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In Brains, Size Is Not All that Matters

Two recent science articles indicate that scientists should be careful before inferring intelligence from brain size (picture).  PhysOrg reported on work to uncover the genetic basis of microcephaly – reduced brain size in humans.  “The cerebral cortex in particular has undergone a dramatic increase in surface area during the course of primate evolution,” the article […]

Clever Animals Inspire Lookers – And Engineers

Incredible animals provide endless delights with their antics.  Even microorganisms are capable of amazing feats.  Sometimes these living things inspire inventors, too. Coconut octopus:  Tool use was supposed to be a late marker of primate intelligence as chimpanzees were evolving upward to manhood.  That’s so 1890.  Now that we know crows can use tools (05/26/2009), […]

Insect Wing Photocopied for Good

Biomimetics is the new science of imitating nature – but why not save a step, and just copy the design directly?  That’s what Aussie and British researchers did.  They wanted a self-cleaning surface that could repel moisture and dust, so they made a template of an insect wing.  And why not?  “Insects are incredible nanotechnologists,” […]

Soft Muscle Tissue Found in Fossil Salamander

More soft tissue has been found in a fossil – this time in a salamander said to be 18 million years old.  The article on PhysOrg called it “the highest quality soft tissue preservation ever documented in the fossil record.”     Unlike the previous discoveries of fossil tissue inside bone or amber, the recognizable […]

How a Biotoxin Evolved

What do shrews and lizards have in common?  Not much, but two species developed the same toxin in their digestive enzymes, giving them both a poisonous bite.  Science Daily said a harmless digestive enzyme became overactive through three related changes.  “What had been a mild anticoagulant in the salivary glands of both species has become […]

To Advance Science, Imitate Nature

Biomimetics – the imitation of nature – continues to be one of the hottest areas in science.  Here are a few of the latest findings coming from the world of living creatures. Fish robot:  National Geographic News shows a photo of the latest thing in underwater robotics: a robotic submarine modeled after the Amazonian knifefish.  […]

No Evolution in 58 Million Years

“Plant fossils give first real picture of earliest Neotropical rainforests,” announced a press release from University of Florida.  The fossils from Colombia show that “many of the dominant plant families existing in today’s Neotropical rainforests – including legumes, palms, avocado and banana – have maintained their ecological dominance despite major changes in South America’s climate […]

How to Copy a Butterfly Wing

Here’s what you have to do to copy a butterfly wing without destroying it: create compounds using Germanium, Selenium and Stibium.  Combine thermal evaporation and substrate rotation in a low pressure chamber.  Immerse in an aqueous orthophosphoric acid solution to dissolve the chitin.  If you are lucky, you can copy the delicate nanostructure of a […]

Stone Tools May Be Crocodile Stomach Stones

“Were crocodiles responsible for the stones we call tools?” is the title of a surprising letter to the editor in Nature last week.1  Patrick Dempsey (the archaeologist, not the actor) raised a possibility that paleoanthropologists and the journals have been making a big mistake for a long time.  He asked, “Could Nature have been unknowingly […]

Nature’s Designs Are Engineers’ Finds

Nature is a treasure trove of technology.  Though engineers have garnered inspiration from nature since the Wright brothers and before, it seems that in recent years there has been a gold rush to follow nature’s lead. Wet glue:  Worms may not be very inspiring to most people, but Science News reported that scientists at the […]

How the Girl Evolved Fear of Spiders

Today’s Evolutionary Just-So Story is brought to you by New Scientist: “Girls Are Primed to Fear Spiders.”  Once upon a time, while cavemen were out hunting and gathering, the women back home had to learn to avoid dangerous animals.  David Rakison of Carnegie Mellon University put this all into evolutionary terms for the rest of […]

Does Evolution Produce Winners?

Referees at UCLA are calling the shots in an unusual sport: the evolution game.  Mammals, birds and fish swept the medals.  The losers?  crocodiles, alligators, and a “living fossil” reptile called the tuatara.  According to the judges, the more the biodiversity, the more a group wins points; the more their species go extinct or remain […]

Nanotech Blurs Line With Biophysics

Machines on the molecular scale – in the literature these days, one needs to dig to find whether a news article is talking about man-made machinery or the living cell.  Both employ laws of physics to do work.  Notice how seamless the connection is in the following examples. Kinesin tightrope walk:  Scientists at Northwestern University […]

Dragonflies Are Marathon Champs

Step aside, monarch butterflies: some of your fellow insects beat your distance flying wings down.  The BBC News reported on findings by a biologist in the Maldives about dragonflies that migrate 14,000 to 18,000 km from southern India to East Africa and back – including 800 km over open sea.  How these insects can navigate […]

How Did the Turtle Get Its Shell?

The cover story of Science this week is about turtle evolution.  The caption on the cover illustration, which compares the skeleton of a turtle, chicken and mouse, reads, “The turtle body plan is unusual in that the ribs are transformed into a carapace, and the scapula, situated outside the ribs in other animals, is found […]
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