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Lichens: Two Designs Are Better than One

A lichen is a symbiotic organism comprised of an alga and a fungus.  PNAS1 reported a study that showed that “antioxidant and photoprotective mechanisms in the lichen Cladonia vulcani are more effective by orders of magnitude than those of its isolated partners” (emphasis added in all quotes).  Kranner et al. found: Without the fungal contact, […]

Loss of Mangrove Forests Exacerbated Tsunami Damage

Many seashores have a natural defense against the onslaught of a tsunami: the mangrove forest.  Dense thickets of these trees that tolerate salt water and line the coasts of many subtropical islands and continents can absorb much of the energy of killer waves.  It is entirely plausible that the enormity of the human death toll […]

Watch for Falling Ants

Did you know some ants are gliders?  When Stephen Yanoviak (U. of Texas) was studying insects in the rain forest canopy in Peru, he was struck by the fact that ants kept landing on his arm.  This launched his team’s investigation into gliding ants.  They took video cameras into the jungle and documented their unique […]

Octopus Arms Have Optimal Design

The tentacles of an octopus are soft and flexible, whereas bony creatures like us have joints that, while good for moving objects around, limit our freedom of movement.  Wouldn’t it be cool to have both?  An international team of neurobiologists, publishing in Nature,1 watched an octopus snare its food, using the flexibility of its tentacles, […]

Molecular Machine Parts Stockpiled in Readiness for Assembly

A team from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory has done a “4D” time-and-materials study of molecular machines, analyzing the process of assembly, reports EurekAlert.  They found that the cell stockpiles some parts and holds them in storage, but adds the crucial elements just in time. The researchers discovered that in yeast, key components needed to […]

“Bird Brain” No Longer an Insult

“Birds can perform amazing tasks beyond the reach of cats and dogs,” begins an article in the BBC News.  So pay a little respect.  You can still call your boss a bird brain, but had better quickly explain why that is a compliment.  See also the longer article on MSNBC News.     In a […]

Your Motors Are Turbo-Charged

Think how fast 6000 rpm is.  It would redline on most cars.  Yet you have motors in your body that make that speed look like slow-mo.     The Japanese have taken great interest in the cellular machine ATP synthase since its rotary operation was discovered in 1996 (see 12/22/2003 entry).  Maybe it’s because they […]

Venus Flytrap Is Snappy-Fast

One tenth of a second is all the time the fly gets.  The traps of the Venus flytrap, an insectivorous plant Charles Darwin called “one of the most wonderful in the world,” somehow responds to stimuli quickly without muscles.  The entire mechanism is still largely unknown.  A team of French, UK and American scientists set […]

Spinach Leaf: “One of Nature’s supreme examples of nanoscale engineering”

Under the peaceful summer sun, plants deal with a life-or-death situation: too much sun.  Those of us with legs can take cover, but a poor spinach plant out in the furrow must deal with the excess energy or die.  Since it usually doesn’t die, what’s its secret?  A process called photosynthetic feedback de-excitation quenching, if […]

Ribosome Unties the Messenger-RNA Gordian Knot

Cells needing to translate their DNA into proteins have a problem.  The messenger RNAs, the molecules that carry the genetic code from the nucleus to the translating machine called the ribosome, get tied up in knots.  How does the ribosome untie them before they can begin translating?  Takyar et al., writing in Cell,1 explored this […]

Lowly Plant Inspires Waterproof Glass

By adopting the lotus position, the glass in your windshield may become so water-repellant you won’t need windshield wipers.  That’s what an Ohio State press release says: “Ohio State University engineers are designing super-slick, water-repellent surfaces that mimic the texture of lotus leaves.”  The leaves of the lotus, or water lily, are covered with microscopic […]

Robots Don’t See as Well as You Do

Robot designers are still working on ways to emulate the human eye.  Just when you thought digital cameras were all the rage, we learn from EurekAlert they are miserable substitutes when put into the eye sockets of robots.  Robot-vision export Vladimir Brajovic explains: Often, when we take a picture with a digital or film camera, […]

Why You Breathe Deep to Sniff a Flower

It may sound like a 747 when your uncle blows his nose, but scientists at Imperial College found nose airflow to be more complicated than the aerodynamics of a jumbo jet’s wing, according to a press release by the reporting the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council .  They made a 3D model of the […]

Gecko Has Self-Cleaning Feet

Imagine self-cleaning, reusable tape.  No matter where you stick it, you can remove it and stick it on another surface, no matter how dirty, and it always acts like new.  The tokay gecko has achieved such a feat on its feet, according to a physicist and a biologist from Lewis and Clark College, Oregon, publishing […]

Subway System Found in Immune Cells

The announcement of a “third form of intercellular communication” hit scientists like TNT: tunneling nanotubules, that is.  Science Now reported that “Scientists have found what appears to be a whole new way for immune cells to communicate with one another: long, narrow tubes that enable them to connect and exchange molecules.”  These subway tunnels between […]
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