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You Otter Hair How Otters Keep Warm

While on a sabbatical exploring Isle Royale National Park, John Weisel (U of Pennsylvania) decided to collect hair from various mammals.  He found otter fur to be particularly interesting, says a press release from U of Penn Health System.  Since otters don’t have a layer of fat, he wondered, how do they keep warm in […]

Saddle Up Your Algae: Scientists Harness Flagellar Motors

1805: Beast of burden of choice: oxen. 2005: Beast of burden of choice: algae. Science Now reported an unusual item: scientists have learned how to hitch their loads to a single-celled green alga named Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (see Yale description).  Researchers are actually calling their little teams “micro-oxen.” Scientists are increasingly interested in harnessing biological motors […]

Do Emperor Penguins Know the Meaning of True Love?

The nature film sensation March of the Penguins is capturing the public imagination because of its portrayal of emperor penguins in almost anthropomorphic visions.  Strutting upright in their feathery tuxedos, these Antarctic seabirds seem almost human: they love, they walk, they sacrifice, they grieve over the loss of a chick, they endure hardship bravely, they […]

Plant Communication: How Leaf Calls Bud

Plants communicate with themselves in email (07/13/2001), and the messages are being hacked by scientists.  Miguel Blázquez, writing in Science,1 discussed three recent studies that help solve the problem of how a plant, without a nervous system, buds into flowers all at once.  Two of the studies describe a couple of proteins that, working in […]

Body Scan: How Precision Engineering Aids Human Acumen

Often the most interesting science stories are the ones about us– how our bodies and minds function.  Actions we perform each day without much thought are made possible by precision engineering, sometimes at the molecular level.  Here is a selection of news briefs about human superpowers. Electrical engineering: We have untold myriads of electrical voltage […]

Cell’s High-Fidelity Proofreading and Editing Explained

—It’s unusual to have a story win both Amazing and Dumb awards simultaneously, but the reason will become clear.–ed.) Luisa Cochella and Rachel Green (Johns Hopkins) have published a primer on “Fidelity in Protein Synthesis” in Current Biology.1  This is a good article for cell biology enthusiasts to read, to learn more about the methods […]

Brain Is Faster Than the Blink of an Eye

You blink about every 4-6 seconds, says David Burr in Current Biology,1 adding to over 17,000 blinks a day.  Each time the world goes black for 100 to 150 milliseconds, as the eyelids attenuate the light a hundredfold.   Why don’t we see the world like a flickering movie?  We generally perceive an uninterrupted stream of […]

Bone Has Built-In Shock Absorbers with Molecular Springs

Your bones have little molecular springs in them that unwind and keep the collagen fibrils “glued” together when stress threatens a fracture.  See the description, with electron micrographs and diagrams, in a press release from UC Santa Barbara.  Said co-author Daniel Morse, director of UCSB’s Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies: “It’s especially exciting for us to […]

Sharks and Beavers Inspire Humans

Animals never cease to amaze us with their clever solutions to problems that plague human technology.  EurekAlert told of work being done by the Society for Experimental Biology to emulate shark skin as a self-cleaning surface for boats; National Geographic News has pictures of the new product, and a comparison with shark skin.  The navy […]

“Junk” Cells Maintain the Brain

The most abundant immune cells in your brain are not the neurons, but microglia – spindly cells that were thought to be static and immobile, the smallest of the glia cells that were once considered mere scaffolding to support the more important gray matter (see 11/20/2001 and 01/29/2001 entries).  When two scientists recently applied the […]

Sponge Bobs Upward in Respect

The simplest group of multicellular animals, the sponges, is not so simple.  “Researchers have long regarded sponges as the most primitive form of animal life,” wrote Helen Pilcher in Nature;1 “At first glance, sponges seem simple.  They have no gut, no brain, no obvious front or back, left or right.  Adults pump water through a […]

Small Wonder: Tubulin Visualized Up Close

Science Daily printed a neat story about microtubules, complete with a 3D visualization of how the protein components are arranged.  They are not just ropes or chains, but complex cylinders of precise parts.  Scientists are starting to get an idea of why they continually grow and shrink within the cell.  The process allows them to […]

Nose Knows More than Math Pros Suppose

The aroma of coffee, of a steak, of cherries – these smells are all composed of dozens if not hundreds of separate molecules, yet our brains immediately recognize them each as a coherent whole.  How does the nose and the brain process all this information?  This is the subject of an article in the Caltech […]

Reverse-Engineering Biological Networks Challenges Caltech Scientists

Evolutionists love to quote Dobzhansky saying, “Nothing in biology makes sense apart from evolution.”  An article in the current issue of Caltech’s magazine Engineering and Science,1 however, might change that proverb to, “Nothing in biology makes sense apart from information theory and systems engineering.”  The article makes no mention of evolution, but rather looks at […]

Wind Tunnel Experiments Reveal Dynamics of Hummingbird Flight

Scientists have found out that hummingbirds and insects don’t hover in the same way.  Insects support 50% of their weight on both up and down strokes, but hummingbirds support 75% on the downstroke and 25% on the upstroke.  This was published in Nature this week,1 and summarized on Science Daily.     The latter article […]
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