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Solar Eclipse Probabilities Calculated

The probability, on average, that the spot you are standing on will see a total solar eclipse is once every 360 to 375 years, says Joe Rao, a lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium, writing for MSNBC News.  Some cities, though, like Los Angeles, have to wait 1565.9 years, and some rare spots may not see […]

Molecular Motors Do Ballet

Scientists at University of Illinois studied dynein and kinesin – the tiny molecular trucks that ferry cargo inside the living cell – and found that they are not just individualists: they cooperate in a delicate yet effective performance.     Some scientists had thought that the two machine types, which travel in opposite directions, were […]

Go to the Roach, Thou Robotics Designer

Most of us can’t step on them fast enough, but of cockroaches, engineers at Johns Hopkins say “the pesky critters are excellent role models” – for robotics.  Classroom exercises include building obstacle courses for cockroaches and observing how they use their antennae to navigate, even in the dark.  Said one student, experienced in trying to […]

Bobble-Head Birds See Straight

Anyone who has fed pigeons in the park has probably wondered why they bob their heads forward and back when they walk.  It not only looks comical to us, it seems like it would give them a very confused sense of sight.  Leave it to scientists to go find out why birds bob their heads.  […]

Your Linemen at Work: DNA Search and Rescue Machine Imaged in Action

DNA is amazing enough, but its automatic error-correction utilities are enough to stagger the imagination.  There are dozens of repair mechanisms to shield our genetic code from damage; one of them was portrayed in Nature1 March 31 (see also analysis by Sheila David in the same issue2) in terms that should inspire awe.     […]

“Impressive” – the Memory Capabilities of Honeybees

“Over the past decade, work on the honey bee has provided growing evidence that insects are not simple, reflexive creatures,” begins a paper in PNAS by international scientists.1  “The brains of honey bees are very small, but their ability to learn and memorize tasks is impressive.”  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)     With clever […]

Wonders from the Animal World

Several recent stories prove that animals continue to amaze us with their tricks: Elephants:  The BBC News summarized a report from Nature1 about an elephant in Kenya named Mlaika that could make “convincing truck sounds.”  The elephant lived near a road and apparently learned how to do impressions.  This is the only other case of […]

Bacterial Engineering On Par With Higher Life

Bacteria aren’t the simple life-forms microbiologists used to envision, writes Zemer Gitai in Cell.1 Recent advances have demonstrated that bacterial cells have an exquisitely organized and dynamic subcellular architecture.  Like their eukaryotic counterparts, bacteria employ a full complement of cytoskeletal proteins, localize proteins and DNA to specific subcellular addresses at specific times, and use intercellular […]

Plants Produce Jigsaw Puzzles

The cells on a leaf interlock one another, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  In a manner similar to jigsaw puzzles, which can be lifted by the hand even though composed of individually-weak pieces, this gives the leaf structural strength.  How does this come about?  In the current issue of Cell,1 Jeffrey Settleman (Harvard) explains […]

Tissues Build Firebreaks to Avoid Disease

An article in the March 3 issue of Nature1 explains how tissues communicate to fight off infection.  As reported before, cells display samples of the proteins they contain on their outer membranes, a process called presentation.  Killer T cells wander around, like cops, looking at the presentations.  When they recognize alien proteins (antigens), they respond […]

Water Can Get Hotter than the Sun

When vacuum bubbles form in turbulent water, they can collapse violently in a process called cavitation.  Scientists reporting in Nature1,2 March 3 showed that the energy of cavitation can heat the plasma in the bubble to 15,000 degrees Kelvin – hotter than the surface of the brightest stars.  The resulting flash can sometimes be seen […]

If I Only Had a Brain…

The scarecrow didn’t know what he was asking for.  Look what Steven E. Hyman of Harvard says about the human brain and nervous system in the 8 March 2005 issue of Current Biology:1 The nervous system processes sensory information and controls behavior by performing an enormous number of computations.  These computations occur both within cells […]

Visual Aid: Chance or Design?

A TV commercial for the Honda Accord has been circulating around the net as a popular download (see Steel City’s Finest).  It shows the parts of a car, without human intervention, interacting in strange ways like a Rube Goldberg device, resulting in a finished car rolling off the ramp.  Garrison Keillor adds the punch line, […]

Clutch Enables Your Motors to Achieve 100% Efficiency

Those little ATP synthase motors (see 01/30/2005 entry) in your body and (in all living cells) made news again in Nature1 last week.  Scientists in Tokyo performed an ingenious set of experiments to measure the efficiency of the F1 synthesizing domain.  They attached a tiny magnet to the camshaft so that they could turn it […]

Honeybees Fly with Mental Maps

You can tell a honeybee to get lost, but it can’t.  You can even take it off its flight path, but it will find its way back.  Scientists writing in PNAS1 this week described experiments by a European team that wanted to test their navigating abilities.  They marked bees at feeding stations, then took them […]
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