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Posts Tagged "Biology"

The Artful Amoeba

My Favorite Biology Finds in London’s Natural History Museum

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  This past year, I made a pilgrimage that every natural history lover should, if possible, make. I visited the Natural History Museum in London, the house that Richard Owen built, the home of the first dinosaur bones ever discovered, the first Archaeopteryx fossil, and a first-edition copy of  “On the Origin of Species”. If [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Mosses Make Two Different Plants From the Same Genome, and a Single Gene Can Make the Difference

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One of the most astonishing secrets in biology is this: every plant you see makes two different plants from the same genome. And, scientists recently reported, a single gene from an ancient, powerful lineage can make the difference. How can such a truth be so little known? In most land plants, including conifers and flowering [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Eight Legs? Check. Microscopic? Check. Cuddly? Check.

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Blogger’s note: I’m still away from the blog for a few weeks. In the meantime, here is another post from the Artful Amoeba archive. It originally appeared on October 4, 2010. I recently read a delightful leaflet on water bears which gave me a whole new appreciate for their anatomy (some of them have armored [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Deadly and Delicious Amanitas Can No Longer Decompose

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Amanita mushrooms — like all creatures — rot, but most of them can’t rot other things. The fact that they don’t rot other things is not news to biologists, who have long known that many, if not most, fungi have become professional partners with trees, plants, or algae. The fact that they can’t rot other [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

What Does a Marmot Sound Like?

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What happens when squirrels invade the tundra? Well, in one case, they got chubby, fluffy, flappy-tailed, and occasionally kinda cranky, sorta like a hydrophobic alpine beaver. Here in the Rockies, they’re called yellow-bellied marmots. Until recently, I’d rarely seen one and had never heard one call. They seemed to maintain a strict code of silence [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

A Final Fern Tribute, the Witch’s Hat Lichen, and an Unidentified Gelatinous Blob

It’s about time to get back to your regularly scheduled blogging. But before we leave the Southern Hemisphere entirely, let’s have one last Best of the Rest Post. It’s an assortment of stuff that didn’t fit elsewhere in my austral detour, but is nonetheless cool. I don’t know if this is the legendary New Zealand [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Proteus: How Radiolarians Saved Ernst Haeckel

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Ernst Haeckel had spent an unhappy year practicing medicine when his parents finally consented to pay for a year of scientific study and travel in Italy. It was 1859, and he was 25. He had discovered a passion for biology and a talent for art during his college years, but his parents had pushed for [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

When You Think “Hydrothermal Vents”, You Shouldn’t Think “Tube Worms”

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In 1977, scientists and the world were shocked to discover the first deep-sea hydrothermal vent community at the Galapagos Rift in the eastern Pacific (see a great story on this at NPR here). At this site, chimneys spewing black, superheated and chemically supersaturated water towered over fields of blood-red tube worms encased in white sheaths, [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Toxic Red Tides Can Attack By Air, Too

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Last week as I sat in a beach-side open-air restaurant in southwest Florida, I started coughing. Hard. I couldn’t stop, and I apologized repeatedly. Yet I hadn’t felt sick before, and the suddenness of the coughing was very weird. Our waitress came by as I was expressing my bewilderment. She said, “Oh, it’s the red [...]

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The Artful Amoeba

Shimmying Sheet Animals Sense Oxygen With Enzymes That Still Work in You

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Hidden away in calm, sheltered coastal waters is a remarkable little animal: a tiny transparent sheet of cells called a placozoan. Though composed of only a few thousand cells and no more than 25 micrometers thick (a bacterium is about 1 micromter thick), it’s an animal — the simplest we know of.
And hidden inside them, scientists found recently, may be a clue to the Cambrian Explosion

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@ScientificAmerican

The Banana That Gave Its All for Science [Video]

Magicians need to resort to trick props to pull a rabbit out of a hat. But we pulled DNA out of a banana with nothing more than a few household ingredients during a Scientific American Google Hangout on December 20. (See Scientific American Goes Bananas on December 20. No artifice or foolery was involved: just [...]

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@ScientificAmerican

Scientific American Goes Bananas on December 20

Editor’s note: Join the Hangout by visiting Scientific American’s Google Plus page at 1 p.m. Eastern on Thursday. That’s right. Using ordinary household items and a humble piece of fruit, we’re going to perform a seemingly magical feat of science while you watch on a Google Science Fair Hangout on December 20 at 1 p.m. [...]

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@ScientificAmerican

Want a Free Scientific American Subscription? Enter Our Iron Egghead Video Contest

Can you explain science with seven everyday items? We’re looking for some creative minds to say how a part of the human body works, or how a process occurs in the body, in two minutes or less. No fancy equipment is needed—a smartphone camera will do. Winners will be featured on the Scientific American web [...]

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@ScientificAmerican

Meet the Science in Action Finalists

Who will win the first $50,000 Science in Action prize, sponsored by Scientific American? This award, offered as part of the 2012 Google Science Fair, will recognize a student project that addresses a social, environmental, ethical, health or welfare issue to make a practical difference to the lives of a group or community, and that [...]

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@ScientificAmerican

2012 Google Science Fair Begins: What’s Your Question?

“As any adult knows, there’s one thing that any kid can do better than any grown up: ask questions. In fact, many studies have actually shown how kids are born scientists. If you don’t believe me, watch a baby first accidentally knock something off her high chair and onto the floor. She’ll look at it [...]

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But Not Simpler

Why Bigfoot is Unlikely Only If You Know What “Unlikely” Means

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What we don’t know is shaped by what we do. Whatever dark matter is, we will look for it assuming an accelerating, expanding universe. However cancer can be truly defeated, we will have to outsmart evolution to do so. And no matter what bizarre creatures are still to be discovered in our densest forest and [...]

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But Seriously...

Olinguito: New Kid on the Block

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The olinguito has become a science media darling this past week. And why not? It’s small and furry and doesn’t look quite like anything you’ve seen before. Unless you’ve seen an olingo. Olingos are relatively obscure relatives of the more popular raccoon. They live up in rainforest canopies of South America, and are mostly active [...]

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Compound Eye

The Spider Assassin

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Here’s a Belizean bug that doesn’t look like much: I’m serious. In the field the insect looked like so little I thought it merely debris in a disorganized spider’s web. I didn’t see the faint outline of a young assassin bug until the debris shuddered, ever so slightly. The dramatic contrast of the above image [...]

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Compound Eye

The Case of the Lopsided Spider

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I was entranced by this image when it appeared today in my facebook stream: Captured by the talented Malaysian photographer Liew Wk, the photo shows a developmental asymmetry in size between the anterior median eyes of this Asian jumping spider. I do not know what caused this imbalance. Perhaps each side is a molt out of sync, [...]

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Doing Good Science

A Hallowe’en science book recommendation for kids.

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Sure, younger kids may think the real point of Hallowe’en in the candy or the costumes. But they’re likely to notice some of the scarier motifs that pop up in the decorations, and this presents as unexpected opportunity for some learning. A Drop of Blood by Paul Showers, illustrated by Edward Miller. The text of [...]

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Doing Good Science

CD review: Baba Brinkman, “The Rap Guide to Evolution: Revised”

Baba Brinkman, "The Rap Guide to Evolution: Revised"

Baba Brinkman “The Rap Guide to Evolution: Revised” Lit Fuse Records, 2011 This is an album that is, in its way, one long argument (in 14 tracks) that the theory of evolution is a useful lens through which to make sense of our world and our lives. In making this argument, Brinkman also plays with [...]

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Doing Good Science

Movie review: Strange Culture.

The other day I was looking for a movie I could watch with instant streaming that featured Josh Kornbluth* and I came upon Strange Culture. Strange Culture is a documentary about the arrest of artist and SUNY-Buffalo professor of art history Steve Kurtz on charges of bioterrorism, mail fraud, and wire fraud in 2004 after [...]

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Expeditions

Counting Fish: Wrap Up and Conclusion

Since July 2012, I’ve been posting about a study of artificial reefs along the Texas coast. Scientists at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies in Corpus Christi conducted the research, funded by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, to determine whether these structures increase fish populations, and whether their location, type and [...]

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Expeditions

In search of the eastern tropical Pacific’s chlorophyll maximum

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Editor’s Note: Journalist and crew member Kathryn Eident and scientist Jeremy Jacquot are traveling on board the RV Atlantis on a monthlong voyage to sample and study nitrogen fixation in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, among other research projects. This is the third blog post detailing this ongoing voyage of discovery for Scientific American.com. The [...]

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Food Matters

Breaking Food Down

Original Image U. Huddersfield.

What is food? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry says “Something that nourishes, sustains, or supplies.” How beautiful. That statement captures much of the emotion and feeling surrounding food, yet it’s only part of the full definition. So where does food begin? As with most big questions, it depends who you ask. Let’s start down the reductive [...]

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Guest Blog

Hallmarks of Cancer 7: Genome Instability and Mutation

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All cancers share ten underlying principles, also known as the Hallmarks of Cancer. You can read about the first six here. The seventh is defined as genome instability and mutation. Cancer Cells Evolve Not all cancer cells are equal. They vary, they compete, and the fittest survive to pass on their genes to daughter cells, [...]

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Guest Blog

A plea for basic biology

These days, science funding is like a cage fight—utterly brutal. It’s even harder to compete for funding when you work on microscopic nematode worms that live at the bottom of the ocean. As an undergraduate at King’s College London, I watched with great sadness as the university abolished departments—first chemistry, then biological sciences. At the [...]

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Life, Unbounded

In Defense Of Metaphors In Science Writing

(James Gillray)

“Science is all metaphor” Timothy Leary We live in an elegant universe. The cosmos is like a string symphony. Genes are selfish. There is an endless battle between thermodynamics and gravity. Do you love these statements, or hate them? The reading world gets pretty divided over whether or not it’s okay to apply metaphors and [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Defining Life: Scientists Squirm, Chickens Carry On

It's a rubber chicken, in space, really (Credit: Earth-to-Sky, Bishop Union High School, CA)

What is life? Simple question, thousands of years of human intellectual torture trying to answer it. The truth is that ‘life’ really does seem to defy easy definition. We can say that it’s a natural phenomenon – yes, OK. Actually it might be better thought of as a number of deeply connected natural phenomenae, OK, [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Favorite nuclear flavors

Light or heavy? The nuclear choice

On the heels of #SciAmChem day I thought I’d pull a post from the Life, Unbounded archives that could use a little airing and has a chemical slant. It’s all about the isotopic favoritism that organisms, or at least some of them, display. I’ve not heard more about the particular, and surprising, heavy isotope preference [...]

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MIND Guest Blog

Plenty of Pheromones in the Sea

As we sat in my car outside a silent movie theater in Los Angeles, my friend anxiously opened a plastic bag containing a white T-shirt she’d slept in for the past three nights. “Does it smell like me?” she asked nervously, gesturing the open end toward my face. I stuck my nose into the bag [...]

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Observations

Toxins in Nutrition Supplements Still Escape FDA Oversight

Image: Womenshealth.gov

When young and middle-aged adults started showing up at the hospital with liver failure last spring, doctors in Hawaii struggled to find the thread that connected the patients. They found it in the form of a popular sports supplement, OxyElite Pro. The supplement was linked last May to severe hepatitis, but the U.S. Food and [...]

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Observations

A Simple Way to Slash Unnecessary Drug Prescriptions

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Treating the sniffles or a common cold with drugs is ineffective and unnecessary, yet too often patients are leaving their doctors’ appointments with a prescription in hand, helping to fuel the epidemic of antibiotic resistance. But one cheap and apparently effective approach is making inroads at a small number of Los Angeles clinics. A new [...]

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Observations

Brainy Watson Computer to Tackle Cancer and Other Medical Research

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After vanquishing humans on Jeopardy!, IBM says its Watson computer is ready to help save human lives. The company on Thursday announced it has created a new business unit specifically to advance Watson and deliver its artificially intelligent wisdom to research organizations, medical institutions and businesses so that they can process “big data” for detailed [...]

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Observations

What Ultramarathons Do to the Body

Image: "Mike" Michael L. Baird/Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard for many people to imagine running (or walking) a standard marathon of 26.2 miles, let alone topping that distance with a so-called ultramarathon that could stretch to as much as 100 miles or more. And researchers still know very little about what such grueling treks can do to the human body. A new [...]

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Observations

Are Genes Really Selfish? [Video]

Biologist Richard Dawkins coined the phrase “the selfish gene” with his best-selling book of the same name. “Selfish”, however, was perhaps an unfortunate word choice because genes lack their own will and can actually drive altruistic behavior. I explain how in our latest Instant Egghead video: More to explore: Selfish Genes Also Must Cooperate (Scientific [...]

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Observations

Winners of the Dance Your PhD Competition Revealed [Video]

For the past 6 years, Science magazine and its publisher, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have challenged researchers to explain their doctoral research through interpretive dance. This year, the winners of the Dance Your Ph.D. contest goes to Cedric Tan, a biologist whose postdoctoral research examines the relationship between sperm and the [...]

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Observations

Superstitions Fuel Violence against Tanzania’s Albinos [Video]

Being born without skin pigmentation in the U. S., a condition called albinism, does not usually shorten an individual’s lifespan. But in Tanzania, it can be a death sentence. While reporting in Tanzania this past fall as a fellow with the International Reporting Project, I spoke with several people with albinism and medical professionals who [...]

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Observations

My God, Man! XPRIZE Unveils Medical Tricorder Teams

"Jim, I'm a doctor, not an entrepreneur." Image of iPhone and Tricorder courtesy of JD Hancock, via Flickr

In the Star Trek universe, handheld medical tricorders became standard issue for Starfleet vessels as early as the mid-22nd century. Here in a little place we like to call “reality,” a competition seeks to help deliver such all-in-one health analyzers at least 100 years ahead of schedule. After more than 300 prospective entrants for the [...]

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Observations

Hospital-Based Infections Could Be Moving to Doctors’ Offices

MRSA Image: Janice Haney Carr, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/WIkimedia Commons

When patients check into a hospital, they expect doctors there to fix what ails them, but one in 20 patients seeking care at hospitals contract a health care–based infection. Those infections escalate care costs to the tune of billions of dollars. And many of them–one in five–are part of the scary alphabet soup of superbugs [...]

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Observations

Lasker Awards to Honor Neuroscience, Hearing and Philanthropy Work

Image: Lasker Foundation

  Let the Nobel Prize watch begin. Two areas of major medical discovery and two leading public health philanthropists were announced this morning as the winners of the prestigious Lasker Awards. The awards, currently in their 68th year, are typically looked to as a precursor for the Nobel Prize and are informally dubbed the “American [...]

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Octopus Chronicles

16 Arms + 6 Hearts = Love? Watch an Octopus Blind Date Live

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  This Valentine’s Day, two octopuses are getting set up on a blind date. And you can watch what happens. Ace, a male giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) between 40 and 50 pounds and two-and-a-half to three-years old, and YoYo, a female of a similar size and age, will be introduced for the first time [...]

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Octopus Chronicles

Baby Octopuses: Pickier Eaters Than Baby Humans

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Baby octopuses are notoriously difficult to keep alive in captivity—as in, almost impossible. Like their adult parents, they’re sensitive to water pH and temperature and all of that jazz. But unlike grown octopuses in captivity, the babies almost always die of starvation. Often just within a few days of hatching. We humans have tried feeding [...]

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Octopus Chronicles

Octopuses Survive Sub-Zero Temps Thanks to Specialized Blue Blood

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Octopuses’ oddities run deep—right down to their blue-hued blood. And new research shows how genetic alterations in this odd-colored blood have helped the octopus colonize the world’s wide oceans—from the deep, freezing Antarctic to the warm equatorial tropics. The iron-based protein (hemoglobin) that carries oxygen in the blood for us red-blooded vertebrates becomes ineffective when [...]

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Octopus Chronicles

Female Octopus Arms Reach Farther, Robot Research Group Finds [Video]

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Almost as fast as you can say “go-go-gadget arm,” an octopus can stretch its arm more than twice its normal length—without the help of any cyborg attachments. What’s more, according to new research, female common octopuses (Octopus vulgaris) are able to stretch their arms even more than the males—on average, three times resting length. This [...]

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Octopus Chronicles

Mimic Octopus Makes Home on Great Barrier Reef

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Of all the amazing octopus species out there, the mimic octopus, Thaumoctopus mimicus, is perhaps the most bewildering. While most known octopuses are able to change color and shape for camouflage, mimic octopuses can also impersonate other animals to deter would-be predators. They can contort their bodies and long, striped arms to look—and swim—like other [...]

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Octopus Chronicles

Octopuses Reveal First RNA Editing in Response to Environment

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Without genetic change we’d be nowhere—well perhaps just unicellular blobs kicking around in ponds. Alterations in DNA, such as point mutations, duplications, rearrangements and insertions from microbial neighbors, have helped humans and our deep-time ancestors climb out of the swamps and, in our case at least, start swimming in backyard pools. But these basic tools [...]

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Oscillator

The Taxonomy of Wonder

Wonder and amazement at the natural world inspire many blog posts, projects, and even careers in science, but it’s rare that you’ll see wonder break through the soul-crushing passive voice of the scientific literature. It wasn’t always this way, of course. In Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750, historians of science Lorraine Daston and [...]

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Plugged In

On this Blogging Business, and Regarding Scolding

Last weekend, the Scientific American blogger community blew up as only a blogger community can, over a somewhat complex issue. Many of us are blogging in response, and as much as I hate to I’m joining in the madness. I’ll try not to dwell on what actually happened, because it’s barely what I want to [...]

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Roots of Unity

Measure Yourself by the Standard of the Capybara

Are you more or less of a fish than this capybara? Image: VigilancePrime, via Wikimedia Commons.

We all know a lot of measurements about ourselves. You are some number of feet or meters tall. You weigh some number of pounds, kilograms, or stone. Your BMI is some number of kilograms per square meter, even though humans are not two-dimensional. You have some number of milligrams of cholesterol in each deciliter of [...]

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Symbiartic

Unveiling The Universe Within

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Almost five years ago to the day, Neil Shubin’s first book (and my first foray into illustrating popular non-fiction), Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body debuted. It was by all accounts hugely successful, far exceeding the publisher’s sales expectations in the first few months and going into multiple [...]

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Symbiartic

If Audubon Had Painted His Dreams…

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Have you ever tried to draw what you see in your dreams? Sometimes even the act of describing a dream in words makes it evaporate, as though imposing the order of grammar and syntax is too much for its fragile structure to bear. Tiffany Bozic does not paint her dreams, per se, but she does [...]

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Symbiartic

SciArt of the Day: What’s Under the Hood?

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Artist Mike Libby of Insect Lab Studio creates these one-of-a-kind sculptures using insects and antique pocket watch parts. Playing upon our perception of insects as somewhat robotic, Libby “lifts the hood” so we can see what really makes these bugs tick. Insect Lab Studios Mike P. Libby Portfolio (including a series – miniature satellites, full [...]

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Symbiartic

Spongelab: gaming the art of science education

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“What famous painting does this remind you of?” I was sitting in the offices of Spongelab Interactive about a month ago speaking with  Jeremy Friedberg, molecular genetics and biotechnology professor, now science education game-guru, and we were discussing the interactive opening image of History of Biology, an expansive mystery game. The image in question, above, contains [...]

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Tetrapod Zoology

Herring gull eats sea star, and other tales of larid gastronomy

My photography skills – if I can call them that – are pretty atrocious. While on a break in Wales recently, I managed to photograph a sequence in which a Herring gull Larus argentatus (one of our most frequently encountered gulls) swallowed a Common sea star Asterias rubens. Yeah, that’s right, get into the habit [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Diversifiers of the world – Unite!

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On my computer screen right now are two molecules. They are both large rings with about thirty atoms each, a motley mix of carbons, hydrogens, oxygens and nitrogens. In addition they have appendages of three or four atoms dangling off their periphery. The appendage in one of the rings has two more carbon atoms than [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Physics envy: The last emotion you ever want to feel

BICEP2 Twilight

This is a guest post by my friend Pinkesh Patel, a data scientist at Facebook. Pinkesh has a PhD in physics from Caltech during which he worked on LIGO, the gravitational wave detector. He then did research in computational biology at Stanford after which he moved to Facebook. Pinkesh is thus ideally poised to think [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

On the varieties of killing: Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction”

The Panamian golden frog is a species fighting for its survival (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

Elizabeth Kolbert combines the sharp observational powers of a field biologist with the literary skill of a seasoned and thoughtful writer. In her previous book “Notes from a Field Catastrophe”, she travelled to far-flung parts of the globe to dig up stories on the deleterious effects of climate change. In her latest book she combines [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Winning two Nobel Prizes, turning down knighthoods: The legacy of Fred Sanger (1918-2013)

Fred Sanger (1918-2013) (Image: The Telegraph)

British biochemist Fred Sanger died today at 95. He’s the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in chemistry, an achievement that is unlikely to be surpassed anytime soon. In his full but not overly long career – promptly ending with retirement at the mandatory retirement age in Britain – Sanger revolutionized both protein sequencing [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Is the age of scientific genius over?

There’s a short rumination in this week’s Nature in which Dean Keith Simonton, a psychologist from the University of California, Davis asks a question that often surfaces: Is the age of scientific genius over? Will we see another Einstein, Darwin or Newton or is the idea of the lone genius assiduously scribbling at his desk [...]

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The Curious Wavefunction

Theories, models and the future of science

Last year’s Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess for their discovery of an accelerating universe, a finding leading to the startling postulate that 75% of our universe contains a hitherto unknown entity called dark energy. This is an important discovery which is predated by brilliant minds and an exciting [...]

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