Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cool Bioscience Weekly Roundup

A few of the bioscience stories from the past week that I found interesting:

Astrobiology Magazine takes a look at recent speculation that plant life on Earth-like planets outside our solar system might be black.

Scienceroll has an interview with "Max Chatnoir" about his creation of Genomic Island and the genetic revolution in Second Life.

Matt Castle at Damn Interesting looks at the original "cryobiology" experiments that started in the 1950s by bringing frozen hamsters back to life.
The potential demonstrated by frozen-hamster research has yet to be fully realised, but perhaps one day Dr. Audrey Smith's groundbreaking efforts will lay the foundation for powerful new medical procedures. Indeed, a hot over-sized spoon might one day miraculously transform frozen human cadavers back into living, breathing, productive zombies to slave away in the mechanized underworld of the future. Until that long-hoped-for day arrives, perhaps– like James Lovelock– we can console ourselves with the idea that this pioneering work has helped broaden the meaning of life.
Reporter David Ewing Duncan gives a first-hand report to MIT Technology Review about chemicals and other treatments that claim to give your brain a boost. His conclusion:
Before long we might be drinking beverages laced with modafinil and other mild stimulants that have fewer side effects than coffee. It's likely that we'll also be slipping zappers onto the brims of our hats and flipping them on when we get spacey. But neither of these brain boosters is close to helping me, say, understand advanced quantum mechanics or write a symphony like Mozart. I'll have to muddle along being me for a bit longer.
Also in Technology Review, Emily Singer describes how scientists hope to use DNA sequencing and genetic engineering on variety of plants such as button mushrooms and eucalyptus trees to improve production of biofuels.

Wired talks about the genetic engineering of mushrooms for the production of pharmaceuticals.

New Scientist reports that biologist Keller Autumn and his colleagues at Lewis & Clark University have figured out how geckos stick to walls. What works for geckos hasn't worked for heavier machines.

"Scaling things up creates big problems," said Autumn. "We know it's a challenge none of the virtual gecko adhesives are capable of doing."

Nevertheless, he believes that with the development of strong carbon nanotubes and silicon nanowires that could used instead of gecko hairs, a comparable adhesive could become a viable option within the next 10 years.

In other nanotechnology news, bacteria have been harnessed as microscopic propellers.

Science Daily looks at the the "electric duets" used in the aquatic courtship of electric fish.

David Kerns, guest poster at Cognitive Daily, takes a look at what makes a movement seem "artificial." He looks at it from the movie special effects CGI angle, but the same issue arises when you think about human-alien interaction. How much of our perception would be governed by our unconscious expectations?
Body language is a critical form of communication for human beings. We can pick up a lot of meaning from physical movements, even when we only see a very limited amount of information about that movement. For example, most special effects animation is created by putting sensors on several parts of the human body to determine how body parts interact when the body is in motion. A human figure made up of just ten dots located in the different major body regions is enough to convey a wide range of emotions and complex physical movements. How does this work?
Did you know that 90% of the cells within us are microbes? Discover Magazine takes a look at the marvelous ecosystem that is the human body. In the same vein, MIT Technology Review takes a more in-depth look at "our microbial menagerie" and how they are important to our health.

Vaughan at Mind Hacks writes about the use of genetics to determine which psychiatric drugs "will be the most effective and least problematic."

Sandra Porter of Discovering Biology in a Digital World guides you through an animation of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR).

R. Ford Denison writes about a recent publication that looks at whether plants can recognize "kin".

At the Loom, Carl Zimmer explains how the resistance our ancestors evolved to a virus in the Pleistocene might make us susceptible to HIV today.

Finally, Philip Ball at nature.com reports on "open source" vs. patented parts in synthetic biology.

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