Animal Plan: It Works Well
November 10, 2011
There were Greek and Roman naturalists who were intrigued by what they saw in the living world, but their observational tools were limited to their five senses. Modern science has expanded our senses far beyond the capabilities known just a century ago. We are privileged to live in an age of discovery that is revealing even more wonders beneath the surface of living things, wonders worth knowing about. Here are just a few.
Your Copper Pipes
November 8, 2011
Each of us is part metal. Our bodies contain iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, manganese, vanadium, molybdenum, selenium, and even nickel like the coins in our pockets or purses. Unlike the other common elements of life (carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus), our metals are not synthesized and recycled, but must be imported and handled with care. Copper is a good example of a biological metal that performs multiple useful functions – that is, unless something goes wrong with the machinery handling it.
Man, Mammals, and Ice Ages
November 7, 2011
What do scientists really know about early man and the creatures in his habitat? Some clues can be found by following science news in a historical fashion: that is, to look for reversals of previously-held opinions, surprises in fossils, and other evidences that scientists are not really making progress in their theories, despite the common […]
Engineers Tip Hat to Nature
November 6, 2011
It’s conventional in blogging to give an HT (hat tip) to a friend who makes you aware of a cool item. Engineers are giving hat tips to plants and animals as they seek for amazing new products that do wonderful things, just like the ones in nature.
Preventing Aging Through Darwin-Free Science
November 3, 2011
Will new discoveries in biochemistry lead to longer lives? There are hopeful signs that aging can be delayed, if not prevented. Whether or not that happens in our lifetimes (causing new worries for Social Security), scientists are learning amazing things about how cells work that should give us more reason for Thanksgiving.
Caveman’s Best Friend, Evolution’s Newest Upset
October 29, 2011
The evolutionary story of the dog-human relationship has had to be drastically revised in light of recent findings. The old story was that wolves tamed themselves into doggish behavior some 15,000 years ago in Asia by frequenting human garbage dumps. Evidence from caves, fossil prints, and the dog genome, though, has required a near complete overhaul of how our animal companions and their relationships to humans evolved, calling into question whether evolution was involved at all.
The Blind Men and the Ape Man
October 25, 2011
“We have all seen the canonical parade of apes, each one becoming more human. We know that, as a depiction of evolution, this line-up is tosh. Yet we cling to it. Ideas of what human evolution ought to have been like still colour our debates.” So said Henry Gee, editor of Nature. Are other icons coloring scientists’ views of human origins? How close are they to describing scientifically where we come from?
Your Motor/Generators Are 100% Efficient
October 14, 2011
ATP synthase astounds again. The molecular machine that generates almost all the ATP (molecular “energy pellets”) for all life was examined by Japanese scientists for its thermodynamic efficiency. By applying and measuring load on the top part that synthesizes ATP, they were able to determine that one cannot do better at getting work out of a motor – a motor that is also a generator.
Mighty Mitochondria Conduct Energy Exquisitely
October 7, 2011
None of us could live without mitochondria. These are the power centers ubiquitous in eukaryotic cells. They contain molecular machines in factories whose jobs are to generate and conduct electrical currents. The currents run turbines that packetize the energy in molecules of ATP, which are then used by most processes in the cell. New discoveries continue to fascinate scientists with how mitochondria work. Some scientists use their energy to find ways Darwinian evolution could build the machinery of life.
Human Cloning Advanced Despite Ethics
October 6, 2011
A researcher in New York obtained women’s eggs and conducted experiments on them that could lead to human cloning. While done in the name of regenerative medicine, the experiments on embryonic stem cells involved the destruction of a human embryo. This kind of experimentation raises multiple ethical concerns, but the researcher went ahead anyway, and scientific journals are hailing the advance, albeit with a palpable twinge of conscience about ethics.
Enjoy Your Body Gifts
September 29, 2011
When you eat right and exercise to do your body good, you may have little idea how much your body is giving back all the time. From recent scientific discoveries, here’s a look at a few mechanisms under our skin that not only keep us alive, but provide us with a shopping mall of good things.
Human Genome Individuality Adds New Questions
September 13, 2011
Mission accomplished: “The Human Genome Project” was in the bag by 2003. Now we understand how humans are genetically wired, right? Not so fast. Another human genome was just published, raising a whole new set of questions. The big issue is that we all have two genomes in one – one from each parent. Biologists knew this, of course, but for the first time, those two genomes were untangled from one another, and a lot of differences were found: two million, in fact. How do our two separate genomes behave toward each other? And if genomes differ this much, what does a concept like “the human genome” really mean?
Are Embryonic Stem Cells Obsolete?
September 11, 2011
Adult stem cells can apparently do everything embryonic stem cells can – and they are moving regenerative medicine forward faster, with more results. Since the use of human embryos for research is ethically repugnant to many people, what motivations remain to continue the practice? Here is a rapid-fire list of stem cell news this month:
Are Biological Clocks Like Paley’s Watch?
September 9, 2011
What is a clock made of? We think of springs, gears and moving parts made out of metal. But a clock could, in theory, be designed with almost any material. There are water clocks, sundials, and electromagnetic oscillators that all function to tell time. What difference does it make if the parts are made of liquids, laser beams, or plastic? What if a clock was made of biological material—would it be any less a device for keeping time? Would it surprise you that such clocks exist in your body and in every living thing?
Media Respond Predictably to Latest Ape-Man
September 8, 2011
A new law of nature has been revealed: the Law of Predictable Media Reactions to Missing Link Announcements. Once again, the science news media have gone ape over the latest bone story emerging from the paleoanthropology industry. In keeping with tradition, reporters are saying this will “rewrite the steps of our evolution.” And once again, a contender gets his 15 minutes of fame, showered in media hype. If the LPMR law holds, we can expect to see his claim discredited when the next contender gets his or her turn.