Gymnastic Enzyme Acts Like Logic Gate

An enzyme named vinculin undergoes “drastic” conformational changes, reports William A. Weis in the July 29 issue of Nature.1  Vinculin, with over a thousand amino acid links, is important at membrane junctions for transporting materials in and out of the cell.  It helps cellular “glue” exit the membrane so that neighboring cells can adhere to […]

In the Last Days There Shall Be Scoffers

Current Biology this week contains two entries either attacking creationism or exalting Charles Darwin.1,2  Nigel Williams reports on the 100th birthday of Ernst Mayr (see 07/02/2004 headline), and his “tireless campaign against creationism”: Ernst Mayr, the renowned evolutionary biologist and champion of Darwin, celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this month by leading a scathing attack […]

Tau Ceti a Star for Life to Avoid

Tau Ceti, a star with a dust disk astronomers had hoped might be an example of a planetary system under construction, is more like a war zone.  A press release from the Royal Observatory calls it “Asteroid Alley – an Inhospitable Neighbor.”  Using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, the astronomers detected 10 times […]

Cell Technology Celebrated

Humans are just beginning to imitate the manufacturing techniques cells use all the time, right under our noses.  A book just came out about the subject, entitled Bionanotechnology: Lessons from Nature by David S. Goodsell.  It’s hard to tell if Christof M. Niemeyer was more impressed with the book or with the living machines themselves, […]

ID Book Survives Nature Relatively Unscathed

Considering the intemperate disdain intelligent design books usually receive from the major journals – when they are even noticed (see, for example, Nature’s review of a book by William Dembski in the 07/11/2002 headline) – a new ID book fared surprisingly well this week.  In Nature1 June 24, Douglas A. Vakoch (SETI Institute) reviewed the […]

Mystery of the Left-Handed Proteins: Solved?

Some molecules come in left- and right-handed forms that are mirror images of each other.  All biological proteins are composed of only left-handed amino acids.  How this could have come about in a primordial soup has long been a puzzle to origin-of-life researchers, since both L (levo, left-handed) and D (dextro, right-handed) forms react indiscriminately.  […]

NASA-Ames Gives Darwin Credit for Antenna Design Project

A press release from NASA-Ames Research Center claims, “NASA ‘Evolutionary’ Software Automatically Designs Antenna.”  Using artificial intelligence software, their approach converged on the best design.  The article explains: “The AI software examined millions of potential antenna designs before settling on a final one,” said project lead Jason Lohn, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, […]

Gene Regulation: When Nonsense Makes Perfect Sense

Nature June 31 reports on another use for “junk DNA.”  A portion of previously-considered “nonsense” genetic code, which does not produce a protein as does a gene, nevertheless has an important role: it regulates the expression of the neighboring gene.  This opens a whole new realm of function for portions of our genetic material that […]

Young Planet Around Young Star Claimed

A star estimated to be one million years old already has a planet in orbit around it, the Spitzer Space Telescope (Hubble’s counterpart for infrared astronomy) has found.  Astrobiology Magazine says this challenges old theories.  Alan Boss (Carnegie Institute) thinks this supports his disk-instability model for planetary formation, in which gas giants can form quickly, […]

Cell Requires Two Keys to Let Cargo Pass

For high-security environments, guards sometimes require two independent authentication methods.  Before humans came up with this trick, the cells in their bodies were already using it.  Itoh and Camilli explain in the May 13 issue of Nature:1 Our cells contain a series of distinct compartments that do different jobs and have different properties.  The membranes […]

Former “Junk DNA” Now Considered Essential

The term “junk DNA” seems to be fading with each new discovery.  Helen Pearson, reporting for Nature Science Update, leads with the line “‘Junk’ DNA reveals vital role: Inscrutable genetic sequences seem indispensable.”  They don’t know what it does yet, but the assumption is it must be important for evolution to hang onto it for […]

Science Bashes I.D.

The Intelligent Design movement took another lashing by the journal Science,1 in the form of three book reviews by Steve Olson, a Washington DC area science writer.  Olsen reviewed one pro-ID book, Darwin, Design and Public Education by John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, and two anti-ID books, God, the Devil and Darwin by […]

Origin-of-Life Researcher Leslie Orgel Interviewed

The May 4 issue of Current Biology1 contains an interview with organic chemist Leslie Orgel of the Salk Institute, who in 1974 published the book The Origin of Life on Earth with Stanley Miller of spark-discharge fame (see 05/02/2003 and 10/31/2002 headlines).  He considers his biggest mistake not thinking of the RNA World scenario first […]

Minimal Cell Modeled in Computer

“The basic design rules relating the regulation of cellular function to genomic structure is of broad interest,” begin three Cornell microbiologists writing in PNAS,1 and so they have turned their attention to the smallest theoretical living cell: A �minimal cell� is a hypothetical cell possessing the minimum functions required for sustained growth and reproduction in […]

SETI Researcher Analyzes Language Mathematically had a story April 22 about Dr. Laurance Doyle, who studies non-human communication with information theory.  The article is mostly about his study of whale and dolphin signaling, but mentions how information theory is related to the intelligence of the communicating entities: Doyle’s team uses statistical tools from a field known as “information theory” […]
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