Seeing Emergent Physics Behind Evolution

The physicist Nigel Goldenfeld hates biology — “at least the way it was presented to me” when he was in school, he said. “It seemed to be a disconnected collection of facts. There was very little quantitation.” That sentiment may come as a surprise to anyone who glances over the myriad projects Goldenfeld’s lab is working on. He and his colleagues monitor the individual and swarm behaviors of honeybees, analyze biofilms, watch genes jump, assess diversity in ecosystems and probe the ecology of microbiomes. Goldenfeld himself is director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute for Universal Biology, and he spends most of his time not in the physics department at the University of Illinois but in his biology lab on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

Goldenfeld is one … Read the rest

The Oldest Mini-Brains Have Lifelike Young Cells

When it became possible to remove a tumor from a patient and study it in a dish, the field of oncology was transformed. Sergiu Paşca, a neuroscientist at Stanford University, wants psychiatry to experience the same kind of revolution. Yet the brain presents an even greater challenge than cancer. Without the option of simply cutting out pieces of a person’s healthy cerebral cortex the way physicians can dissect a tumor, brain scientists have had to get creative.

Now Paşca has joined other researchers in growing little balls of human brain tissue, about four millimeters in diameter, from stem cells in the lab. With prompting from the right chemicals, these cultures grow into neurons and other cell types that organize themselves over weeks and months into structures … Read the rest