Why do humans see colors? For years the leading hypothesis was that color vision evolved to help us spot nutritious fruits and vegetation in the forest. But in 2006, evolutionary neurobiologist Mark Changizi and colleagues proposed that color vision evolved to perceive oxygenation and hemoglobin variations in skin in order to detect social cues, emotions and the states of our friends or enemies. Just think about the reddening and whitening of the face called blushing and blanching. They elicit distinct physiological reactions that would be impossible without color vision.
A few years ago Changizi left Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he was professor to co-found 2AI Labs with Dr. Tim Barber. Their Boise, Idaho-based research institute, funded via technology spin-offs coming out of their work, aimed at solving foundational problems in cognitive science and artificial intelligence. The move allowed Changizi to continue to conduct academic work with more intellectual freedom and less of a reliance on grants.
Sometimes you just can’t wait for evolution to happen on its own.
Researchers at Iowa State University’s Bioeconomy Institute are working on a project to make biofuels out of corn stalks and sawdust that can compete with petroleum-based products. To do it, they are heating the plant matter to produce a sugar-rich oil and then setting microbes to feed on the syrupy liquid to produce ethanol, which can be used as a fuel.
But they’ve found a bottleneck in the otherwise promising technique: There are chemicals in the syrup that slow the growth and activity of the microbes—species of bacteria, algae and yeasts—from efficiently breaking it down.