“Synthetic Evolution” – Is it Really Intelligent Design?

Some Cambridge scientists engineered a four-character genetic code and made some proteins with it.  They guided the process at every step, but claim that they “evolved” this code.  Is that a fair use of language?  This strange admixture of concepts is found in today’s issue of Nature.1  The confusion began right in the title: “Encoding […]

Fruit Flies: From Darwin to Design

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is an icon of evolution.  Since the 1930s these poor little bugs have been mutated endlessly and watched for signs of Darwinian change.  So far, though, only useless mutants, unable to survive in the wild, have been produced.  Recently, scientists seem more enamored with their design.  Two recent articles had […]

Who’s In Control: Your Brain or You?

Do you have a self that controls your brain, or is thought a secretion of the brain, as Darwin claimed?  Do you use your brain, or does your brain operate you?  Who is in charge?  These are deep philosophical questions with a long history, that some people prefer to avoid, as in the common joke: […]

Flight Design: Flies and Birds Get it Wright

Parse the following sentence for logical consistency: “Just as the Wright brothers implemented controls to achieve stable airplane flight, flying insects have evolved behavioral strategies that ensure recovery from flight disturbances.”  That is the first sentence from a paper in PNAS yesterday about the stabilizers in fly wings.1  Ristroph et al just compared design principles […]

Life Leads the Way to Invention

Here’s a factoid for the party: a cell is 10,000 times more energy-efficient than a transistor.  PhysOrg tells us that “ In one second, a cell performs about 10 million energy-consuming chemical reactions, which altogether require about one picowatt (one millionth millionth of a watt) of power.”  This and other amazing facts lead to an […]

Hopeful Monsters and Other Tales: Evolutionists Challenge Darwin

Two recent articles show that Darwin is not invincible.  On one side he is being attacked by hopeful monsters.  On the other, he is being attacked by an atheist truth-seeker.  Neither of these attacks are coming from creationists. Return of the hopeful monster:  Tanguy Chouard raised eyebrows in Nature News with a headline that sounds […]

Molecular Highway Motor Comes into Focus

A beautiful new image of kinesin, a molecular machine that carries cargo on cellular highways, has been produced in greater detail than ever by a team at Berkeley and Brandeis Universities.  Science Daily published a picture and description of how kinesin works.  “Life’s smallest motor – a protein that shuttles cargo within cells and helps […]

Is Your Bod Flawed by God?

Are your body’s imperfections reasons for you to reject intelligent design and embrace evolution?  Professor John Avise (UC Irvine) thinks so.  His new book Inside the Human Genome was given good press by PhysOrg: “Distinguished Professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at UC Irvine, Avise also makes the case that overwhelming scientific evidence of genomic […]

Life Masters Physics

Living things, especially cells, have mastered the forces of advanced physics in ingenious ways.  This ingenuity sometimes inspires physicists to try to copy it.  Here are some recent examples: Photosynthesis and quantum mechanics:  Nature reported that plants take advantage of quantum mechanics in photosynthesis.1  “The photosynthetic apparatus of cryptophyte algae is odd – its pigments […]

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 […]

Woese Slays Darwin

The king is dead!  Long live the king!  Such were the oxymoronic cries of olden times when royal succession took place.  Has Charles Darwin been dethroned?  One would think so, after reading Mark Buchanan’s article, “Horizontal and vertical: the evolution of evolution” in New Scientist.  Buchanan sets the stage: Just suppose that Darwin’s ideas were […]

Fermi Paradox Reasserts Itself

Paul Davies, no stranger to facing difficult questions and proposing imaginative solutions, is coming out with a new book in April about SETI.  In it, he tackles the Fermi Paradox: if aliens are out there, why haven’t they dropped by yet? lists some of the ideas to be presented in The Eerie Silence: Renewing […]

What Value Do Evolutionary Explanations Provide?

We want value for our science dollars.  We know artists are into self-expression, but scientists need to offer more than just artistic prose: they are supposed to be in the knowledge generation business.  So we expect to gain one of two things from their scientific explanations.  One, we would like to gain practical knowledge that […]

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 […]

It Takes More than Eyes to See

We think of eyes as objects that see, but vision requires a whole system of parts.  One of the most important is the brain.  Without your thalamus, vision would be a hopeless jumble of jerky signals, reported scientists from the National Eye Institute.     Writing in PNAS,1 Ostendorf, Liebermann and Ploner found that the […]
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