biology

A team of Australian researchers has delivered dire news for polar ecosystems, predicting that in some regions biodiversity may be reduced by as much as a third within decades. It's the result of a tipping point induced by global warming.

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Deciding who is to blame and who should pay for the financial crisis will be a hot topic at the G8 next week. Financial mathematics received a lot of bad press in the aftermath of the crunch and many believe that it was the popularity of mathematical models – often borrowed from physics — that put the financial system at risk. But now models borrowed from biology are helping us understand how this risk might be reduced.

The first ever National Biology Week is happening between October 13th and 19th 2012. It's organised by the Society of Biology and there'll be events around the country giving everyone the chance to learn about the second-most fascinating science (if you count maths as a science). But if you'd rather stay in and cuddle up with your laptop here are our favourite Plus articles on maths and biology.

Some things are so familiar to us that they are simply expected, and we may forget to wonder why they should be that way in the first place. Sex ratios are a good example of this: the number of men and women in the world is roughly equal, but why should this be the case? A simple mathematical argument provides an answer.

Plants are amazingly good at something that is still flummoxing us humans in our quest for sustainable energy sources: turning sunlight into energy in an efficient way. Around 100 bilions tons of biomass are produced annually through photosynthesis. The question is, how exacty do plants do it?

Yesterday's refusal by the UK government to posthumously pardon Alan Turing makes sad news for maths, computer science and the fight against discrimination. But even if symbolic gestures are, symbolically, being rebuffed, at least Turing's most important legacy — the scientific one — is going stronger than ever. An example is this week's announcement that scientists have devised a biological computer, based on an idea first described by Turing in the 1930s.

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It is thought that the next great advances in biology and medicine will be discovered with mathematics. As biology stands on the brink of becoming a theoretical science, Thomas Fink asks if there is more to this collaboration than maths acting as biology's newest microscope. Will theoretical biology lead to new and exciting maths, just as theoretical physics did in the last two centuries? And is there a mathematically elegant story behind life?

When insects go foraging, they zoom off from their nest in complex zig-zag paths. How do they manage to find their way back home? And how do they manage to do so along a straight path? These questions are explored in an exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, currently taking place at the Southbank Centre in London.

Genes normally evolve by tiny mutations, but every now and then something more radical occurs and entire genes along a chromosome get flipped. Understanding gene flipping boils down to solving a problem from pure maths. Colva Roney-Dougal and Vincent Vatter explain, taking us on a journey from waiters sorting pancakes, via one of the richest men in the world, to the genetic similarities of mice and humans.
Controlled chaos produces realistic behaviour in robotic cockroach
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