Thursday, April 30, 2009


On the Origin of The Immune System

"Did the immune system evolve to keep out harmful organisms, or is it like a bouncer at a nightclub, trained to allow the right microbes in and kick the less desirable ones out? In the fifth essay in Science's series in honor of the Year of Darwin, John Travis explores the evolution of the immune system." Ful article @ Science

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Artificial bacterial flagella: Fabrication and magnetic control

"Inspired by the natural design of bacterial flagella, we report artificial bacterial flagella (ABF) that have a comparable shape and size to their organic counterparts and can swim in a controllable fashion using weak applied magnetic fields. The helical swimmer consists of a helical tail resembling the dimensions of a natural flagellum and a thin soft-magnetic “head” on one end. The swimming locomotion of ABF is precisely controlled by three orthogonal electromagnetic coil pairs. Microsphere manipulation is performed, and the thrust force generated by an ABF is analyzed. ABF swimmers represent the first demonstration of microscopic artificial swimmers that use helical propulsion. Self-propelled devices such as these are of interest in fundamental research and for biomedical applications." Full paper @ Applied Physics Letters

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Henry Stewart Talk on Virus and Cancer

Recommended by Ahmed:

Henry Stewart Talk on Virus and Cancer

Sunday, April 26, 2009


'Smart dust' to explore planets

"Tiny "smart" devices that can be borne on the wind like dust particles could be carried in space probes to explore other planets, UK engineers say." Full story @ BBC NEWS


If Leonardo Had Made Toys

LEONARDO DA VINCI’S 15th-century vision of mechanical flight apparently never included fixed wings assisted by propellers or jet engines. His chief inspiration was birds, reflected in drawings of a flying machine fashioned to stay aloft by flapping its wings. More than 500 years later, WowWee, a robotics and entertainment products company, shares that vision. Next month, it plans to release a mass-produced, functional ornithopter, a device that flies in birdlike fashion — in this case, a radio-controlled toy that mechanically flaps its Mylar wings. Full Story @ New York Times

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Emotion robots learn from people

"Making robots that interact with people emotionally is the goal of a European project led by British scientists. Feelix Growing is a research project involving six countries, and 25 roboticists, developmental psychologists and neuroscientists:. Full Article @ BBC NEWS | Technology

The robots exhibit imprinted behaviour - following the 'mother around'

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Complex Systems Special Issue on PNAS

Complex Systems: From Chemistry to Systems Biology Special Issue — PNAS


Complex systems: Cooperative network dynamics : Article : Nature

"Nested, or hierarchically arranged, mutualisms allow ecosystems to support more species than they otherwise would. But in this and other contexts, the growth of such networks could carry a heavy price." Full article @ Nature


Major evolutionary jumps might be caused by changes in gene regulation rather than the emergence of new genes

"One of the great challenges in molecular and evolutionary biology is to explain the link between giant evolutionary leaps, such as the colonization of land by plants or the emergence of vertebrates, and the underlying genetic and genomic changes. For a long time, biologists thought that such profound changes in phenotype would be accompanied—if not driven by—equally dramatic upheavals at the genetic level. Similarly, the emergence of the flowering plants within the plant kingdom, or mammalian vertebrates, must surely have been marked by recognizable changes in the genome. Yet in fact, it turns out that the genomic changes that enabled these evolutionary developments were far more subtle—it is the regulation, rather than the modification or creation, of genes that has driven macroscopic events throughout evolution. Full article @ "EMBO Reports


Is There Progress on Talking Sensibly to Machines?

Several research projects are closing in on ways to allow humans to effectively communicate with machines in natural language. Full article @ Science

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Engineers create new adhesive that mimics gecko toe hairs

A new anti-sliding adhesive developed by engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, may be the closest man-made material yet to mimic the remarkable gecko toe hairs that allow the tiny lizard to scamper along vertical surfaces and ceilings. Full story @ Physorg

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Stealing Encrypted Data by Freezing

"A group led by a Princeton University computer security researcher has developed a simple method to steal encrypted information stored on computer hard disks." Full Story @ New York Times

I love how this method higlights the physical constarints on computing memory...



Chemical brain controls nanobots

A tiny chemical "brain" which could one day act as a remote control for swarms of nano-machines has been invented. The molecular device - just two billionths of a metre across - was able to control eight of the microscopic machines simultaneously in a test. Full Story @
BBC NEWS|Science/Nature

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Boston Dynamics: Big Dog

From Art:

BigDog is the alpha male of the Boston Dynamics family of robots. It is a quadruped robot that walks, runs, and climbs on rough terrain and carries heavy loads. BigDog is powered by a gasoline engine that drives a hydraulic actuation system. BigDog's legs are articulated like an animal’s, and have compliant elements that absorb shock and recycle energy from one step to the next. BigDog is the size of a large dog or small mule, measuring 1 meter long, 0.7 meters tall and 75 kg weight. Boston Dynamics: The Leader in Lifelike Human Simulation


Tuesday, April 21, 2009


bat-inspired spy plane under development

A six-inch robotic spy plane modeled after a bat would gather data from sights, sounds and smells in urban combat zones and transmit information back to a soldier in real time. Full story @Physorg

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US army develops robotic suits

On the big screen, films like Robocop, Universal Soldier and forthcoming release Iron Man show man-machines with superhuman powers. But in Utah they are turning science fiction into reality. Full story @BBC NEWS | Science/Nature

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Shedding Light on Life 

Advances in optical microscopy reveal biological processes as they unfold. Full article @ Harvard Magazine. Check out the videos too. Thanks to Erik Wennstrom for the link!

Microtubules (green) and clathrin-coated pits (red). The pits are indentations in a cell’s surface that mediate certain extracellular interactions.

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Device 'spins silk like spiders'

A device that partially mimics the process by which spiders produce fine, yet super-strong, silks has been built. The team manufactured two genetically-engineered spider silk proteins using bacteria. These were fed into a device that consists of three channels etched into glass. More @ BBC NEWS | Science/Nature

A micrograph shows the artificial silk in more detail

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Naomi Leonard on Collective Motion and Sensing Networks

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Monday, April 20, 2009


Who's the Queen?

Biologists are finding that in some social insects nature, not nurture, determines whether offspring become workers or royalty. Full article @ Science

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The world's first autonomous robotic fish are the latest attraction at the London Aquarium. Biologically inspired by the common carp, the new designs can avoid objects and swim around a specially designed tank entirely of their own accord. Full article at BBC News.

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Bee social activity tied to gene

A gene involved in egg production also helps honeybees exhibit some crucial social behaviors that distinguish them from solitary insects, researchers report in PLoS Biology this week. Full Story @ The Scientist

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Robot Cockroach Tests Insect Decision-Making Behavior

"Robot cockroaches coated with pheromones are so well accepted by the household pests that the robots become part of the insects' collective decision-making process". Full article @ Science

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kinetic sculptor

Thanks to Chris Schneider, I am posting the work of Theo Jansen, a Dutch "kinetic sculptor," uses genetic algorithms to model virtual life forms with only one purpose: To survive at all costs. ... [Theo] builds them at full scale out of whatever supplies are available, and sets them loose on the local beaches. They are powered solely by the wind and are designed to walk at random the hard sand of the local beaches forever.

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Friday, April 17, 2009


Hip hop Darwin

"This year, biologists, philosophers, and historians have been celebrating Charles Darwin's birth and his profound contributions to biology. As the year of Darwin nears its halfway point, a rapper is adding his unique Darwin tribute to the mix and making Charles Darwin a little bit more like Chuck D." Full story @ The Scientist

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Insect communication/`No entry/' signal in ant foraging : Nature

"Forager ants lay attractive trail pheromones to guide nestmates to food, but the effectiveness of foraging networks might be improved if pheromones could also be used to repel foragers from unrewarding routes". Full article @ Nature

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From Ants to People, an Instinct to Swarm

"By studying army ants — as well as birds, fish, locusts and other swarming animals — Dr. Couzin and his colleagues are starting to discover simple rules that allow swarms to work so well. Those rules allow thousands of relatively simple animals to form a collective brain able to make decisions and move like a single organism." Full Story @ New York Times

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On the right scent

Searching for the source of a smell is hampered by the absence of pervasive local cues that point the searcher in the right direction. A strategy based on maximal information could show the way. Summary at Nature. Also see the Infotaxis Full Paper.



Robo-salamander's evolution clues

A robot is being used by a Franco-Swiss team to investigate how the first land animals on Earth might have walked. Full story @ BBC NEWS | Science/Nature

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The ethical dilemmas of robotics

If the idea of robot ethics sounds like something out of science fiction, think again, writes Dylan Evans. Scientists are already beginning to think seriously about the new ethical problems posed by current developments in robotics.
Full story @ BBC NEWS | Technology



Genes Show Limited Value in Predicting Diseases

"The era of personal genomic medicine may have to wait. The genetic analysis of common disease is turning out to be a lot more complex than expected." Full article @


Distilling Free-Form Natural Laws from Experimental Data

"For centuries, scientists have attempted to identify and document analytical laws that underlie physical phenomena in nature. Despite the prevalence of computing power, the process of finding natural laws and their corresponding equations has resisted automation. A key challenge to finding analytic relations automatically is defining algorithmically what makes a correlation in observed data important and insightful. We propose a principle for the identification of nontriviality. We demonstrated this approach by automatically searching motion-tracking data captured from various physical systems, ranging from simple harmonic oscillators to chaotic double-pendula. Without any prior knowledge about physics, kinematics, or geometry, the algorithm discovered Hamiltonians, Lagrangians, and other laws of geometric and momentum conservation. The discovery rate accelerated as laws found for simpler systems were used to bootstrap explanations for more complex systems, gradually uncovering the "alphabet" used to describe those systems." Full paper @ Science

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How Do Cells Count?

"Researchers provide insight into an old mystery in cell biology, and offer up new clues to understanding cancer. Scientitists have unraveled the mystery of how cells count the number of centrosomes, the structure that regulates the cell’s skeleton, controls the multiplication of cells, and is often transformed in cancer" > read full article on

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'Reverse Evolution' In Real Time Provides Key Insights Into Basic Mechanisms Of Evolution

"Evolutionary biology tells us that replaying life's tape will not not look at all like the original. The outcome of evolution is contingent on everything that came before. Now, scientists have turned back the clock on the evolution in the fruit fly to provide key insights into the basic mechanisms of evolution. ... > read full article on ScienceDaily


Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Can evolution explain how minds work?

"Biologists have tended to assume that closely related species will have similar cognitive abilities. Johan J. Bolhuis and Clive D. L. Wynne put this evolutionarily inspired idea through its paces.". Full article @ Nature

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Butterfly Wings Could Lead to Better Solar Panels

From Mike Conover:
"Biomimicry is the act of applying biological principles to to human designs. Velcro is the most obvious example (see more of them in our Nature-Inspired Innovations slideshow). The latest discovery has to do with butterfly wings and solar cells". Full story @ TreeHugger

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009



"Darwin identified eusocial evolution, especially of complex insect societies, as a particular challenge to his theory of natural selection. A century later, Hamilton provided a framework for selection on inclusive fitness. Hamilton's rule is robust and fertile, having generated multiple subdisciplines over the past 45 years. His suggestion that eusociality can be explained via kin selection, however, remains contentious. I review the continuing debate on the role of kin selection in eusocial evolution and suggest some lines of research that should resolve that debate". Full article: Darwin's ‘one special difficulty’: celebrating Darwin 200 by Joan M Herbers.

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Monday, April 13, 2009


The secret, social lives of bacteria

From Mike Conover:
"Bonnie Bassler discovered that bacteria "talk" to each other, using a chemical language that lets them coordinate defense and mount attacks. The find has stunning implications for medicine, industry -- and our understanding of ourselves." See follow-up interview. TED Blog: The secret, social lives of bacteria: Exclusive interview with Bonnie Bassler

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Sunday, April 12, 2009


How Human Intelligence Evolved

AAAS ANNUAL MEETING: How Human Intelligence Evolved--Is It Science or 'Paleofantasy'? -- Balter 319 (5866): 1028a -- Science

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A Robotic Future

Special Issue on Robotics @ Science/AAAS | Table of Contents: 16 November 2007; 318 (5853)


Making Machines That Make Others of Their Kind. (Though this piece continues the tradition of looking at self-replication as the main concept behind Von neumann's scheme, when its greatest insight is open-ended evolution).

Self-Organization, Embodiment, and Biologically Inspired Robotics: "Robotics researchers increasingly agree that ideas from biology and self-organization can strongly benefit the design of autonomous robots. Biological organisms have evolved to perform and survive in a world characterized by rapid changes, high uncertainty, indefinite richness, and limited availability of information. Industrial robots, in contrast, operate in highly controlled environments with no or very little uncertainty. Although many challenges remain, concepts from biologically inspired (bio-inspired) robotics will eventually enable researchers to engineer machines for the real world that possess at least some of the desirable properties of biological organisms, such as adaptivity, robustness, versatility, and agility".

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Darwinian Evolution on a Chip

Computer control of Darwinian evolution has been demonstrated by propagating a population of RNA enzymes in a microfluidic device. See article @ PLoS Biology

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Bio-Plastic Factories

"Scientists at San Diego–based Genomatica, Inc., have announced success in manipulating the bacteria to directly produce butanediol (BDO), a chemical compound used to make everything from spandex to car bumpers, thereby providing a more energy-efficient way of making it without oil or natural gas." Full article @
Scientific American

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Friday, April 10, 2009


Molly mating mystery

Researchers have proposed an explanation for how three species of tiny fish manage to coexist despite having seemingly incompatible modes of reproduction. Full story @ The Scientist


Flight Plan

"To fly with precision, flying animals need to be able to maneuver and stabilize their course and orientation immediately following a change of direction. However, the dynamics of turning are poorly understood. Hedrick et al develop a framework for predicting maneuverability and stability in flying animals, then use it to predict turning dynamics of seven very different flying animals (including insects, bats, and birds). Geometrically similar animals have turning dynamics in "wingbeat time" regardless of size; fruit flies and hummingbirds both require the same number of wingbeats to finish a turn. An increase in wingbeat frequency allows animals to enhance both maneuverability and stability, two properties previously thought to be in opposition." Full article @ Science


Ribosome Profiling

"Techniques for systematically monitoring protein translation have lagged far behind methods for measuring messenger RNA (mRNA) levels. Here, we present a ribosome-profiling strategy that is based on the deep sequencing of ribosome-protected mRNA fragments and enables genome-wide investigation of translation with subcodon resolution. We used this technique to monitor translation in budding yeast under both rich and starvation conditions. These studies defined the protein sequences being translated and found extensive translational control in both determining absolute protein abundance and responding to environmental stress. We also observed distinct phases during translation that involve a large decrease in ribosome density going from early to late peptide elongation as well as widespread regulated initiation at non–adenine-uracil-guanine (AUG) codons. Ribosome profiling is readily adaptable to other organisms, making high-precision investigation of protein translation experimentally accessible." Full article @ Science


Leishmania Exploit Sex

"Protozoan parasites of the genus Leishmania (Kinetoplastida:Trypanosomatidae) cause widespread and devastating human diseases. Visceral leishmaniasis is responsible for overwhelming fatal epidemics, and cutaneous leishmaniasis can lead to destructive and life-threatening mucocutaneous lesions. Since the discovery of these disease agents more than a century ago, there has been debate as to whether they reproduce entirely clonally or undergo genetic exchange [...] That debate is now over. Akopyants et al. provide evidence for genetic exchange in Leishmania. This represents the latest in a series of discoveries of sexual cycles operating in eukaryotic pathogens previously thought to be asexual ". Full article @ Science:

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Human genes are multitaskers

Up to 94% of human genes can generate different products Full story @ Nature News



Gene Expression--Where to Start?

"To convert the encoded genetic information from eukaryotic DNA into proteins, base sequences of genes are first transcribed into RNA by RNA polymerase II. To produce functional RNA molecules, dozens of accessory factors are needed to define the proper locations for RNA polymerase II to begin and end transcription. Although we have some basic knowledge about how these factors work, it is still not possible to take a eukaryotic genome sequence and accurately predict what RNA species it will produce. Recent efforts to map and sequence "transcriptomes" have only increased the challenge by revealing a much more complex set of RNAs than expected, including many that do not produce proteins". Full article @ Science

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A virus's virus

Researchers have discovered the first virus to infect another virus, according to a study appearing tomorrow in Nature. The new virus was found living inside a new strain of the viral giant, mimivirus. Full story @ The Scientist : NewsBlog : A virus's virus [6th August 2008]



Brain Circuits and Innate Behaviour

"In recent years, neuroscientists have made great strides in understanding the mechanisms and processes of innate behaviour as well as the circuits (both anatomical and molecular) that mediate them. For instance, a new Nature paper describes a powerful method to uniquely label individual cells within a population, and thereby distinguish adjacent neurons and cellular processes. This genetic labelling of neurons with multiple distinct colours allows for the large-scale analysis of neuronal circuits". Full web feature @ Circuits and Innate Behaviour : Web focus : Nature



Small-scale technique hits the big time :

Nanostructure-initiator mass spectrometry (NIMS), can now be used to identify individual molecules in biological samples, down to the single-cell level. Full article @
Nature News



Personalized genomes go mainstream

Commercial personal genome services could help people to understand more about their family medical history. Full article @ Nature News



Artificial Chemistry

Tim Hutton's computational chemistry applet and papers.

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Digital World Reveals Architecture of Evolution

"The architecture that pervades biological networks gives them an evolutionary edge by allowing them to evolve to perform new functions more rapidly than an alternative network design, according to computer simulations conducted at the University of Chicago".
Complexity Digest 2006.32: Digital World Reveals Architecture of Evolution.

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Cooperation in spatial evolutionary game theory has revealed various interesting insights into the problem of the evolution and maintenance of cooperative behavior. In social dilemmas, cooperators create and maintain a common resource at some cost to themselves while defectors attempt to exploit the resource without contributing. (...) Here we review recent advances in the dynamics of cooperation... Adv. Complex Sys. Full Article


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A twenty-first century science

"If handled appropriately, data about Internet-based communication and interactivity could revolutionize our understanding of collective human behaviour". Full essay @A twenty-first century science : Article : Nature

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Flying dinos had bi-plane design

The first flying dinosaurs took to the air in a similar way to a World War I bi-plane, a study shows. Full Story @ BBC NEWS

The similarities may reflect a common solution to the same problem (Image: Jeff Martz)



Flea protein may repair arteries

BBC NEWS | Health | Flea protein may repair arteries

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