Friday, 13 December, 2013
Your liberal arts education continues. How is it that a bird can sleep while perched on a branch, yet not fall off the limb? It comes down to the mechanics of their talons, or claws:
The avian talon works through a “pulley system of tendons,” according to the animal morphology blog Ars Anatomica, and it can lock into place. “The bird’s foot closes and grasps automatically as the ankle and knee joints are bent,” we read. “This grasp cannot be released until the limb is straightened again.” So, instead of expending precious energy holding the muscles tight – as you would if you were hanging onto a branch with your fists/arms – the system simply physically locks in place.
biology, birds, nature
Monday, 18 November, 2013
You’re not only what you eat, read, or watch on TV, you are very much a product of the environment around you. Your blood, fingernails, the curls in your hair, together with your teeth, all take at least a little of their composition from the elements and chemicals swirling about us:
When you smile, the gleam of your teeth obscures a slight glow from radioactive waste. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, atmospheric testing of thermonuclear weapons scattered so much radioactive carbon-14 into the atmosphere that it contaminated virtually every ecosystem and human.
biology, chemistry, science
Thursday, 14 November, 2013
If someone studied pigeons for ten years, as London based biologist Luke Taylor has, I guess they’d be able to tell one or two stories about them. Actually there’s quite a lot to be learnt here. Pigeons may not be the fondly looked upon of birds, but if you’re pressed for a babysitter you may want to rethink your attitude towards them…
A baby pigeon was nursed by a kind family who went on a two week holiday. When the family came back from the holiday the pigeon remembered who they were and followed them around whilst cooing cheerfully.
biology, London, nature, pigeons
Friday, 26 July, 2013
A recently discovered virus that is much larger than most other known pathogens of the same ilk, sounds to me like it could be big trouble…
In a study published in the journal Science, the researchers say that the Pandoravirus is so unique, it deserves its own classification. For one, the virus is twice as big as the second-largest known virus, and dwarfs the size of most others – it’s volume is 1,000 times that of the common flu. What’s more, of its 2,556 genes, just seven percent match genes already identified by science. That, they say, suggests the virus grew out of a completely separate gene lineage from its peers.
biology, disease, science
Monday, 17 June, 2013
US artist and illustrator Nickolay Lamm has created a series of images depicting how our heads and faces may look in the distant future as they evolve, and are possibly even engineered, to suit the conditions we may find ourselves in, such as colonies on planets further out from Earth, for example.
Kwan says that 60,000 years from now, our ability to control the human genome will also make the effect of evolution on our facial features moot. As genetic engineering becomes the norm, “the fate of the human face will be increasingly determined by human tastes,” he says in a research document. Eyes will meanwhile get larger, as attempts to colonize Earth’s solar system and beyond see people living in the dimmer environments of colonies further away from the Sun than Earth. Similarly, skin will become more pigmented to lessen the damage from harmful UV radiation outside of the Earth’s protective ozone. Kwan expects people to have thicker eyelids and a more pronounced superciliary arch (the smooth, frontal bone of the skull under the brow), to deal with the effects of low gravity.
There’s nothing to say this is what will actually happen, but Lamm’s work is certainly thought provoking.
art, biology, evolution, illustration, technology
Monday, 10 June, 2013
As if the prospect of identity theft isn’t bad enough, someone could really get to the heart of the matter, so to speak, if they managed to get hold of the genetic information contained in your genome:
What kind of private information could your genome data reveal? At this point, not too much, but this will change quickly. In the near future, it may not be difficult for someone with access to your genome data to make a good guess about your ethnicity, your skin color, your propensity to obesity, addiction, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit disorder, early onset cancer, or Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, or Alzheimer’s Disease, not to mention the identity of your real father. A hack of your Facebook or credit card account seems minor by comparison.
biology, DNA, genetics, privacy, science
Wednesday, 3 April, 2013
Sexual reproduction would have been more challenging for some species of dinosaurs than others. If you’ve never given the matter much thought, think for a minute about how the Stegosaurus – together with their sharp back plates and tail spikes – might have gone about continuing their lineage:
Heinrich Mallison, a scientist at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, has developed computerized models showing the numerous positions available to lusty dinosaurs. His software models proved that the male Kentrosaurus (a relative of Stegosaurus) had a major obstacle to overcome; namely, castration by the female’s sharp-spined back. “These prickly dinosaurs must have had sex another way,” Mallison told the Times. “Perhaps the female lay down on her side and the male reared up to rest his torso over her. Other species would have used different positions, like backing up to each other.”
biology, dinosaurs, sex
Monday, 1 April, 2013
A bottle garden, or terrarium, has been thriving inside a ten gallon glass container that has been sealed since 1972, and has not needed watering, pruning, or any other sort of maintenance, aside from a little exposure to sunlight, the whole time. Now that’s my idea of the perfect garden.
Photosynthesis creates oxygen and also puts more moisture in the air. The moisture builds up inside the bottle and “rains” back down on the plant. The leaves it drops rot at the bottom of the bottle, creating the carbon dioxide also needed for photosynthesis and nutrients which it absorbs through its roots.
biology, gardens, plants
Thursday, 14 March, 2013
Great care is taken by scientists at NASA’s Office of Planetary Protection to ensure that space probes sent to other planets and moons in the solar system are not carrying any traces of bacteria or microbes from Earth… seeding another planetary body with some sort of life-form from here would, after all, be the last thing anyone wanted.
A space vehicle we’ve sent to a distant planet to search for life touches down in an icy area. The heat from the spacecraft’s internal power system warms the ice, and water forms below the landing gear of the craft. And on the landing gear is something found on every surface on planet Earth… bacteria. Lots of them. Specifically spore-forming bacteria which can survive extremely harsh conditions, for years. If those spore-forming bacteria found themselves in a moist environment with a temperature range they could tolerate, they might just make themselves at home and thrive and then, well… the extraterrestrial life that we’d been searching for might just turn out to be Earth life we introduced.
biology, space exploration, space probes
Thursday, 7 March, 2013
A virus with its own immune system sounds like a medical nightmare – surely it could fend off the medicines sent to treat it – but such organisms, and there’s a few about it seems, could however be used to attack bacteria:
The scientists, led by Andrew Camilli, stumbled across the virus while studying the bacteria that causes cholera, known as Vibrio cholerae. Scientists have long known that V. cholerae gets infected by viruses. In fact, there’s some evidence suggesting that these viruses can bring cholera outbreaks to a halt. As the V. cholerae hosts multiply, their viruses multiply even faster, until they send the bacteria’s population crashing down. Camilli and his colleagues set out to survey these viruses, to see how many species were making life hard for the bacteria.
biology, health, medicine