The Loom

Archives for December, 2007

Last week I wrote about a new study that identified a fossil mammal as the closest relative to whales, helping to shed light on how whales moved from land to sea. The mammal, Indohyus, was a small four-legged creature that probably spent a fair amount of time in water and ate vegetation. The authors of…

Wham, Bam, Thank You Solar System

Nobody wants to be hit on the head with a ten-mile asteroid. But what if giant impacts are actually good for life in the long-term? I contemplate that strange possibility over at Wired.com. Check it out. Meteorites May Have Fostered Life on Earth

“My right forearm has a 8" ruler on it that I use for everything from measuring PVC diameter to wire lengths. My background is in embedded hardware design, but I choose to spend my time doing experimental building, transportation, and energy these days. The tattoo gets used daily.”–Mikey The science tattoo train started to peter…

Whales: From So Humble A Beginning…

When I first met Hans Thewissen, he spending an afternoon standing on a table, pointing a camera at a fossil between his feet. He asked me to hold a clip light to get rid of some shadows. I felt like I was at a paleontological fashion shoot. Thewissen was taking pictures of bones from a…

Little Asteroid, Big Fireball

Is it wrong to find pictures of destruction beautiful? This is a frame from a supercomputer simulation of the Tunguska meteorite. It exploded over Siberia in 1908 and flattened miles of trees. The simulation suggests that the devastation could have been caused by a far smaller explosion than previously thought–3 to 5 megatons, instead of…

This is the sort of thing that made me decide to write a whole book about these bugs… LS9 Inc., a company in San Carlos, Calif., is already using E. coli bacteria that have been reprogrammed with synthetic DNA to produce a fuel alternative from a diet of corn syrup and sugar cane. So efficient…

Mass Extinctions Past and Future

I’ve got a new conversation up at bloggingheads.tv. This time around I talk to University of Washington paleontologist Peter Ward about the mass extinctions that wiped out millions of species in the past, and how disturbingly difficult it is to rule out the possibility that we’re sending ourselves into another great die-off.

Some of the blogs that I find most interesting are also the most sporadic. Fortunately, RSS feeds mean their occasional utterances don’t disappear off my radar. Rob Carlson’s blog, synthesis, is an excellent, deeply considered blog on the rise of synthetic biology. (Full disclosure–I interviewed Carlson for a recent article in Discover.) Even though a…

Wiring A Species

In my latest column for Wired, I take a look at the ever-fascinating intersection between engineering and biology. An electrical engineer-turned-ecologist uses the principles of circuits to track the flow of genes in endangered species. Remarkably, it works. Take a look.

Feeding Leviathans One Gulp at a Time

In tomorrow’s New York Times, I have a story about some very fun research–the study of the world’s biggest gulp. Some new research indicates that the biggest species of whales eat by gulping their own weight in water every thirty seconds. They do so in much the same way a parachute stops a race car.…