Inner Nature: Eggs and Seeds

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times I was working in my garden, doing the regular maintenance tasks of weeding and planning my fall plantings. I was planning on gathering seeds from some of my favorite flowers to replant. As I worked, I’d disturb a rock or something (a military joke) and find a germinating weed seed, or a cluster of ants eggs. They were everywhere. Seeds and eggs. Then it struck...

Inner Nature: Gender and Stereotypes

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times Human behavior is not completely governed by biological sex. People experience a remarkable natural degree of behavioral freedom which, however, is held in check by the expectations of society. Without comparable societal structures, to what degree do other animal species experience sex-based roles? Are sex-based roles in nature invariable, interchangeable,...

Inner Nature: Feats of strength

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times As the weather warms, we watch bees collecting and hauling fat baskets of pollen back to their hives. Bumblebees, with their improbably large bodies hover on whirring, buzzing wings that seem barely adequate to the purpose of elevating, never mind transporting their bulk. Ants swarm kitchen counters and picnics and carry away remarkably large portions of bounty...

Inner Nature: Parasitic control of host behavior

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times We act, we think, rationally. But our thoughts are subject to manipulation: by new ideas, new experiences, psychoactive drugs, and … parasites. Parasites are organisms that take up residence in a host, and then proceed to use the host’s energy to replicate themselves and spread. If the host is killed as part of the process, then the parasite must find some...

Inner Nature: Vaccine Formulations

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times In early October, I was listening to Weekend Edition on National Public Radio when an interview with the Executive Director of Shark Allies, Stefanie Brendl, came on the air [1]. Her concern was urgent: a world-wide coronavirus vaccine that could contain the ingredient squalene, isolated from from shark livers, could lead to over a half-million sharks being...

Inner Nature — Fe: An Iron Constitution

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times There are 92 naturally occurring elements in the periodic table, but only a handful of elements are essential to life. They include hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen in large quantities, moderate amounts of iron, magnesium, sodium, potassium, phosphorus and sulfur, and miniscule quantities of “micronutrients” like selenium and zinc. Why? In an intermittent...

Inner Nature: Gender — sex made visible

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times Charles Darwin concluded his seminal “Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” with this immortal paragraph: “Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers,...

Inner Nature: Animal Development: Evolution of Body Plans

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times To observe a graceful animal in motion is a beautiful thing. This is even more so for those justly celebrated for their mastery of movement, such as a hummingbird hovering over a flower, or a human thundering to a heart-stopping sub-10 second 100 meter Olympic run. The seeming perfection of form is an illusion – all forms are in development, with each generation...

Inner Nature: The Breath of Life

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times Respiration is the technical term for the release of energy from food at the cellular level. On a colloquial level, it is used to describe the process of breathing. Here, I will discuss how the process of breathing using the respiratory system supports the intake of oxygen and removal of carbon dioxide, a waste product of respiration. I am going to focus narrowly...

Inner Nature: Good Vibrations – The Science of Hearing

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times A disturbance in any medium except vacuum causes vibrations whose energy is transmitted from atom to atom in all directions from the epicenter. These waves encode the amplitude (intensity) and frequency (pitch)(see Figure 1) of the disturbance thus broadcasting information to anyone who can decode the vibrations. Animals, whose very existence depends on whether...