Saturday, May 14, 2011

Highlights of the Week

Some interesting news and articles from around the web for this week:

Cicadas are emerging en masse in the Midwestern United States after yet another 13-year cycle.
Cicadas are insects which are known for their loud and distinctive sounds produced by a mechanism called 'tymbalization' in their abdomens. Several species in the genus Magicicada in the US are called 'periodical cicadas' because they transition into the adult phase of their life cycle in a synchronized manner in cycles of 13 or 17 years. This summer the time has come for the emergence for the so-called brood XIX. These emergences happen in such numbers that early European settlers thought that the cicadas were the pestilential "locusts" of the Bible, and their carcasses litter forests in a deep crunchy layer. Find out more about cicadas at this website from the University of Michigan.

Mathematics and biology have a deep and subtle relationship. 
Viruses, for example, have self-assembling coats made up of protein subunits, which tile together in specific geometric forms. Disrupt these geometries, and one might be able to render a virus harmless.... Other fields of mathematics, such as chaos theory, can help in modeling natural phenomena such as plankton dynamics in the ocean. (I wish this essay was illustrated, though.)

How do flatworms regenerate their missing body parts?
The planarians (flatworms) are favorite classroom examples for regeneration because of their freakish ability to regenerate a complete worm when cut into multiple pieces. New research shows that cells in the worms called neoblasts, which can be thought of as analogous to stem cells in other animals, are pluripotent, meaning that they can develop into any cell type in the body. Researchers have also found some of the factors that determine whether a newly divided cell in a regenerating animal will develop into part of the head or the tail.

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