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Your Rotary Engines Are Arranged in Factories

As if ATP synthase was not amazing enough, a team of scientists in Germany now tells us they are arranged in rows with other equipment to optimize performance. From electron micrographs of intact mitochondria, they were able to detect the rotary engines of ATP synthase and other parts of the respiratory chain. Their diagram in an open-source paper in PNAS looks for all the world like a factory.

Would Wood Evolve?

The woods. We call them by their primary substance: wood. But would wood evolve from plants lacking woody stems? Was there some evolutionary pressure to force plants to grow tall to reach the sun, so that lucky mutations found a way to produce lignin and the other building blocks of wood? What other mutations did the blind evolutionary algorithm have to find to organize the components into trunks for trees? Two discoveries, a fossil and a mechanism, offer evolutionists a way to enhance their woody story.

Cell Chaperones Keep Proteins Properly Folded

Imagine linking together a chain of 300 plastic shapes, some with magnets at various places. Then let it go and see if you could get it to fold spontaneously into a teapot. This is the challenge that cells face every minute: folding long chains of amino acids (polypeptides) into molecular machines and structures for the cell’s numerous tasks required for life. DNA in the nucleus codes for these polypeptides. They are assembled in ribosomes in single-file order. How do they end up in complex folded shapes? Some polypeptides will spontaneously collapse into their native folds, like the magnetic chain in our analogy. Others, however, need help. Fortunately, the cell provides an army of assistants, called chaperones, to monitor, coax, and repair unfolded proteins, to achieve “proteostasis” – a stable, working set of proteins. That army is so well-organized and complex, scientists continue to try to figure out how it performs so well in the field.

Earth Uniqueness Up; SETI Down

Our earth seems special – maybe because it is. Some astronomers are seriously considering that life might be rare or unique on our rare (or unique) planet. If so, hopes for finding sentient aliens on the celestial radio dial drop accordingly. The 50th anniversary of the first SETI search came, unfortunately for search enthusiasts, came at a time when funding is harder to get.

Weird Evolution Tales

Evolutionary theory leads to some fantastic tales. Since evolution is often presumed to be a fact that explains everything in biology, and is itself not subject to testing or doubt, everything in biology must be viewed through an evolutionary lens. This hard-core stance on evolution often leads to assertions and explanations that appear contrived, if not preposterous, to Darwin doubters. Here are some recent examples of weird evolution stories that made it past the logic inspectors simply because evolution is unquestioned.

Butterfly Swarm Buries Darwin

Billions of butterflies, flashing their gossamer wings with brilliant colors, have swarmed over Darwin, leaving him unable to breathe. Figuratively, that is. Illustra Media’s new documentary Metamorphosis, just released on Blu-Ray last week, leaves little room for Darwin’s theory, while making a powerful case for intelligent design. The film is already being hailed as a masterpiece.

Texas Press Perpetuates ID Myths

Some reporters refuse to listen. Advocates of intelligent design (ID) have clarified their definitions, their evidences, and their goals for years now, with numerous books, essays, web articles, papers and lectures, but the secular mainstream press continues to misrepresent their positions, and divert discussion from the issues to red herrings. A vote by the Texas School Board concerning supplementary materials to match science standards offered the latest example. The Associated Press story is filled with talking points and generalities; the Discovery Institute response is detailed and to the point, citing scientific journal references for support. Will intelligent design ever get a fair hearing in the mainstream media?

Body Language Says Design

Your body is speaking to scientists. Some of them hear it saying evolution. Others think it says intelligent design. What characteristics would each side expect? Most people intuitively know design when they see it. Here are three recent scientific papers that may help interpret body language.

Cell Operations Amaze, Inspire

A student's view of a cell under a light microscope is misleading.  It reveals only a tiny fraction of what is really going on.  Within that package of life, invisible to the student's gaze, complex machines work together in cellular factories.  Signals pass back and forth in complex networks.  Libraries of code are transcribed and […]

Plant Patterns Prolong Perplexity

Plants perform a wonder that has attracted the admiration of scholars from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome to modern times: the ability to reproduce mathematically perfect patterns. This ability, called phyllotaxis, can be described mathematically with the Fibonacci Series and the Golden Angle. The beautiful spirals in sunflowers, artichokes, cacti, dandelion heads and other plants continue to fascinate children and adults today, but those are not the only examples. Leaves on a stem can emerge in phyllotactic patterns like a spiral staircase, and depending on the environment, plants can switch patterns at different stages in development. Scientists have learned a lot about the players in the phyllotaxis game, but still do not understand the script. The details of how genes and proteins produce the patterns remain elusive.

Cells Have Dimmer Switches

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 […]

Complex Arthropod Eyes Found in Early Cambrian

Complex eyes with modern optics from an unknown arthropod, more complex than trilobite eyes, have been discovered in early Cambrian strata from southern Australia. The exquisitely-preserved imprints of the eyes in shale were reported by Lee et al. in Nature. The abstract started by quoting Darwin and affirming evolution, but then revealed evidence that complex eyes go further back in the fossil record than previously thought possible.

NOMA Still Isn’t Working

Science journals and websites continue to act as if religion is a subcategory of the science department.  If Stephen Jay Gould thought that NOMA was a good idea to keep peace between science and religion (see 11/05/2006), nobody paid any attention.  Scientism has taken over the world. Teen religion:  In “Teens Maintain Their Religion,” Medical […]

Political Science 101: Doubt Scientific Claims

Science goes through a chain of messengers from data to consumer. In between are fallible scientists, who speak often in incomprehensible jargon and often only partially understand what they observe, but often wish to gain notoriety with a major discovery (or need to publish or perish). Next, the institutional press offices decide what is significant and try to digest the jargon to layman level. The predigested stories are then delivered to science reporters, who sometimes sensationalize the filtered stories to make a name for themselves. Finally, the media outlets, prone to peer biases, dress up the products to grab the eyes of readers of their newspapers, magazines, or web pages. How much of the real scientific data remains at the end of this game of Telephone? Sometimes the bias is clearly evident, but often the product is delivered with all the presumptive authority of science. Once in awhile, a reporter comes clean about the dirty work involved.

Follow the Leader: Nature

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.
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