Biology and Biotech

Antibacterial surfaces are one way that we are fighting back against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Killing bacteria before they infect our bodies obviously precludes the need for an antibiotic.

In one type of antibacterial surface -- naturally found on dragonfly wings -- tiny pillars physically rip bacteria apart. Other surfaces employ silver nanoparticles. As effective as these surfaces can be, the trouble is that dead microbes build up over time, decreasing their efficacy. Ideally, therefore, antibacterial surfaces should be self-cleaning. A team of researchers in China describes one such surface that they developed.

The scientists began with silicon wafers, onto...

Life finds a way. But that doesn't mean it's always easy.

The most inhospitable places on the planet usually host some sort of life, from the super-hot hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor to the ice of Antarctica. While not as extreme, caves are also quite inhospitable. Complete darkness serves as a harsh restriction on what can survive there.

Most of the organisms that do survive in caves and other dark places have developed strange adaptations. Perhaps the most famous is blindness. Why waste precious energy and resources developing eyesight if it's useless? Some animals that choose this strategy have eyes, but they don't work well. Others, such as cave dwelling species of spider, fish, and shrimp, don't have eyes at all.

Despite life's ingenuity in colonizing...

As the world remains captivated by the fortuitous discovery of the 12 boys and their football coach found alive in a deep-seated cave in Thailand, the initial feelings of exhilaration are now tempered by worry as their journey out proves more complicated than one could ever imagine. With all of the fears that tend to consume our culture over minute risks, this problematic, but hopeful rescue effort is a powerful reminder that nature will always be our greatest adversary. And modern medical and scientific advance will support the best outcome possible.

Despite the mounting challenges, among them dangerous weather patterns, treacherous terrain, inexperienced and weakened young boys, it is current...

Many people believe that a so-called “genetically modified organism” (GMO) is a term that has some significance for interpreting the safety of food. Most life scientists -- geneticists, biologists, ecologists, and agronomists -- are pretty sure that the opposite is true.

First, we should distinguish between two points:

(1) A theoretical keystone of agri-food biotechnologies and the related safety issues; and

(2) socioeconomic considerations.

In both cases, “GMO” appears to be a detrimental meme and a misleading compass.

Product, not process

A recent in-depth study released by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering...

Most life on Earth -  plants, algae, and even some microorganisms - gain energy due to photosynthesis, a process where sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide are used to make glucose, a type of food for them just like it is us. 

Sunlight is the energy source but a new discovery finds that cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) can grow in near-infrared light. What most of us learned about photosynthesis in school is that it uses the green pigment, chlorophyll-a, both to collect light and use its energy to make useful biochemicals and oxygen. Chlorophyll-a is present in all plants, algae and cyanobacteria that we know of, and the way chlorophyll-a absorbs light means only the energy from visible red light can be used...

The exhaled breath or “blow” squirted from the Eastern Australian humpback whale is replete with its own viral ecosystem or virome. Until now, understanding the “diversity, evolution and disease associations” of viruses in such natural habitats as an aquatic environment has posed quite the challenge for scientists when such marine wildlife is logistically inaccessible. With the help of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones, researchers were able to capture samples of this elusive whale to study.  

Their recently published findings revealed a number of new viruses from five different viral families. It is likely this was the first study of this kind to use drones for...

1. Recycling My Own Blood

A few weeks ago, a nurse took six gallons of blood out of my left arm; my body only holds about a gallon and a half of blood, so I wouldn’t be here if she had decided to keep it. The blood that was continuously returning to my right arm, however, was missing an important ingredient: peripheral blood stem cells (PBSCs). Blood stem cells are the source of all of the blood cells in the body, including the white blood cells of the immune system. My PBSCs were collected and couriered to a patient to replace the ones that had given him cancer, hopefully curing his otherwise fatal...

For decades the potential of stem cells to cure all disease was promised. Today’s reality is that the few worthy dividends reflect a very small part of the mostly unregulated landscape of stem cell profit centers overpromising, and often dangerously under-delivering. Now branded as Regenerative Medicine, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is forced to overcorrect the harms done by rogue stem cell enterprises in concert with a multi-country global effort by scientists to do the same (see here and here, complications range from blindness to death). And the cycle...

Since you aren't here unless you are a pro-science reader, if I ask you what Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group and Center for Science in the Public Interest have in common, you might answer they hate science and actively undermine it. Yes, that is true. And you might also answer they are primarily lawyers who make their money suing companies after they manufacture doubt about them. Also true, but there is one really interesting thing they all have in common, not only with each other, but with Union of Concerned Scientists, Mother Jones, Maryland Pesticide Action Network, Natural Resources Defense Council and many more.

They are all funded by the Wallace Genetic Foundation. 

You may never...

In case you missed it, Bill and Melinda Gates were pretty visible over the weekend expanding their altruistic pursuits, specifically by contributing their names and ample resources to important, underfunded causes.

Sunday night on 60 Minutes, they spoke about helping low-income, but high-achieving students, known as the Gates Millennium Scholars, reach their dreams in higher education by covering their four-year tuition bill. And two days prior, Microsoft's co-founder met with health experts in Boston and pledged millions to help speed the development of a universal flu vaccine, which he argued is badly needed.

During his presentation at the...