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Building a Cell: Staggering Complexity

“The living cell is a self-organizing, self-replicating, environmentally responsive machine of staggering complexity.”  Thus began a special section on “Building a Cell” in Nature last week.1  The section with five papers explores what is known about gene regulation, cell organization and signalling.  It’s an opportunity, as well, to see what scientists think about what they […]

Molecular Machines Use Moving Parts

Research papers into the processes of molecular machines continue to reveal moving parts: “fingers” that open and close, ratchets that lock into place, and feet that move along tracks.  Here are a few samples from the voluminous literature that continues to pour from biophysics labs. DNA Polymerase I:  Scientific papers tend to be reserved in […]

Stem Cell News: Cancer Cures Coming?

Stem cell research has not been as prominent in the popular media lately, but researchers continue to make impressive strides – mostly with adult stem cells.  Science Daily reported the first success treating leukemia with stem cells from umbilical cord blood.  A researcher at the Hutchinson Center said, “The real ground-breaking aspect of this research […]

To Advance Technology, Make Like Nature

Scientists and engineers continue to find the most elegant solutions to practical problems by looking at plants and animals.  Here are a few of the recent examples. Wet computing:  Cells and brains do a superior job of complex processing, so why are our current computers singing how dry I am?  Not for much longer.  Science […]

Best Look Ever at Life’s Smallest Rotary Motor

All cells trade in energy currency called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).  The molecular energy pellets are produced in profusion by molecular machines with rotary engines.  The engines contain all the standard parts: rotor, stator, energy input, and torque production.  They are embedded in the membranes of mitochondria and run on proton motive force.  We’ve reported many […]

DNA Repair Requires Teamwork

As if the genetic code itself was’t incredible enough, researchers have been finding systems that repair it.  There are numerous pathways the cell can embark on to fix DNA errors.  Two key players were recently described in more detail in the journal Science.1     A damaged genetic code is worse than a book with […]

Simplest Microbes More Complex than Thought

The smallest, simplest cells are prokaryotes.  These are the bacteria and archaea that lack a nucleus and are usually considered primitive.  Scientists are finding, though, that they know many of the same tricks as the more complex nucleus-bearing eukaryotes.     PhysOrg reported that a species of Mycoplasma, among the smallest independent-living bacteria, is more […]

Microscopy’s Golden Age Is At Hand

Like test pilots breaking the sound barrier, microscope makers are breaking a light barrier some said was physically impossible: the diffraction limit.  Within the next 5 to 10 years, we may see more and more images of phenomena at the molecular scale – not with electron microscopes, but with light microscopes in real time.  What […]

Gap Between Origin-of-Life Research and Simplest Life Grows

Evolutionists are celebrating experiments that allegedly showed RNA chains can assemble in water – given nucleotides to start with (see Science Daily).  The suggestive steps over the gap from nonlife to life should be tempered with other discoveries that life is anything but simple.     New Scientist reported today that a “‘Simple’ bacterium shows […]

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.  […]

DNA Organization Is Fractal

How would you pack spaghetti in a basketball (07/28/2004) such that you could get to any strand quickly?  You might try the “fractal globule” method.  You form little knots, or globules, on each strand.  These become like beads on a string.  Now you fold the beads into globules, and then fold those into higher-level globules.  […]

Chemistry Nobel Celebrates Cell Complexity

A discovery rivalling the elucidation of the genetic code is the structure of the ribosome – the “molecular machine” that translates the DNA code into proteins.  Untangling the complexity of this multi-part system won three scientists the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (see BBC News).  The winners are Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas Steitz and Ada Yonath.   […]

Molecular Machines on Parade

Scientific papers continue to exhibit the exquisite mechanisms in the cell for handling all kinds of situations, through the operation of molecular machines.  Here are a few recent examples from this week’s issue of Nature (Sept 3, 2009). Molecular sieve:  What happens when a cell gets bloated?  Too much water entering a cell can increase […]

Your Throat Has Tasteful Antennae

Our airways are lined with cells that have beating oars called motile cilia.  Like galley slaves on a Roman ship, they beat in coordinated waves, setting up currents that propel dust and foreign matter out toward the mouth.  Scientists just found out another amazing capability of these motile cilia: they can “taste” toxic chemicals and […]

Plants Use Hourglass Mechanism

Plants need to know when to flower and produce seed.  They can read the sunshine, but what about plants living in shade or cloudy conditions?  It turns out they have two mechanisms for telling time: a light meter and an hourglass.  If the light meter doesn’t switch on, the hourglass lets the plant know it […]
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