

Elephants Equipped with 4WD

An elephant is built like a four-wheel drive vehicle, say scientists from the Royal Veterinary College in London.  Unlike other mammals, which divide acceleration and braking between the front and rear legs, “power is applied independently to each limb,” reported PhysOrg from a paper in PNAS.1 “Elephant limbs operate analogously to four-wheel-drive vehicles,” the authors […]

Biomimetics: Science for Now

Do you want science that makes a difference in our lives?  Look at real plants and animals with real solutions to practical problems.  That’s where researchers are making amazing discoveries with practical spinoffs. Shellfish materials:  Strong, lightweight structures are coming, thanks to the imitation of oysters and shellfish.  PhysOrg reported that researchers at the University […]

Beetle Pulls 1,141 Times Its Weight

Ever watch those contest shows for the World’s Strongest Man?  Compared to dung beetles, they’re wimps.  Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London found that the strongest beetle tested could pull an astonishing 1,141 times its own weight – “the equivalent of a 70kg person lifting 80 tonnes (the same as six full double-decker buses),” […]

Search for Intraterrestrial Life Scores Big

Single-celled organisms may be tiny, but what they lack in bulk they make up for in volume and importance.  Scientists have been appreciating more than ever the ubiquitous presence of microbes on our planet and the roles they play to sustain the biosphere.     PhysOrg reported that half of the world’s life may lie […]

Fruit Flies: From Darwin to Design

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is an icon of evolution.  Since the 1930s these poor little bugs have been mutated endlessly and watched for signs of Darwinian change.  So far, though, only useless mutants, unable to survive in the wild, have been produced.  Recently, scientists seem more enamored with their design.  Two recent articles had […]

What Good Is Natural Selection without Progress?

Three papers recently claim to have seen natural selection.  None of them, however, identified a functional advantage that would have tied changes to novel benefits that could improve a species.  Yeast:  “New Type of Genetic Variation Could Strengthen Natural Selection,” trumpeted a headline in Science Daily.  It was about a study of two varieties of […]

Ida Not a Human Ancestor

If Ida known then what I know now: the media-frenzied presentation of Ida (Darwinius masillae) as a distant relative of human beings last year has been debunked.  “Many lines of evidence indicate that Darwinius has nothing at all to do with human evolution,” said Chris Kirk (U of Texas) in an article on Science Daily.  […]

Flight Design: Flies and Birds Get it Wright

Parse the following sentence for logical consistency: “Just as the Wright brothers implemented controls to achieve stable airplane flight, flying insects have evolved behavioral strategies that ensure recovery from flight disturbances.”  That is the first sentence from a paper in PNAS yesterday about the stabilizers in fly wings.1  Ristroph et al just compared design principles […]

Life Leads the Way to Invention

Here’s a factoid for the party: a cell is 10,000 times more energy-efficient than a transistor.  PhysOrg tells us that “ In one second, a cell performs about 10 million energy-consuming chemical reactions, which altogether require about one picowatt (one millionth millionth of a watt) of power.”  This and other amazing facts lead to an […]

Making Evolution Simple

Getting the vast diversity of highly complex creatures seems an impossible task for evolutionary theory, but some recent stories claim it’s not so hard.  Beak of the finch:  Darwin’s finches keep pecking their way into the media.  A new study claims that the wide diversity of beak shapes that have evolved can be explained by […]

Spider Hair: The Perfect Water Repellant Surface

To keep dry, make like a spider.  “Engineering researchers have crafted a flat surface that refuses to get wet,” began a press release from University of Florida.  “Water droplets skitter across it like ball bearings tossed on ice.  The inspiration?  Not wax.  Not glass.  Not even Teflon.”  The audience waits breathlessly for the answer.  “Instead, […]

The Brain You Use, and How It Uses You

Neuroscientists continue to find out amazing things about the human brain.  In some ways we are responsible to use our brains, but in other ways the brain does things to us.  If nobody has figured out where the dividing line is for thousands of years, it’s unlikely we will today; but the following findings can […]
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