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Human Heads Are Shrinking

There’s no correlation between brain size and intelligence, and if anything, brains today have gotten smaller since the days of our Pleistocene ancestors.  That’s the gist of a report on ABC News Australia based on research at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research: “The genes that are thought to have helped humans evolve big brains […]

Bacteria Rule the World – Benevolently

We should love bacteria, not annihilate them.  Bacteria are our friends, according to Dianne K. Newman of Caltech:1 As a microbiologist, I’m appalled when I go to buy soap or dishwashing detergent, because these days it’s hard to find anything that doesn’t say ‘antibacterial’ on it…. It’s a commonly held fallacy that all bacteria are […]

Eye Sends Information at Ethernet Rates

Neuroscientists from Pennsylvania and New Jersey calculated the information rate of the eye.  Using guinea pigs (real guinea pigs, not humans as guinea pigs), they came up with a number and interpolated it for humans: In the classic “What the frog’s eye tells the frog’s brain,” Lettvin and colleagues showed that different types of retinal […]

Eye Can See Clearly Now

The cornea has no blood vessels.  That’s weird.  But it’s a good thing, or we would be looking through a network of threadlike strands all the time.  According to EurekAlert, scientists at Scheppens Eye Institute decided to find out how the cornea stays clear.  They found that it is heavily stocked with a special protein, […]

Why Your Knuckles Pop

Science reporter Corey Binns occasionally decorates LiveScience with articles about the human body that are informational as well as amusing.  His latest is about cracking knuckles and creaking joints.  We have four kinds of joints (pivot, ball-and-socket, sliding and hinge), which he illustrates with diagrams that look like machinery.  The pops and creaking noises, he […]

Evolving Consciousness Without a Soul

A paper tackling the theory of consciousness begins, Any scientific study of consciousness is based on the premise that phenomenal experience is entailed by neuronal activity in the brain.  Given this premise, an adequate theory of consciousness must be consistent with physics and with evolutionary principles.  Nonphysical or dualistic forces or processes must be excluded, […]

Rip Van Winkle Revives

A man in a coma 19 years has regained some brain function, surprising scientists.  Terry Wallis is relearning how to count and speak, and thinks Ronald Reagan is still president.  The story of his remarkable recovery has been reported widely in the news (see Fox News) and was featured on both News@Nature and Science Now.  […]

Reach Out and Touch Some Robot

The news media were excited to report an advance in materials science last week that could pave the way for touchy-feely robots (see BBC News, News @ Nature, LiveScience and National Geographic News, for instance).  Two scientists produced a thin film with touch resolution comparable to that of a human finger, an order of magnitude […]

Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week: Handy Dandy Modus Operandi

Charles G. Gross and Asif A. Ghazanfar win the prize for this gem in Science1 from a book review of The Sensory Hand by Vernon B. Mountcastle (Harvard, 2006): In one of the first systematic attempts to describe the differences between primates and other mammals, Thomas Huxley argued that the former are distinguished by virtue […]

Comparing Preferences for Pain or Gain

A group of researchers published in the Journal of Political Economy introduced the idea economic loss and gain incentives are innate, not learned.  To demonstrate this concept, the researchers presented capuchin monkeys two opportunities leading to two different outcomes for the monkey: pain or gain.  The capuchin monkeys had a tendency to choose the opportunity […]

Can We Not Perform Similar Functions?

Researchers from King’s College London claim their data evidences the “Human [thyroid] gland probably evolved from gills.”1  According to speculation, gills were internalized as the thyroid gland when marine life evolved into land animals.  The possibility for this comes from the similar functions of gills and of the gland: both act as calcium level controls.  […]

No Pain, No Gain Explained: Lactic Acid Supercharges Your Engines

The old paradigm: lactic acid buildup during exercise is like poison to your muscles, producing stiffness and agony.  The new paradigm: lactic acid is your friend, a fuel additive that helps keep your mitochondrial motors in top-notch condition.  Read all about it in a press release from UC Berkeley. What are you waiting for?  It’s […]

In Praise of Fat

Well, great balls of fat.  Cells have spherical globs of lipid (fat) molecules that never had gotten much attention nor respect.  They have been called lipid droplets, oil bodies, fat globules and other names suggesting they were just the beer bellies of the cell.  Not any more.  Scientists have been taking a closer look at […]

Why You Have Snail Shells in Your Ears

The inner ear has a part, the cochlea, that resembles a snail shell.  Why is that?  First, let’s talk about iPods and stereos.  In recent years, manufacturers have hyped “mega-bass” and other buzzwords that boast about how their devices beef up the bass frequency for that sound that rocks.  Scientists have wondered if the cochlea […]

Space Travel Too Hazardous for Humans

Astronomy magazine’s March 2006 issue contains a couple of sobering articles for those who like to dream of humans mastering the universe.  Asking “Will moon dust stop NASA?”, Trudy E. Bell described the dangers of space dust: “it sticks to spacesuits, wreaks havoc on equipment, and may be physically harmful,” she wrote, citing the experiences […]
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