Tag Archives | Biology

Researchers Create Basis For Computers Made From Living Biological Cells

Technology and nature to become indistinguishable, New Scientist writes:

Computers made from living cells, anyone? Two groups of researchers have independently built the first biological analogue of the transistor. It should make it easier to create gadgets out of living cells, such as biosensors that detect polluted water.

Drew Endy at Stanford University and colleagues have designed a transistor-like device that controls the movement of an enzyme called RNA polymerase along a strand of DNA, just as electrical transistors control the flow of current through a circuit. Because combinations of transistors can carry out computations, this should make it possible to build living gadgets with integrated control circuitry.

A similar device has been built by Timothy Lu and colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Such devices will be key building blocks in cellular machines, says Paul Freemont at Imperial College London, who was not involved in either study.

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Are Men Doomed To Go Extinct?

The Sydney Morning Herald on evolutionary scientists’ assertion that biological males as we know them are on the way out, due to the inherent flawed nature of the Y chromosome:

The poorly designed Y chromosome that makes men is degrading rapidly and will disappear, even if humans are still around.

Evolutionary geneticist Jenny Graves says that while the process is likely to happen within the next five million years, it could have begun in some isolated groups. Professor Groves, who first made the prediction some years ago, gave a public lecture on the subject for the Australian Academy of Science.

If humans don’t become extinct, new sex-determining genes and chromosomes will evolve, maybe leading to the evolution of new hominid species. “As long as something came along in its stead, we would not even suspect without checking the chromosomes,” she said on Tuesday. This had happened in the Japanese spiny rat, which had survived the loss of its Y.

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The Preformationist Explanation Of Reproduction And The Creation Of Life

Preformationism—one of the dominant scientific theories of the 18th century—is the belief that a tiny tree is hidden inside every seed, and a tiny person curled up inside every sperm. Via Wikipedia:

In the history of biology, preformationism (or preformism) is the idea that organisms develop from miniature versions of themselves. Instead of assembly from parts, preformationists believe that the form of living things exist, in real terms, prior to their development. It suggests that all organisms were created at the same time, and that succeeding generations grow from homunculi that have existed since the beginning of creation.

Pythagoras is one of the earliest thinkers credited with ideas about the origin of form in the biological production of offspring. It is said that he originated “spermism”, the doctrine that fathers contribute the essential characteristics of their offspring while mothers contribute only a material substrate.

The groundbreaking scientific insights provided by Galileo and Descartes seemed to support preformationism.

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More Evidence Of Existence Of Ancient Hobbit People

Via Popular Science, the newest research suggests that the three-foot-tall beings who lived in prehistoric Indonesia were not merely short or deformed humans, but a distinct species:

In 2003, researchers uncovered 18,000-year-old bones of a woman with a skull a third of the size of a human’s on the island of Flores, Indonesia. They subsequently found more remains belonging to up to nine similarly pint-sized prehistoric creatures. Nicknamed after the the J.R.R. Tolkien characters, they stood some 3 and a half feet tall.

A study published in Journal of Human Evolution last week shows hobbit wrists were markedly different from humans’, lending credence to the theory that they were a separate species from Homo sapiens. After studying the differences between the carpal bones of the Homo floresiensis remains discovered in 2004 and modern human and Neanderthal wrists, scientists says that hobbits weren’t just abnormally small humans.

Hobbits reached Indonesia by 1 million years ago, and went extinct 17,000 years ago.

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A Biopunk Manifesto

From last year's Outlaw Biology? Conference at UCLA, hacker Meredith Patterson on a manifesto for the biopunk movement:
The prevalence of citizen science has fallen. Who are the twentieth-century equivalents of Benjamin Franklin, Edward Jenner, Marie Curie or Thomas Edison? Perhaps Steve Wozniak, Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard [etc.] -- but the scope of their work is far narrower than that of the natural philosophers who preceded them. Citizen science has suffered from a troubling decline in diversity, and it is this diversity that biohackers seek to reclaim. We reject the popular perception that science is only done in million-dollar university, government, or corporate labs; we assert that the right of freedom of inquiry, to do research and pursue understanding under one's own direction, is as fundamental a right as that of free speech or freedom of religion. A Biopunk Manifesto by Meredith Patterson from SMA on Vimeo.
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How To Clone Animals

Vice visits a clone farm to see the process at work. For now, the intended result is to establish a way of creating superior livestock which are resistant to disease. But perhaps in a few decades this will serve as a look at how babies are made:
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A Science In Search Of A Subject

"Water's Early Journey in a Solar System" (Artist Rendition)

NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ever wondered if we are not alone in the universe?

As this truly nerdgasmic crash-course by Robert A. Freitas Jr speculates, the scope for alien life could be positively astronomical.  Via xenology.info:

Xenology is the study of all aspects of life, intelligence, and civilization indigenous to environments other than Earth. Over the last three decades xenology has advanced rapidly on many fronts. Biochemists have studied the origin of life on this planet, knowing that if they can duplicate the major early steps of “abiogenesis” in the laboratory then the evolution of alien life is a very likely – maybe inevitable – event. NASA biologists have spent much time developing sophisticated life detection instruments such as the miniature biochemical automated test laboratories carried to Mars by Viking in 1976. There is growing interest in SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, in which radio scientists look for powerful transmissions or leakage radiation from advanced extraterrestrial supercivilizations.

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Cloning Of Dinosaurs And Ancient Animals Proven Impossible

Humanity will never be able to resurrect the creatures of long ago. New research suggests that even under ideal conditions, DNA becomes unreadable after a mere 1.5 million years. Thus all the dino bones and amberized insects in the world are useless for cloning purposes, Scientific American writes:

Palaeogeneticists led by Morten Allentoft in Perth, Australia, examined 158 DNA-containing leg bones belonging to three species of extinct giant birds. By comparing the specimens’ ages and degrees of DNA degradation, the researchers calculated that DNA has a half-life of 521 years. That means that after 521 years, half of the bonds between nucleotides in the backbone of a sample would have broken; after another 521 years half of the remaining bonds would have gone; and so on.

The team predicts that even in a bone at an ideal preservation temperature of −5 ºC, effectively every bond would be destroyed after a maximum of 6.8 million years.

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Simple, Brainless Organisms Store Memories Externally

Barely-alive creatures, such as the slime mold at right, are able to produce “memories” — they just store them in their physical surroundings rather than a brain, Ars Technica has the latest news on the secret lives of simple beings:

Is it possible to know where you’ve been when you don’t have a brain? Depending on your definition of “know,” the answer may be yes. Researchers have shown that the slime mold, an organism without anything that resembles a nervous system (or, for that matter, individual cells), is capable of impressive feats of navigation. It can even link food sources in optimally spaced networks. Now, researchers have shown it’s capable of filling its environment with indications of where it has already searched for food, allowing it to “remember” its past efforts and focus its attention on routes it hasn’t explored.

In the course of studying the slime mold, some researchers noticed that the slime mold would avoid any areas covered in slime.

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