Tag Archives: science

The Countless Computers Embedded in Nature

There are many patterns of collective behavior in biology that are easy to see because they occur along the familiar dimensions of space and time. Think of the murmuration of starlings. Or army ants that span gaps on the forest floor by linking their own bodies into bridges. Loose groups of shoaling fish that snap into tight schools when a predator shows up.

Then there are less obvious patterns, like those that the evolutionary biologist Jessica Flack tries to understand. In 2006, her graduate work at Emory University showed how just a few formidable-looking fighters could stabilize an entire group of macaques by intervening in scuffles … Read the rest

Plants turn their tormentors into cannibals

Enlarge (credit: Brian Connolly)

Plants are a lot less passive than their reputation makes them out to be. They foster helpful microbes, have internal systems of communication, and can even share information with their neighboring plants. When they’re being eaten, their alarm signals call in predator species that consume whatever’s eating them.

Now, a new paper suggests that predators aren’t the only danger called in by those alarm signals. Indirectly, the signals induce a starvation-driven cannibalism among the erstwhile herbivores. The result is fewer insect pests and greater plant health.

Fine young cannibals

It turns out that cannibalism is widespread among the insects that otherwise spend their time munching on plants. “It often starts with one caterpillar biting another one in the rear, which then

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Breaking into the Buran graveyard: Ageing Soviet space shuttles still impress

Exploring the Unbeaten Path

The Soviet Union’s Buran space shuttle program stands as one of the saddest episodes in aerospace history. After NASA began working on its space shuttle program in the early 1970s, the Soviet Union conceived of its own orbiter program, the eerily similar looking Buran shuttle. Ultimately, the vehicle made just one flight, an uncrewed mission in 1988. The Soviet Union’s collapsing economy doomed the program.

The Buran orbiter that made the initial three-hour flight was destroyed in 2002, when the roof of the hangar where it was stored in Kazakhstan collapsed. Like the United States, the Soviet Union didn’t make just one Buran, they made several with the intention of eventually having a fleet of orbital vehicles. When the program was canceled,

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