Posts tagged ‘biology’




Sir John Gurdon, Nobel Prize winner, was ‘too stupid’ for science at school

At the age of 15, Prof Sir John Gurdon ranked last out of the 250 boys in his Eton year group at biology, and was in the bottom set in every other science subject.

Sixty-four years later he has been recognised as one of the finest minds of his generation after being awarded the £750,000 annual prize, which he shares with Japanese stem cell researcher Shinya Yamanaka.

Speaking after learning of his award in London on Monday, Sir John revealed that his school report still sits above his desk at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, which is named in his honour.

my mom always said grades are important, but they’re not the most important thing.

I love how he framed that. He probably looked at it every day and said, “Oh yeah?”

Here’s a bigger image of the letter.

Grades are poor measures of one’s potential to be curious.


We’ve seen slime molds “chase” their dinner, and we’ve seen them recreate the Tokyo rail system (whoa!) by maximizing efficiency in growth … now the ability to “map” their surroundings without “mapping”?

From joshbyard:

Brainless Slime Molds Shed Light On The Evolution of Memory

“We have shown for the first time that a single-celled organism with no brain uses an external spatial memory to navigate through a complex environment,” said Christopher Reid from the University’s School of Biological Sciences.

…“Results from insect studies, for example ants leaving pheromone trails, have already challenged the assumption that navigation requires learning or a sophisticated spatial awareness. We’ve now gone one better and shown that even an organism without a nervous system can navigate a complex environment, with the help of externalized memory.”

The research method was inspired by robots designed to respond only to feedback from their immediate environment to navigate obstacles and avoid becoming trapped. This “reactive navigation” method allows robots to navigate without a programmed map or the ability to build one and slime molds use the same process.

When it is foraging, the slime mold avoids areas that it has already “slimed,” suggesting it can sense extracellular slime upon contact and will recognize and avoid areas it has already explored.

…“We then upped the ante for the slime molds by challenging them with the U-shaped trap problem to test their navigational ability in a more complex situation than foraging. We found that, as we had predicted, its success was greatly dependent on being able to apply its external spatial memory to navigate its way out of the trap.”

(via Brainless slime mold uses external spatial ‘memory’ to navigate complex environments | KurzweilAI)

521 Years

Link: 521 Years


That’s the half-life of DNA, according to new research from scientists in Denmark and Australia. That means that dinosaur DNA is pretty much out of the question, but that the Earth’s primary genetic material lasts longer than once thought.

By studying DNA left over in leg bones of extinct moa birds of different ages, they were able to determine how fast it naturally degrades. Water, essential for life, can be pretty reactive over the span of hundreds and thousands of years, slowly breaking the bonds that hold DNA molecules together.

If half the DNA is gone in 521 years, then even at optimal temperatures any sample would be almost totally degraded after 6.8 million years.

I guess there’s a few questions that remain, like if different environments could lead to different numbers, or what different soils could do to move that number up or down … but I’d sell your stock in any Jurassic Park-type ventures.

More at Nature.

Well that’s a bummer. Guess we’ll just have to build our own dinosaurs from scratch!

(Don’t hold your breath; we can barely make single living cells.) 




The twisting tale of DNA, animated

A fine tale of the basic structure at the root of our genome, and how each little book writes a different set of instructions.

The number of human genes referenced in the video is a little high, though. Current estimates say that we probably only have around 20,000 genes, with only about 1.5% of the 3.2 billion bases in our genome actually coding for proteins!

I can’t stress how important, especially for the younger generation, knowing how genetics works is. From various forms of gene therapy to body modifications to making synthetic life, it is a huge field with applications that I think will have enormous impact on how we live this century. 


A cut across the central vein of a leaf from Acrostichum aureum, a mangrove fern, at 20-times magnification.

Image by Daphne Zbaeren-Colbourn.

You took acid again, didn’t you biocanvas?

A crafty octopus steals a baited container deployed for a fish survey, all the while holding off a small curious shark. Pea-soup water and accompanying banjo music round off the hillbilly scene.

Luckily it was a test run, after a similar yet unsuccessful bait-robbery attempt. More videos and a better explanation of these surveys can be found here!

The enigmatic porcupine (my favorite name of the lot!) is one of 8 new mammal species discovered in Peru. Click through to see some of the others..definitely a funny-looking lot.