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Orion Nebula Revealed in Hubble Splendor

The Hubble Space Telescope’s new mosaic image of the Orion Nebula (M42) made Astronomy Picture of the Day.  For those of us who grew up admiring the old Palomar observatory’s photo of it, the upgrade is worth a thousand words.  This is a keeper.  The next day, APOD posted a portion of the image that […]

Observing Animals for Fun and Profit

Whether scientists watch Animal Planet for inspiration or not, they often are fixated on the wonders in the animal kingdom and want to understand and imitate them.  Here are some recent examples: Waddle of the Penguins:  Max Kurz at U of Houston enjoys watching cuddly penguins like most of us, but wonders how they waddle […]

These Feet Were Made for Walking (and Running)

We usually walk or run.  When walking, we roll from heel to arch to toe and rock our arms back and forth.  When running, we bounce up and down slightly while pumping our arms.  Did you know that many other gaits are possible?  Why do we use only two?  A team of specialists in bio-robotics […]

Bombardier of the Sea

Creationists have made much of the bombardier beetle (#1, #2) whose firing chambers would explode if the timing and mixture of ingredients did not work perfectly together.  Now, here is a similar case in the lowly sea slug.  EurekAlert described research by Georgia State University scientists, who found that the sea slug Aplysia mixes three […]

Evolution of the Christmas Tree:  Firs Tie Oaks in Fitness Race

In the struggle for existence, the conifers should have lost, because when angiosperms appeared, they had fancier valve jobs.  That’s the feeling of a story introduced by Elizabeth Pennisi on Science Now.  “Those of us who celebrate Christmas tend to take fir and spruce trees for granted around the holiday season,” she quipped, “But without […]

Undersea Christmas Lights Explained

There is a marine animal like a jellyfish that puts on one of the most dazzling light shows in nature.  Some ctenophores, or comb jellies, can send multi-colored pulses of light that radiate down their sides in a rainbow of colors.  If you’ve ever seen one of these on a TV nature show, you were […]

One-Celled Organism’s Spring Generates Enormous Forces

The pioneering Dutch microscopist Antony van Leeuwenhoek marveled at the miniature “animalcules” he witnessed darting through the water and spinning like a top.  One such marvelous protozoan was Vorticella.  The way it rapidly contracted and expanded on its little stalk must have reminded Leeuwenhoek of a spring.  It turns out, it is a spring – […]

Marine Unicorn Tusk is a Precision Sensor

Unicorns exist – in the north sea.  Not horses, these are marine mammals, called narwhals, a kind of whale that sports a unique spiraling tooth that gives them the appearance of a unicorn.  Scientists have puzzled for centuries over what these tusks are for.  Leading theories were that males used them for joisting to defend […]

Micro-RNAs are Cell’s Optimizers

“Unnoticed next to the main ingredients, microRNAs were considered to be ‘junk’ DNA, leftovers from millions of years of evolution.”  That line comes from an article on EurekAlert telling about how dramatically that picture has changed.  RNA molecules are now seen to be indispensable, with many roles in the cell.  This article talked about how […]

It Was the Year of Titan

Of the top 10 astronomy stories for 2005, Astronomy Magazine gave #6 to Cassini’s year at Saturn, and #1 to the Huygens landing on Titan last January 14 (01/14/2005, 01/21/2005).     The official science papers from that event are now in.  In a special online edition, Nature1 published 9 new papers and articles with […]

How You Tune In

Studies on rats have shown there are certain neurons that respond to changes in the background sound (see LiveScience story on MSNBC News).  We humans probably have these, too.  Rather than firing continuously, they search for changes in the auditory landscape that might be of interest: changes in pitch, loudness or duration in single sounds […]

Cell Ribosome Assembly Is Like Throwing Car Parts Together

Ribosomes are the protein-assembly machines in the living cell (11/24/2005, 07/26/2005, 01/19/2005).  A bacterium can have thousands of them.  They are composed of two large RNA complexes; the smaller one has 20 unique proteins that fit snugly in various parts of the apparatus, and the larger complex has even more.  How do the parts all […]

Eyesight: More Reasons to Be Thankful

So much is going on in your body when you look at that sliced turkey and raise it to your salivating mouth, a human mind can only fathom bits and pieces of the story.  Everyone knows the eye is the quintessential example of a complex organ, but Current Biology1 focused on one of the wonders […]

Nature Cover Exploits Intelligent Design While Inside Attacks It

The 11/24 issue of Nature included two very caustic letters attacking intelligent design, yet its cover story highlighted the promising new field of Synthetic Biology.  In one of the leading papers,1 David Sprinzak and Michael B. Elowiz of Caltech (see 06/25/2005 entry) described the synthetic approach in terms reminiscent of William Paley’s old Divine Watchmaker: […]

Eyes on the Prize: Science Sees Gold in Biomimetics

A fly eye made the cover of Science this week.1  It’s not that the compound eye is interesting to entomologists; MSNBC News picked up on the real message: “Animal eyes inspire new technology – Researchers learn optics lessons from biology.”  The cover story is about biomimetics, or reverse-engineering nature.  Scientists are looking for ways to […]
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