Category Archives: Biology

The deep mystery at the heart of life on Earth

  Viviane Callier writes: All living cells power themselves by coaxing energetic electrons from one side of a membrane to the other. Membrane-based mechanisms for accomplishing this are, in a sense, as universal a feature of life as the genetic code. But unlike the genetic code, these mechanisms are not the same everywhere: The two… Read More »

The geometry of life

The New York Times reports: In June, 100 fruit fly scientists gathered on the Greek island of Crete for their biennial meeting. Among them was Cassandra Extavour, a Canadian geneticist at Harvard University. Her lab works with fruit flies to study evolution and development — “evo devo.” Most often, such scientists choose as their “model… Read More »

The mysterious inner life of the octopus

Martha Henriques writes: It was a big night for Inky the octopus. The day’s visitors had been and gone, and now his room in the aquarium was deserted. In a rare oversight, the lid of his tank had been left ajar. The common New Zealand octopus had been without female company for some time, sharing… Read More »

Ant colonies resemble neural networks when making decisions

ZME Science reports: New research from the Rockefeller University suggests that colonies of ants make decisions collectively, with outcomes dependent both on the magnitude of the stressor requiring a decision as well as the size of the ant group. The findings suggest that ants combine sensory information about their environment with parameters of their colony… Read More »

The octopus dreams of crabs

Laura Miller writes: John James Audubon was wrong. The great naturalist may have illustrated and compiled 1827’s Birds of America, a pioneering work of ornithology, but thanks to a series of sloppy experiments on turkey vultures, he insisted that birds can’t smell. This was taken for granted until the 1960s when two women scientists in… Read More »

Nature is in crisis. A UN report says short-sighted economics is to blame

Grist reports: When governments make decisions, economic considerations often trump everything else — human well-being, social connections, the health of the environment. According to a new report from the United Nations, this imbalance is driving the global biodiversity crisis and the human suffering associated with it. “Despite the diversity of nature’s values,” the report says,… Read More »

Viruses can change your scent to make you more attractive to mosquitoes, new research in mice finds

Mosquito-borne diseases are estimated to cause over 1 million deaths a year. mrs/Moment via Getty Images Penghua Wang, University of Connecticut Mosquitoes are the world’s deadliest animal. Over 1 million deaths per year are attributed to mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, Zika and chikungunya fever. How mosquitoes seek out and feed on… Read More »

What the anthropology of smell reveals about humanity

By Sarah Ives, SAPIENS Vivian,* a Washington, D.C.–based art curator, realized she had COVID-19 in December 2020. “I bought a tree, and I brought it home,” she recalls. “And I thought, This tree has no smell. What did they sell me? Is this a bad tree?” For Vivian, the moment involved more than frustration about… Read More »

Do we need a new theory of evolution?

Stephen Buranyi writes: Strange as it sounds, scientists still do not know the answers to some of the most basic questions about how life on Earth evolved. Take eyes, for instance. Where do they come from, exactly? The usual explanation of how we got these stupendously complex organs rests upon the theory of natural selection.… Read More »

Modern city dwellers have lost about half their gut microbes

Science reports: Deep in the human gut, myriad “good” bacteria and other microbes help us digest our food, as well as keep us healthy by affecting our immune, metabolic, and nervous systems. Some of these humble microbial assistants have been in our guts since before humans became human—certain gut microbes are found in almost all… Read More »