Biology and Biotech

Special bacteria-killing surfaces constitute a highly active area of research and development.

Strategies to construct them vary widely. One group has infused a slippery surface with molecules that disrupt bacterial communication. Others have shown that silver nanoparticle coatings can destroy bacteria. Yet another group used black silicon to create a surface that resembled a tiny "bed of nails" (nanopillars), which physically rip bacteria apart.

That latter example, which ...

The controversy over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) lives on, despite the scientific community's best efforts to quell the scaremongering.    

In fact, GMOs are the scientific issue with the widest gap in understanding between scientists and the public, with 88% of scientists reporting that GMOs are safe to eat, as compared to just 37% of the public. One of the reasons for that gap is that scientists understand the biology behind how GMOs are created and why they are not harmful. But, lacking that understanding leaves a lot of space for fear and uncertainty.  

Even worse, as GMOs become even more complicated, the gap in understanding is bound to get larger.

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Humans have a much longer and wider penis than the other great apes. Even the largest of gorillas, more than twice as heavy as a human, will have a penis just two and half inches long when erect.

However our testicles are rather small. A chimpanzee’s testes weigh more than a third of its brain while ours weigh in at less than 3%. The relative size of our penis and testes is all down to our mating strategies, and can provide some surprising insights into early human culture.

Primates exhibit all sorts of mating behaviour, including monogamous, polygynous – where males have multiple mates – and multimale-multifemale. One indicator of which behaviour occurs in a species is the size difference between males and females. The greater this...

Wouldn't it be simple if science fiction remained fictional and scientific discoveries were made at a pace that we were comfortable with?

But, certain scientific discoveries, like human genome editing, challenge our thinking on many different levels. There are a lot of voices getting into the mix of the debate on human genome editing, taking on the unenviable task of "playing God." One of these voices is the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG.) 

The ACMG recently published a statement in their own journal Genetics in Medicine entitled "...

Even birds know when they are paired up with a mate that is "out of their league." New research from the journal Biology Letters demonstrates that unattractive, male, red-backed fairy-wrens spend more time guarding their female mates – while their sexy competitors spend more time seeking "extramarital" affairs.

Red-backed fairy-wrens are Australian duetting songbirds, romantically chiriping back and forth like in a Disney cartoon. The birds are socially monogamous, which means one male and one female live and raise young together, but they do not necessarily mate exclusively. For this species, about 54% of hatchlings are the result of extra-pair paternity because the males...

In the segment of the scientific community that studies animal behavior, a question asked repeatedly is whether rational thought exists in species other than human, and how prevalent it is. Not choices made based on ingrained survival instincts, but thought that drives decision making.

That intriguing concept has been found to exist. But a new paper just released focusing on continuation and evolution of species states that a team of University of Washington researchers, in describing their work, "is among the first to see if rationality extends to mate choice."

They did this by studying the practices and habits of fruit flies.

Led by Daniel Promislow, the senior author of the study titled, "Mate choice in fruit flies is rational and adaptive," the team found...

In evaluating the health of living things – whether they be humans, plants or animals – when advanced age or decay sets in we can observe the physical changes as they happen with our own eyes. 

The same, however, cannot be said when studying trees. That's because when they're stricken by old age or disease, they rot, invisibly, from the inside out. And not knowing their true health misleads foresters and scientists around the globe who track climatic shifts and other natural occurrences. 

As a result, foresters, arborists and researchers obtain their tree health data employing an alternative method: sound waves. However, while that method – called sonic tomography – is fascinating and revealing, it has its limitations since previously it could only be deployed on trees...

Perhaps the strangest medical phenomenon discovered in recent years is a link between the lone star tick and an allergy to red meat.

The bite of a lone star tick exposes a person to a small carbohydrate called alpha-gal. In a handful of people, this exposure elicits an abnormal immune response that produces a type of antibody called IgE, which causes allergies. Because red meat also contains alpha-gal, people who have been sensitized to the carbohydrate from a tick bite can develop life-threatening anaphylaxis if they consume pork or beef. 

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It is common knowledge that the information that makes us unique is held in our DNA. But, how does our DNA make our eyes brown - how does it make us who we are?

In order to understand that, we have to walk through the journey of how the information held in DNA becomes protein. The process is called the 'central dogma' and it was first described by Francis Crick at an annual meeting of the Society of Experimental Biology in 1957 - and published one year later. It is a tenet of not only molecular biology, but all biology, and is central to all life. 

The central dogma is both simple and, at the same time, incredibly complex. There are many different players driving different complicated processes.  In its simplest form, it starts with DNA - a nucleic acid. But, DNA does...

The UN Convention on Biodiversity meeting - typically dominated by environmental activists lobbying bloated quasi-world-government committees - recently met in Cancún and when we weren't talking about their enjoyment of catered dinners and $600 a night rooms in a resort town completely lacking in biodiversity, we were talking about the other hypocrisy in the environmental movement; claiming they care about science when they really want to ban all of it.

In this case — synthetic biology. Right now, activists have limited themselves to seeking bans on Genetically Modified Organisms - GMOs - but those are a precise legal term for one...