Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Funky Robots

Team builds Robot Snail

This really intrigues me as this idea of locomotion is getting closer and closer to a true biomechanical style robot. Snails and other gastropods don't exactly have the most efficient means of getting around - a good 70% of their energy is put into making that slimy trail, but I guess it beats sitting in one place. I'm told the V 2.0 that's soon to be unveiled can climb walls.

NASA'a MSL Helicopter-themed

Great images, and a wild idea. Leonardo would be so proud. Hopefully this lander can overcome some of its predecessor's shortcomings. Then again, it might meet up with some Giant Fantasy Robots.

I've always loved new innovations in robots. Recent memory reminds me of 2003's KAZ, a car my brother still enjoys mocking. Still, it's these crazy robots that pave the way for great things like iPods, power steering, self-checkout and automated high-throughput robotics. We should have an army of fantasy robots, hopefully lead by a benevolent Mack Truck.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The UnPoisoning

Scientists engineer edible cottonseeds.

This idea, of course, is nothing new. Humans have been pacifying the awesome chemical arsenal of plants for tens of thousands of years. Many of the great foods we eat today - tomatoes, almonds, all sorts of peas and mints originate from highly poisonous wild types.

The real implication is cotton is a plant grown in many third world nations with agrarian economies. This kind of dual purpose where a plant could serve as both a source of protein, clothing and of course, the ability to trade such things for money could have powerful impact in our increasingly small planet. Imagine a plant than can grow in the most desolate of mountain ranges or brutal of deserts and still provide dietary nutrients, substrate for clothing, heck maybe even shelter.

Once again, Science rules.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Spokes of Saturn a product of lightning.

I'm reminded of a hundred 'artist interpretations' of the various planets in my childhood, and the 'expert' who claimed they were authentic photographs. Still, it's cool to see the planets appear to be much wilder than any rendering we previously envisioned.

Friday, November 17, 2006

More Godspotting, tongues-ing and sensational Science-ing

This Slate article outlines some great points about the Sensationalism of Science in the mainstream media. In essence, the New York Times reported on what is becoming a trend of MRI scans to determine if there's some correlation between various observed neural patterns and various behaviors, in this case, speaking in Tongues, or the idea of being puppeted by God.

Much like Engber, I'm rather skeptical that a positive response means something in this design. Showing a contrast in the brain between two behaviors does not bring God into manifest in Science, and it's a dangerous position to take in any experiment that correlation equals causation, to say nothing of the mammoth leap that's being intimated here.

The brain is a couple billion neurons inside a bone suitcase and what goes on in there is all but certainly what governs individuals. While suggesting that religious experiences are influenced beyond that tissue and a dualist attitude about self (a body and soul) are ubiquitous in our species, it flies in the face of everything we objectively know about the brain. Besides, the religious have been rejecting the data that disproves most religious explanations for centuries, why would they hold any belief in data that would validate their claims? Oh, right.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mom was right about kissing making it feel better.

Component of human saliva may have powerful analgesic properties.

This is the kind of compound Big Pharma would love to get their hands on, that is, if they hadn't already tried to get their hands on it. It's an area that's been rooted to death for pharmaceuticals. Still, it's a neat surprise to see a channel blocker like this turn up right under our noses, so to speak.

Maybe we need to start rubbing snail guts on our wounds instead.

Biological Bulkheads

O'er at Nature there's a great article on ...wait for it... The Origin Life. Practically an ultimate question in itself, the article suggests that our known data points towards Life as we know it being inevitable in the progression of our universe. In essence, in order to bleed off a lot of free energy, life needed to form to consume it. I'm simplifying it even beyond what the article already has, but are we (a big 'we') just an auxiliary valve to keep the whole place moving along?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Food goes in, poo comes out.

Check out the Cloaca machines. An amazing setup of metal and plastic to mimic what evolution gave us millions of years ago. Part art, part engineering, this kind of device has a beauty of its own. From there, as pointed out by Jonah at The Frontal Cortex we see scientists taking the idea one step further for application research. Sounds like it will contribute to all sorts of medicinal research down the pipe, pun intended.

I'd love to fill it with a bunch of cheeseburgers and see if it gets all queasy.

Arachnidae Caliente

Check out this article showing that spider venom may interact with ion channels the same way the key molecules in hot sauce do. These molecules, called capsaicins, have been known to cause that delightful burning sensation when you consume the seeds of various peppers like jalapenos, scotch bonnets and the ultimate Scoville-metering habaneros. If you go into any neuroscience or ion channel lab you're bound to find some scorpion venom or other neurotoxic poison, because they can completely trigger or block a response depending on how they arrest cellular activity.

In this instance, it appears the venom is preventative, trying to ward off predators by delivering a burning sensation that might not be too comfortable. Hopefully the spiders aren't trying to ward off hungry birds. Didn't work for the peppers. Sorry, spiders.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Aristotle's Lantern Described

The Sea Urchin Genome Project, an effort to sequence the DNA of one of a very powerful laboratory organism is now complete. You can drown yourself silly in the tapestry of information if you wish. I'm still plugging through a lot of it, the bits on the cellular cytoskeleton and genes that govern its movement are of great interest to me, a project that almost became my thesis in grad school before I succumbed to the lure of proinflammatory molecules. Yes, it was weird.

Red Hot and Rotten

A recent slaughterhouse fire led to the deaths of over 700 pigs. Go here for an amazing slideshow of the cleanup. It is quite, to borrow a word I coined, Gigerlicious in feel. Juxtaposing the organic with the mechanical allows one to draw all sorts of comparisons.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Unblinking Vigliance


I'm reminded of an old Powerman 5000 song, as their retrorocket feel took inspiration from old sci-fi space films:

Spinning complacently in the darkness,
covered and blinded by a blanket of little lives,
false security has lulled the madness
of this world into a deep slumber.
Wake up!
An eye is upon you, staring straight down and keenly through,
seeing all that you are and everything you can never be.
Yes, an eye is upon you an eye ready to blink.
So face forward, with arms wide open, and mind reeling.
Your future has arrived... are you ready to go?

Friday, November 10, 2006

I guess Will Rogers was wrong

Apparently, they still are making new land. A tip of the hat to pal Finback for the story.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Real Interracial Relations

Starting .here, enjoy a wordy but fascinating paper on some cellular bits. Then, go check out John Hawks' blog regarding species introgression. This is the sorta fundamental biology that smashes all the earlier conceptions about stuff like species definition, or what Einstein did to Newtonian physics.

But should it really come as a surprise that humans were crossing those taboo lines compared to other animals? I point to Flavor Flav as evidence

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

But did God put the fossil in our DNA to trick us?

Nature, this old smalltown rag that does some science reporting, has a fascinating article on A fossil of a human retrovirus. Essentially, it was incorporated into the human genome long ago, thought to possibly have a hand in tumor formation. It's caused a bit of an uproar in the science community, because while this 'Phoenix' virus is rather weak, it presents a potential risk and paves the road for much more dangerous viruses to be resurrected.

So what do y'all think?