Inner Nature: Sodium and Potassium — The Yin and the Yang

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times In previous articles, I have examined the various roles that oxygen and iron play in living organisms. These elements are linked in an energy-cycling relationship – iron moves oxygen and electrons around the body, as well as around the inside of the cell itself to harvest energy from food [1]. In this article, I will examine another dynamic relationship: that...

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: Chocolate — food or poison?

By Vidja Rajan, Columnist, The Times Easter, with its egg hunts and chocolate eggs, is past. With the current school closures and social distancing, the kids are bouncing off the walls already, and don’t need any further stimulation. It’s time to get rid of the chocolate. But the reliable excess food disposal unit, aka Man’s Best Friend, is forbidden from gormandizing Godivas. Why so? In...

Inner Nature: COVID-19 and what you need to know

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times News of the novel coronavirus outbreak has exposed our vulnerability to two things: fear and contagion. I have had conversations with people, admittedly not science-aware types, who think that countries should be providing antibiotics prophylactically, or frustrated a vaccine is taking so long to make. I have heard people conflating the virus that causes COVID-19,...

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,...

InnerNature: Sex — The key to diversity

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times In his book “Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea,” Carl Zimmer concedes: “Sex is not only unnecessary, but it ought to be a recipe for evolutionary disaster. For one thing, it is an inefficient way to reproduce…And sex carries other costs as well…By all rights, any group of animals that evolves sexual reproduction should be promptly outcompeted by nonsexual...

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 science of reproduction

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times Reproduction is the process by which cells make new cells and organisms make babies. No surprises there. But underlying the banality of that observation is a profound question that had thinkers from Aristotle to Darwin scratching their heads: How does reproduction work? How is it that cats have baby cats nearly, but not exactly, like themselves? And if cats...

Inner Nature: Immunity — Autosurveillance

By Vidya Rajan, Columnist, The Times The immune system is the mechanism that protects and defends the body. Although its main purpose is defense against attack, the immune system is also a barrier, border patrol, soldier, police, doctor, parent, and amazingly, a fortune-teller, all in one package. Not only that, it exists in every living organism from bacteria to plants to animals to protect against...

Inner Nature: Circulation — nutrients in, waste out

By Vidja Rajan, Columnist, The Times The purpose of circulation is to bring nutrients to cells and remove wastes. Circulation is important for all organisms, including plants, fungi and bacteria; it’s no good to a cell if materials cannot get in and out efficiently. In single-celled organisms, which live suspended in an aqueous environment, the medium performs this function.