Category Archives: Biology

DNA offers surprises on how Polynesia was settled

Science reports: The peopling of Polynesia was a stunning achievement: Beginning around 800 C.E., audacious Polynesian navigators in double-hulled sailing canoes used the stars and their knowledge of the waves to discover specks of land separated by thousands of kilometers of open ocean. Within just a few centuries, they had populated most of the Pacific… Read More »

The new science on how we burn calories

Kim Tingley writes: It’s simple, we are often told: All you have to do to maintain a healthy weight is ensure that the number of calories you ingest stays the same as the number of calories you expend. If you take in more calories, or energy, than you use, you gain weight; if the output… Read More »

A quantitative theory unlocks the mysteries of why we sleep

Van Savage and Geoffrey West write: Humans have long wondered why we sleep. A well-rested prehistoric mind probably pondered the question, long before Galileo thought to predict the period of the pendulum or to understand how fast objects fall. Why must we put ourselves into this potentially endangering state, one that consumes about a third… Read More »

Human gut bacteria could be accumulating our medications without our understanding the impact

Science Alert reports: When we take medicine, there are often unintended consequences. In the most common scenarios, these are known as side effects. But ‘side effects’ don’t begin to encompass the multitude of strange things that can happen when various compounds enter our system. Sometimes, these unintended consequences occur after drugs physically exit the body,… Read More »

On the evidence for fungal intelligence

Nicholas P Money writes: Mushrooms and other kinds of fungi are often associated with witchcraft and are the subjects of longstanding superstitions. Witches dance inside fairy rings of mushrooms according to German folklore, while a French fable warns that anyone foolish enough to step inside these ‘sorcerer’s rings’ will be cursed by enormous toads with… Read More »

Can progressives be persuaded that genetics matters?

Gideon Lewis-Kraus writes: [Kathryn Paige] Harden understands herself to be waging a two-front campaign. On her left are those inclined to insist that genes don’t really matter; on her right are those who suspect that genes are, in fact, the only things that matter. The history of behavior genetics is the story of each generation’s… Read More »

The complex truth about ‘junk DNA’

Jake Buehler writes: Imagine the human genome as a string stretching out for the length of a football field, with all the genes that encode proteins clustered at the end near your feet. Take two big steps forward; all the protein information is now behind you. The human genome has three billion base pairs in… Read More »

Cats’ genomes are surprisingly similar to humans’

Katherine J. Wu writes: The genome of a mouse is, structurally speaking, a chaotic place. At some point in its evolutionary past, the mouse shuffled its ancestral genome like a deck of cards, futzing up the architecture that makes most other mammalian genomes look, well, mammalian. “I always consider it the greatest outlier,” Bill Murphy,… Read More »

DNA has four nucleotide bases. Some viruses swap in a fifth

Jordana Cepelewicz writes: All life on Earth rests on the same foundation: a four-letter genetic alphabet spelling out a repertoire of three-letter words that specify 20 amino acids. These basic building blocks — the components of DNA and their molecular interpreters — lie at biology’s core. “It’s hard to imagine something more fundamental,” said Floyd… Read More »