Category Archives: Biology

New clues about the origins of biological intelligence

Rafael Yuste and Michael Levin write: In the middle of his landmark book On the Origin of Species, Darwin had a crisis of faith. In a bout of honesty, he wrote, “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and… Read More »

Why insects are more sensitive than they seem

Zaria Gorvett writes: One balmy autumn day in 2014, David Reynolds stood up to speak at an important meeting. It was taking place in Chicago City Hall – a venue so grand, it’s embellished with marble stairways, 75ft (23m) classical columns, and vaulted ceilings. As the person in charge of pest management in the city’s… Read More »

At the dawn of life, heat may have driven cell division

Carrie Arnold writes: An elegant ballet of proteins enables modern cells to replicate themselves. During cell division, structural proteins and enzymes coordinate the duplication of DNA, the division of a cell’s cytoplasmic contents, and the cinching of the membrane that cleaves the cell. Getting these processes right is crucial because errors can lead to daughter… Read More »

Everyday noises are making our brains noisier

Nina Kraus writes: Take a walk on a busy avenue and you hear either traffic whizzing by or creeping in a honk-laden crawl. Add the hissing of pneumatic bus brakes, distant sirens, the boom-boom of overloud car stereos, the occasional car alarm, music coming from shops you pass, the beeping of a reversing delivery truck.… Read More »

Spiders are much smarter than you think

By Betsy Mason People tend to associate intelligence with brain size. And as a general guideline, this makes sense: more brain cells, more mental capabilities. Humans, and many of the other animals we’ve come to think of as unusually bright, such as chimpanzees and dolphins, all have large brains. And it’s long been assumed that the… Read More »

The secret lives of cells — as never seen before

Nature reports: For a few weeks in 2017, Wanda Kukulski found herself binge-watching an unusual kind of film: videos of the insides of cells. They were made using a technique called cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) that allows researchers to view the proteins in cells at high resolution. In these videos, she could see all kinds of… Read More »

Primate memory

Tetsuro Matsuzawa writes: The most recent common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans lived between five and seven million years ago. This shared heritage became evident when sequencing revealed a 1.2% DNA difference between species. Chimpanzees have a living sister species, bonobos, that is equally closely related to humans. Both chimpanzees and bonobos are found only… Read More »

Flatworms can reproduce ripping themselves in half

Ed Yong writes: When planarian flatworms want to reproduce, some have sex. Others, more straightforwardly, tear themselves in two. The latter option is fast and violent. The planarian begins as a small, flattened, sluglike creature with a spade-shaped head and two googly eyes. After a few minutes of stretching and ripping, it separates into two… Read More »

The act of smelling

Jude Stewart writes: If all our genius lies in our nostrils, as Nietzsche remarked, the nose is an untrained genius, brilliant but erratic. The human nose can detect a dizzying array of smells, with a theoretical upper limit of one trillion smells—yet many of us are incapable of describing these smells in words more precise… Read More »