Category Archives: Biology

What makes life tick? Mitochondria may keep time for cells

Viviane Callier writes: Just as people in different places seem to operate at different rhythms, so too do different species. They age at their own rates: Some, like the fruit fly, race to adulthood so they can reproduce before their ephemeral food source disappears, while creatures like humans mature slowly over decades, in part because… Read More »

‘Species repulsion’ enables high biodiversity in tropical trees

Veronique Greenwood writes: For ecologists, tropical rainforests hold many enigmas. A single hectare can contain hundreds of tree species, far more than in forests closer to the poles. Somehow these species coexist in such dizzying abundance that, as naturalists and ecologists have sometimes noted, tropical forests can feel like botanical gardens, where every plant is… Read More »

Magnetism may have given life its molecular asymmetry

Yasemin Saplakoglu writes: Scientists have debated why life became homochiral [that is, having molecular asymmetry], and whether it needed to happen or if it was purely a fluke. Were chiral preferences impressed on early life by biased samples of molecules arriving from space, or did they somehow evolve out of mixtures that started out as… Read More »

Do spiders dream?

Carolyn Wilke writes: Young jumping spiders dangle by a thread through the night, in a box, in a lab. Every so often, their legs curl and their spinnerets twitch — and the retinas of their eyes, visible through their translucent exoskeletons, shift back and forth. “What these spiders are doing seems to be resembling —… Read More »

A basic form of numeracy is shared by countless creatures

Brian Butterworth writes: You might think of counting as something that people do involving the words one, two, three and so on. But we don’t require the use of these words to enumerate a collection of objects. Indeed, some languages do not have long lists of counting words. In studies of children who speak languages with a smaller set… Read More »

Another path to intelligence

James Bridle writes: It turns out there are many ways of “doing” intelligence, and this is evident even in the apes and monkeys who perch close to us on the evolutionary tree. This awareness takes on a whole new character when we think about those non-human intelligences which are very different to us. Because there… Read More »

Selfish, virus-like DNA can carry genes between species

Saugat Bolakhe writes: Biologists have understood the broad contours of the rules of inheritance for more than a century: that genes are passed down from parent to child within species. But in more recent years, they have also become aware of genes that go rogue and hop laterally between species — be they frog genes… Read More »

Modern ‘sixth mass extinction’ event will be worse than first predicted, says report

GrrlScientist writes: Tragically, the global mass extinction event that we find ourselves in the midst of will be even worse than originally predicted, according to a recent study (ref). The international team of scientists came to their conclusion after analyzing population trends data for more than 71,000 animal species — including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians,… Read More »

Wild parrot chicks babble like human infants

Science reports: Babies don’t babble to sound cute—they’re taking their first steps on the path to learning language. Now, a study shows parrot chicks do the same. Although the behavior has been seen in songbirds and two mammalian species, finding it in these birds is important, experts say, as they may provide the best nonhuman… Read More »

You really are a tick magnet

The New York Times reports: Most people try, or at least hope, to avoid ticks. The tiny arachnids spread a variety of harmful diseases as they expand their range to new areas. But two scientists recently set out on a counterintuitive mission to collect as many bloodsucking ticks as possible. “We had quite a few… Read More »

One photon is all it takes to kick off photosynthesis

Emily Conover writes: For photosynthesis, one photon is all it takes. Only a single particle of light is required to spark the first steps of the biological process that converts light into chemical energy, scientists report June 14 in Nature. While scientists have long assumed that the reactions of photosynthesis begin upon the absorption of… Read More »