Monday, December 19, 2016

Biological bits

My academic background, first/pre-writing career, and typical surfing all involve(d) physics and computer science -- but I nonetheless sometimes run across interesting biological topics. And so, herewith, one in an occasional series of looks at news from the biological, including the exo-biological, frontier...

Johnny Bee Goode?
I read a lot of alarmist mentions of "colony collapse disorder" affecting bees. Here's a more upbeat look: "Believe it or not, the bees are doing just fine." The takeaway:
You've probably heard the bad news by now that bees were recently added to the endangered species list for the first time. But if you're part of the 60 percent of people who share stories without actually reading them, you might have missed an important detail: namely, that the newly endangered bees are a handful of relatively obscure species who live only in Hawaii.
The bees you're more familiar with — the ones that buzz around your yard dipping into flowers, making honey, pollinating crops and generally keeping the world's food supply from collapsing? Those bees are doing just fine, according to data released by the USDA this year.

Mechanical and biological approaches to design seem disjoint. True, such approaches often differ -- but disjoint is a higher standard, disprovable by a single counterexample. As in this one: "Functioning 'mechanical gears' seen in nature for the first time." Said gears are found in the jumping mechanism of an insect. (Cool, no?)

Climbing up the evolutionary ladder, you've likely seen articles about Neanderthal/human canoodling, and the resultant appearance of up to several percent Neanderthal genes in modern humans. So was cross-species hanky-panky new to genus Homo? Apparently not: "Chimpanzees and bonobos: once primate friends with benefits."

Viking 1
Moving on to the (as-yet theoretical) topic of alien life, the Viking experiments testing for life on Mars -- performed way back in the Seventies -- remains contentious. See "Did 40-year-old Viking experiment discover life on Mars?"

In any search for exo-life, we need to keep an open mind as to the various forms that life might take. Here on Earth, our expectations of where life couldn't possibly exist (e.g., in the abyssal depths, without sunlight to provide energy) and what chemistry might be involved (e.g., "Arsenic-Life Discovery Debunked—But "Alien" Organism Still Odd") have been repeatedly disproven. See "How cosmic rays may nourish and nurture alien life."

And now, because I have a life, I'll move on to other activities ;-)

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