84 articles
  • The Vast Viral World: What We Know (and Don’t Know)

    Exploring the minuscule and mysterious world of viruses.

  • Plant Cells of Different Species Can Swap Organelles

    In grafted plants, shrunken chloroplasts can jump between species by slipping through unexpected gateways in cells walls.

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    The Man Who Saw the Pandemic Coming

    Will the world now wake up to the global threat of zoonotic diseases?

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    Preserving a Sense of Wonder in DNA

    A bold project codes human data into microbes that will survive for millions of years.

  • ‘Zombie’ Microbes Redefine Life’s Energy Limits

    A new model shows that the denizens of a vast, ancient biome beneath the seafloor use barely enough energy to stay alive—and broadens understanding of what life can look like.

  • A Digital Locksmith Has Decoded Biology’s Molecular Keys

    Neural networks have been taught to quickly read the surfaces of proteins—molecules critical to many biological processes. The advance is already being used to create defenses for the virus responsible for COVID-19.

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    The Superorganism That Created the Pandemic

    A spotlight on the species that dominates the global ecosystem.

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    The Man Who Saw the Pandemic Coming

    Will the world now wake up to the global threat of zoonotic diseases?

  • Cracking the Case of the Norovirus

    A pervasive, pernicious virus has evaded vaccine developers for decades. By getting a clear look at its protective shell, they might finally know how to defeat it.

  • Unscrambled Eggs: Self-Organization Restores Cells’ Order

    To scientists’ surprise, blended mixtures of cytoplasm can reorganize themselves into cell-like compartments with working structural components.

  • The Non-Human Living Inside of You

    Half of your genome started out as an infection; if left unchecked, some parts of it can turn deadly all over again.

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    Memories Can Be Injected and Survive Amputation and Metamorphosis

    If a headless worm can regrow a memory, then where is the memory stored? And, if a memory can regenerate, could you transfer it?Photograph by Rattiya Thongdumhyu / Shutterstock The study of memory has always been one of the stranger outposts of science. In the 1950s, an unknown psychology professor at the University of Michigan […]

  • Nobel Prize Awarded for Discoveries on How Cells Adapt to Oxygen

    The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine honors work elucidating how cells adjust to low oxygen levels.

  • Origin-of-Life Study Points to Chemical Chimeras, Not RNA

    Origin-of-life researchers have usually studied the potential of pure starting materials, but messy chemical composites may kick-start life more effectively.

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    What Is the Human Microbiome, Exactly?

    Are you an ecosystem? Your mouth, skin, and gut are home to whole communities of microscopic organisms, whose influence on your body ranges from digesting your food to training your immune system and, possibly, impacting your mood and behavior. What are these tiny tenants, and how do they change the way we think about human […]

  • Immune Cells Measure Time to Identify Foreign Proteins

    T-cells identify what belongs in the body by timing how long they can bind to it.

  • Viruses Have a Secret, Altruistic Social Life

    Researchers are beginning to understand the ways in which viruses strategically manipulate and cooperate with one another.

  • Scientists Discover Nearly 200,000 Kinds of Ocean Viruses

    New work raises the estimated diversity of viruses in the seas more than twelvefold and lays the groundwork for a better understanding of their impact on global nutrient cycles.

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    Viruses Have a Secret, Altruistic Social Life

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog. Social organisms come in all shapes and sizes, from the obviously gregarious ones like mammals and birds down to the more cryptic socializers like bacteria. Evolutionary biologists often puzzle over altruistic behaviors among them, because self-sacrificing individuals would at first seem to be at a severe disadvantage […]

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    What Defines a Stem Cell?

    Our cells have more diverse regenerative capabilities than anyone expected.

  • What Defines a Stem Cell? Scientists Rethink the Answer

    As it becomes clear that the body’s cells have more diverse regenerative capabilities than expected, experts have had to reconsider their approach to stem cell research.

  • “Traffic Jams” of Cells Help to Sculpt Embryos

    By measuring mechanical forces inside an embryo for the first time, researchers have shown how a physical “jamming” mechanism assists development.

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    The Self-made Beauty of the Centriole

    This story was originally published by Knowable Magazine. You don’t often see the word beautiful in scientific articles. Yet it’s easy to see why cell biologists Niccolò Banterle and Pierre Gönczy used the word when describing a crucial cell structure called the centriole in a recent review. The scientists, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, are helping to […]

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    Swarming Bacteria Create an “Impossible” Superfluid

    Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine‘s Abstractions blog. Outside of the imaginations of physics teachers, frictionless devices are hard to come by. But putting a bunch of swimming bacteria into a drop of water achieves just that: a fluid with zero resistance to motion. Incredibly, that resistance (or viscosity, as it’s properly known) can even go negative, […]

  • Swarming Bacteria Create an ‘Impossible’ Superfluid

    Researchers explore a loophole that extracts useful energy from a fluid’s seemingly random motion. The secret? Sugar and asymmetry.

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    A Holiday Guest Is Leaving Dangerous Poop in Your Couch

    Although dust mites don’t directly harm us, they trigger allergies in about a billion people. But we aren’t allergic to the buggers themselves. We’re allergic to their poop.Image courtesy of Pavel Klimov We have long known that we can catch germs while traveling. Recent years have shown that we can also bring home bed bugs. […]

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    Why We Need More Intellectually Promiscuous Scientists

    When Thomas Steitz, Ada Yonath, and Venkatraman Ramakrishnan were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their research, in 2009, they acknowledged a debt. Without the work of two of the Physics Laureates that year, the chemists would have lacked the CCD detectors, or high-quality imaging hardware, they used to model and image ribosomes, […]

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    The $1 Billion Misunderstanding of Aging

    Robert Conquest, a historian of Soviet Russia and a poet, once summarized Shakespeare’s 28-line poem, “The Seven Ages of Man,” in five lines. They go like this: Seven Ages: first puking and mewling Then very pissed off with your schooling. Then fucks and then fights. Then judging chaps’ rights— Then sitting in slippers—then drooling. For […]

  • Mapping the Human Exposome

    It’s now possible to map a person’s lifetime exposure to nutrition, bacteria, viruses, and environmental toxins—which profoundly influence human health.

  • Resetting the Clock of Life

    We know that the circadian clock keeps time in every living cell, controlling biological processes such as metabolism, cell division, and DNA repair, but we don’t understand how.

  • Creating a Census of Human Cells

    New techniques make possible a systematic description of the myriad types of cells in the human body that underlie both health and disease.

  • Unveiling the Viral Ecology of Earth

    Could viral infections, which modify and transform the functioning of individual cells, impact the balance of nature?

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    Why Synthetic Protein Research Needs More Funding

    The ability to create and explore such synthetic proteins with atomic level accuracy has the potential to unlock new areas of basic research and to create practical applications in a wide range of fields.Image by G. Indelicato, P. Burkhard, R. Twarock / Royal Society Open Science Proteins are the workhorses of all living creatures, fulfilling […]

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    Live Tiny, Die Never: Behold the Toughest Animal on Earth

    Extremophiles raise the prospect that perhaps life first emerged in what we—sunny children of a relatively easy, superficially life-friendly environment—have until recently considered impossible conditions.Photograph by Nicole Ottawa & Oliver Meckes / Eye of Science / Science Source Images With global climate change, habitat loss, poaching, pollution, and environmental abuse of all kinds, these are […]

  • From the Bottom of the Sea to the Operating Table

    How coral revolutionized human bone repair.

  • Unleashing the Power of Synthetic Proteins

    The opportunities for the design of synthetic proteins are endless.

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    Why Do Jellyfish Glow?

    A fluorescent protein helped researchers illuminate human cellular biology.

  • The Surprising Importance of Stratospheric Life

    The science of bacteria in the atmosphere is getting its moment in the sun.

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    Authenticity in the Age of the Fake

    As science blurs the real and unreal, we are learning to distinguish them in new ways.

  • How to Grow a New Model Organism

    To develop new model organisms, scientists will have to find species that are easy to grow in the lab.

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    How Water Can Identify Murder Victims and Fake Scotch

    These maps pinpoint an object’s origins by the isotope ratio in the water.

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    Bacteria Are Masters of Tai Chi

    The remarkable science that helped me understand what it means to be a physicist.

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    The Surprising Importance of Stratospheric Life

    The science of bacteria in the atmosphere is getting its moment in the sun.

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    Ingenious: Nick Lane

    The biochemist explains the elements of life, sex, and aging.

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    Yes, Life in the Fast Lane Kills You

    New insights into mitochondria reveal how life expends energy.

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    This Astrobiologist Is Collecting Unrecognizable Beings from the Stratosphere

    Milton Wainwright believes he’s seen ET. In Earth’s upper atmosphere, he claims to have found evidence for panspermia—the hypothesis that life travels through the cosmos via meteoroids and other objects. A microbiologist and astrophysicist at the University of Sheffield, Wainwright sends large balloons up to the stratosphere, as high as 25 miles above the planet’s […]

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    In the “Black Mayonnaise” of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, Alien Life Is Being Born

    On a late fall morning, Joseph Alexiou fastened his life jacket and stepped into an eight-foot fiberglass boat floating on the Gowanus Canal. A licensed New York City tour guide, and an amateur historian, Alexiou was preparing to take a passenger on an unsanctioned tour of the waterway he’d spent three years researching for his […]

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    When Dating Algorithms Can Watch You Blush

    The next generation of dating algorithms will use real-life interactions.

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    When Plants Go to War

    In the fight against insects, plants have evolved an arsenal of ingenious chemical defenses.

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    How the Western Diet Has Derailed Our Evolution

    Burgers and fries have nearly killed our ancestral microbiome.

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    Why Fireworks Displays Can’t Include a Perfect Red, White, and Blue

    “Mother Nature can be a handful when she wants to be,” says John Conkling, the former technical director of the American Pyrotechnics Association and a professor emeritus of chemistry at Washington College. Except he used a stronger, more colorful word than “handful.” When it comes to fireworks, “she just doesn’t want to give you that […]

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    The Curious Case of the Bog Bodies

    Why do so many corpses found in Europe’s peat bogs show signs of violent death?

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    The Deadly Plant Sneeze

    High-speed cameras capture how bouncing rain spreads crop disease.

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    Infected Monkeys and Other Cautionary Tales From the Biolab

    No matter how safe the lab is, humans working with deadly bioagents can make errors.

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    The Executioner We Can’t Live Without

    You’re dead meat without special molecules that kill rotten proteins.

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    The Executioner We Can’t Live Without

    You’re dead meat without special molecules that kill rotten proteins.

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    Whiskey Can’t Hide Its Age Either

    Anxious distillers are trying to make bourbon old before its time.

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    Whiskey Can’t Hide Its Age Either

    Anxious distillers are trying to make bourbon old before its time.

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    How to Turn Your Dog Off

    Suspended animation is becoming a life-saving medical procedure.

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    Why Egg Freezing Is an Impossible Choice

    I don’t want to surrender to a lottery. But will I regret not playing?

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    Teen MacGyver Invents Battery to Save the Planet

    14-year-old creates eco-battery with aluminum foil, old guitar strings, and club soda.

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    How We Can Finally Start Outsmarting Single-Cell Attackers

    Imagine you are a bacterium, roughly 1/1,700,000 of your current size, residing in your own human body’s gut. You live in a diverse community, the “microbiome,” teeming with other bacteria: friendly neighbors who live next door, some ne’erdowells who occasionally vandalize the town, and your neighborhood cops who try to keep everything in check. The […]

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    How Sex Is Like Your Thermostat

    “If you stroke the thermostat just like so…”starmanseries via Flickr Have you ever stopped to consider how sex is like a thermostat? Sex may not sit in a beige box on your wall (or it might, no judging) but there are some striking similarities. The common ingredient is feedback. Both sex and your thermostat depend […]

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    The Last Word with Diane Ackerman

    Magnifying our mutant, turbulent, symmetrical natures.

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    Why Is the Merger Called Mayonnaise Loved—& Hated—so Deeply?

    While a strong trend in the culinary arts has been to let individual, natural ingredients shine through, one food has quietly come to dominate the retail market by merging a group of incongruous ingredients together. Mayonnaise, that familiar white goop hiding in your sandwich and coleslaw, is officially the most valuable condiment in the nation. […]

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    Should Science Save Modern Art?

    Keeping Father Time at bay is more than a question of chemistry.

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    Bacteria Love Lasered Jell-O

    How artificial homes for pathogens may lead to better medicine.

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    Nature, the IT Wizard

    Nature manages information, the currency of life, with exquisite efficiency.

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    Meet Your Body’s Death Eaters

    From brain to blood to bone, macrophages take out our cellular trash.

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    How Animals Use Smell to Send Coded Messages

    Dad was back. He played a little with the children, rubbed a few heads with his own, clawed at a wooden post, and then, standing erect with tail straight up, he backed towards a tree, sprayed, and left. The kids scampered over. They stood on their hind legs and carefully examined the spray—the family smell. […]

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    Ancient Poop Tells Useful Stories—If You Know How to Listen

    Underwater core samples, like these from the coast of England, often contain coded historical messages.Wessex Archaeology via Flickr “Out of sight, out of mind” is the usual attitude about what we flush down the toilet. But in the last century, some chemists have begged to differ: They want to know just where our personal waste […]

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    One Big Question Not Answered by Today’s Nobel Winners

    Earlier today three US-based researchers shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research on vesicles, special structures that ferry all kinds of molecules around biological cells, and are fundamental to those cells’ functioning. Their findings provide some key background for our understanding of life—information that will fill textbooks for decades—though they lack […]

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    Seven Molecules’ Claim to Fame

    These infinitesimal celebrities shape us and our world.

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    The Feminine Smells That Get Sperm Moving

    Sperm are the cheetahs of the microscopic world: Made of little more than molecular muscle and batteries, tipped with a payload of genetic information, they are optimized for speed. But to orient themselves before their epic, seven-inch sprint (it’s more impressive if you’re less than one three-thousandth that size), they first need to sniff out […]

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    Your Vegetables’ Nutrients Change With Their Circadian Cycle

    When looking at the “Nutrition Facts” label on a package of food, the familiar Helvetica text laid out according to the FDA’s exacting specifications, you could easily end up with the impression that the information there is consistently accurate. That the can of minestrone soup will always have the same amount of sodium (a lot), […]

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    Following One Reader’s Nose

    The variability in how people smell has a lot to do with their genetics.