The Evolution of… Come Again?
July 1, 2011
Science news articles speak freely of the evolution of this or that, but the fine print often shows a disconnect with the evolution explanation. Can one speak of the evolution of something that has not changed for millions or years? The details in the following stories raise questions whether anything significant has evolved in the […]
Cells Have Dimmer Switches
June 30, 2011
A metaphor has been emerging among biophysicists: cells have rheostats or dimmer switches. The metaphor implies that some cellular regulatory processes are not just on or off; they have continuous ranges of values that can be finely tuned for the need of the organism. It's been years since our first report that gene expression is […]
Avoid Confusion: Disbelieve Paleoanthropologists
June 28, 2011
If you care about the true history of the human race, don’t believe paleoanthropologists. They are clueless and confused. Every solution they come up with creates new problems, and their boastful announcements are likely to be overturned. That’s the gist of a commentary in PNAS by Bernard Wood, who wrote, “The origin of our own genus remains frustratingly unclear.” He ought to know; he’s an eminent paleoanthropologist himself.
Follow the Leader: Nature
June 21, 2011
Ever since biomimetics (the imitation of nature) gradually emerged around 2002 and really took off in 2005, it has not slowed down. Over 90 previous entries in these pages have reported teams all over the world seeking out natural designs for ideas. The reports have accelerated in recent years to the point where there is only space for short summaries that give a taste of the wide variety of engineering work taking inspiration from plants, animals, and even cells. You yourself might inspire some inventor. Here are a few more highlights from recent adventures in biomimetics.
Stem Cell News
June 20, 2011
Stem cells continue to be hot subjects for research. They are divided into two basic “political” parties: embryonic stem cells (ES), which raise ethical issues about tampering with human life, and adult stem cells (AS), found throughout the body, which have no ethical issues and show the most progress for therapy. The latter include the induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS), coaxed from adult cells to recover the ability to differentiate into multiple tissue types. Even though AS is leading, some scientists are still demanding federal funding for ES.
Inner Ear Hair Cells Overcome Friction
June 19, 2011
The cochlea, that spiral-shaped structure in the inner ear, is filled with fluid. In this fluid, tiny hair cells called stereocilia are positioned in bundles along the length of the structure. These bundles sense vibrations transmitted into the fluid from the bony levers of the inner ear. The vibrations picked up by the hair cell bundles, each tuned to its own frequency, mechanically transduce the sound impulses by opening ion channels that set up electrical impulses in the auditory nerve, that travel to the brain. But motion in fluid creates friction known as viscous drag. How do the hair cell bundles overcome it? Scientists have figured out that the hair cells in the bundles are not only finely tuned to reduce viscous drag, but actually to employ it for even higher sensitivity to sound.
Evolution Against Intuition
June 7, 2011
As a general theory of life, evolution promises to explain everything. Not all observations fit neatly into that assumption. How do evolutionists respond when surprising or counter-intuitive observations require integration into the theory? Sometimes the only answer is that they evolved because they evolved. These 10 examples (with encore) can provide case studies for the discerning.
Appreciate Your Gifts
May 29, 2011
We like to showcase stories of amazing animals, but humans are special, too. What animal can boast some of the qualities that science has recently reported?
The Eyes Have It: Pro Software
May 5, 2011
You have a biological version of Photoshop in your eyes. That’s what Richard Robinson, a freelance science writer from Massachusetts, said in PLoS Biology.1 The eye is not a camera, and the retina is not a piece of film. Indeed, the retina might be better likened to a computer running Photoshop, given the extent of […]
More Complexity in Simplicity Found
April 28, 2011
Primitive things aren’t. That seems to be a common thread in some recent stories that found more complexity in simple living things. Box jellyfish eyes: Jellyfish are among the simplest of animals, so why do box jellyfish have two dozen eyes but no brain? Some of these eyes have now been found to detect features […]
Seeing Is Believing, or v.v.
April 4, 2011
What you see is not what is out there in the world – not exactly, at least. Scientists have shown that your brain is tweaking the light coming in from your eyes and making predictions about what you expect to see. The “blind spot” experiment is well known to students. That’s where it […]
March 28, 2011
Copying someone else’s invention is a crime, but researchers in biomimetics are doing it with impunity and getting away with it. Leaf power: “Why come up with new ways to generate clean energy, when we can copy what plants have been doing for millennia?” That’s what led Daniel Nocera and colleagues at MIT to develop […]
Neurons Know What to Do
March 27, 2011
Neurons are among the most vital cells in the body: after all, your brain is largely composed of neurons. Neurons are transmission lines of information that keep a body in touch with itself and the world. None of the other body organs would work without neurons. The increasingly powerful tools of microscopy are allowing neuroscientists […]
We Are Filled with Viruses
March 26, 2011
Viruses have a bad connotation. We immediately think of the ones that cause disease: “I’ve got a virus,” you say when feeling under the weather. Actually, you have trillions of them all the time, even in the best of health. A single gram of stool sample can have 10 billion of them! What does that […]
Sensing the World Requires Intelligent Design
March 24, 2011
How do our bodies make sense of the external world? Through our senses, of course; at least they are the entry points of data into the mind. Behind those senses are remarkable mechanisms that we use but do not actively operate. The design in their automatic operations is slowly being revealed with better observing techniques. […]