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Your Brain Has Perfect Pitch

Scientists have a knack for asking questions about things most of us take for granted.  “The whole orchestra tunes up to an A note from the oboe – but how do our brains tell that all the different sounds are the same pitch?” asks Robert J. Zatorre in Nature.1  This is a puzzling question to […]

Body Scan: How Precision Engineering Aids Human Acumen

Often the most interesting science stories are the ones about us– how our bodies and minds function.  Actions we perform each day without much thought are made possible by precision engineering, sometimes at the molecular level.  Here is a selection of news briefs about human superpowers. Electrical engineering: We have untold myriads of electrical voltage […]

Brain Is Faster Than the Blink of an Eye

You blink about every 4-6 seconds, says David Burr in Current Biology,1 adding to over 17,000 blinks a day.  Each time the world goes black for 100 to 150 milliseconds, as the eyelids attenuate the light a hundredfold.   Why don’t we see the world like a flickering movie?  We generally perceive an uninterrupted stream of […]

Bone Has Built-In Shock Absorbers with Molecular Springs

Your bones have little molecular springs in them that unwind and keep the collagen fibrils “glued” together when stress threatens a fracture.  See the description, with electron micrographs and diagrams, in a press release from UC Santa Barbara.  Said co-author Daniel Morse, director of UCSB’s Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies: “It’s especially exciting for us to […]

“Junk” Cells Maintain the Brain

The most abundant immune cells in your brain are not the neurons, but microglia – spindly cells that were thought to be static and immobile, the smallest of the glia cells that were once considered mere scaffolding to support the more important gray matter (see 11/20/2001 and 01/29/2001 entries).  When two scientists recently applied the […]

Does the Brain Produce the Mind – and Ethics?

Two contrasting views on the mind/body problem appeared in science journals recently.  In Nature this week,1 Paul Bloom (Yale) reviewed The Ethical Brain (Dana Press, 2005) by Michael S. Gazzaniga, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.  Bloom felt the need to clarify the difference between theological and evolutionary views on the source of […]

Nose Knows More than Math Pros Suppose

The aroma of coffee, of a steak, of cherries – these smells are all composed of dozens if not hundreds of separate molecules, yet our brains immediately recognize them each as a coherent whole.  How does the nose and the brain process all this information?  This is the subject of an article in the Caltech […]

Supermen Living in Nepal

There is a race of people at the base of Mt. Everest capable of feats that defy scientific explanation: the Sherpas.  They can carry up to twice their body weight under three hostile conditions that would wear out most of us in a minute: (1) high altitude, (2) long distance, and (3) steep inclines.  Somehow, […]

Design Language Gushes Out of Article Describing Cell Quality Control

Here are the design words found in a press release from Michigan State describing the editing mechanisms of the cell DNA-to-RNA transcription process: high fidelity, quality control, inner workings, genetic coding, exquisite nanotechnology in living systems, genetic control, blueprint for life, industrial assembly line, conveyor belt, preloading, criteria, backs up to correct the error, sensed […]

Your Eyes Do Layered Image Processing

Computer users familiar with Photoshop and other image processing programs know that an image can be divided into “layers” for making color corrections, evening out contrast and enhancing details.  Your eyes do that, too, says Alan Gilchrist in Current Biology.1  He shows a stunning optical illusion to make the point: transparent chess pieces against differing […]

Do Neurologists Understand Brain Evolution?

Jane Bradbury wrote a feature piece for PLOS Biology recently,1 entitled, “Molecular Insights into Human Brain Evolution.”  Help us find the insights.  First, she marvels on how “humans sit on top of the pile when it comes to relative brain size.”  Then she marvels at how quickly the human brain apparently evolved compared to apes.  […]

If I Only Had a Brain…

The scarecrow didn’t know what he was asking for.  Look what Steven E. Hyman of Harvard says about the human brain and nervous system in the 8 March 2005 issue of Current Biology:1 The nervous system processes sensory information and controls behavior by performing an enormous number of computations.  These computations occur both within cells […]

Are Humans Still Evolving?

Science Now asks the question, “are humans still evolving?”  Comparisons of genes and chromosomes between different people groups from Asia, Europe and Africa are challenging the view that there is one human genome.  Some long stretches of DNA are inverted in some groups, and women so affected seem to have more children on average, even […]

Robots Don’t See as Well as You Do

Robot designers are still working on ways to emulate the human eye.  Just when you thought digital cameras were all the rage, we learn from EurekAlert they are miserable substitutes when put into the eye sockets of robots.  Robot-vision export Vladimir Brajovic explains: Often, when we take a picture with a digital or film camera, […]

Why You Breathe Deep to Sniff a Flower

It may sound like a 747 when your uncle blows his nose, but scientists at Imperial College found nose airflow to be more complicated than the aerodynamics of a jumbo jet’s wing, according to a press release by the reporting the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council .  They made a 3D model of the […]
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