The Great Pandemic Stress Test
In February 2020, people all over the world watched with mounting anxiety as a novel coronavirus, then referred to as 2019-nCoV, began its unyielding spread across the globe. What at first seemed, to western eyes, like a worrying but well-contained viral outbreak on the other side of the world, had suddenly appeared in northern Italy and was crushing the country’s health system with the sheer number of patients needing intensive care. European and North American news cycles began to fill with countless stories of people desperate for treatment in overloaded hospitals, and soon after, Italy imposed a strict lockdown on the movement of its citizens in order to try to slow the exponential growth of coronavirus infections. Videos of Italians singing to each other across balconies and alleyways in an attempt to maintain some sort of interpersonal connection spread widely on social media as containment measures were put into place.
The Genetic Lottery is a bust for both genetics and policy
The last decade has seen genetics and evolution grapple with its history; one composed of figures who laid the foundations of their field while also promoting vile racist, sexist, and eugenicist beliefs. In her new book, The Genetic Lottery, Kathryn Paige Harden, professor of psychology at University of Texas at...
Urbanization increases risk for knee osteoarthritis, even in young children
Many countries with agricultural-based economies are experiencing rapid urbanization as they transition to market-based economies. On top of the the broad societal changes experienced in these countries, research is studying the significant health consequences that this rapid urbanization can cause. Many of the health changes associated with urbanization are thought...
An Arctic Elegy
When the Bering Sea freezes over, it sings. As wind and current shift, the ice crackles and moans, piping through the polar night. Among these moving giants rises St. Lawrence Island. Closer to Russia than the United States, its granite cliffs uplift rock as old as the , when an explosion of life spilled over the Earth. Waves have since cut away lake-dotted plains, and its headlands, once hugged by ice for much of the year, are rugged, with spare, bouldered beaches.
To find extraterrestrials, we have to think like extraterrestrials
Over lunch one day in 1950, the Nobel Prize winning nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi posed a question that would reverberate through parts of astronomy for decades. “Where is everybody?” he mused. He and a few other physicists had been discussing technological extraterrestrials, and Fermi appeared to be making the innocuous...
A butterfly's wings are the perfect mold to grow neurons on
Around 15% of American adults report some trouble hearing. That is about 37.5 million people who may need hearing aids for the majority of their lives. A common cause of hearing loss stems from special cells called spinal ganglion neurons (SGN) that transmit signals from hair cells in the ear to the brain. In these cases, regenerating SGN in the inner ear is our best bet to restore hearing. However, controlling how and where nerve cells grow is notoriously difficult. Fortunately, our dependence on hearing aids may soon wind down thanks to the beautiful blue morpho butterfly.
Even cities have their own unique microbiomes
Every city has its unique charms: its weather, its views, its events, its landmarks — and even its microbes. A study published earlier this year in the journal Cell analyzed the microbes present in 60 cities from six continents, and found that each city has its own unique set of microorganisms — its very own microbial signature, if you will.
On faster spinning planets, life could be hiding out under the atmosphere
To find life on other planets, astronomers are on the hunt for biological signatures. They point their telescopes to exoplanets, planets that orbit around stars different than our Sun, and look for gases on those planets' atmospheres that are only produced by life. One important biosignature is molecular oxygen (O2). Organisms are the primary source of oxygen on Earth. Oxygen is also important for habitability, as the large amount of energy locked up in oxygen enabled the evolution of complex, multicellular life on Earth.
Caffeine keeps your body fat warm, on top of lighting up your brain
For many people, drinking a cup of coffee in the morning is a sacred ritual. It tastes great, and it helps the morning fog to dissipate. Since it's such a big part of our daily lives, it's hard to think of caffeine as a psychoactive drug. We know plenty about the alerting qualities of caffeine on the brain, but less about caffeine's other benefits. According to a study published earlier this year by a group from La Trobe University in Australia, lead-authored by Lachlan van Schaik, caffeine increases activity in brain regions associated with brown fat thermogenesis, and increases the temperature of brown fat.
To save the reefs, save the trees and the soil they grow in
Tropical rainforests and coral reefs are two of the most vibrant and biodiverse ecosystems in the world. Together they bring to mind images of lush, green vegetation spilling into clear turquoise waters teeming with ocean life. You probably don't think about the ground beneath your feet — but, according to research recently published in Global Change Biology, we need to if we want to keep these two ecosystems healthy.
Animals, plants, and even some bacteria use hypodermic needles
In 1844, Irish physician Francis Rynd performed the first known medical injection using a hollow metal needle that ended in a sharpened point. This instrument, known today as a hypodermic needle, has become one of the most important tools used in medicine and research. Some have even claimed that the hypodermic syringe in particular is responsible for saving more lives and alleviating more suffering than any other piece of medical technology.
Artificial light makes it harder for nocturnal pollinators to find flowers and avoid predators
If you live in the Global North or one of the rapidly urbanizing parts of the Global South, there may be a stark lack of darkness. The thing that has been a defining feature of the night is gone. Unceasing human activity — all those lights — means the night sky now has a slight red glow to it. This skyglow is the result of light pollution, and it has far reaching consequences on human health, ecosystems, and animal behavior.
A failed star known as "The Accident" is changing the way we look at the galaxy
There's a newly observed object in the sky called WISEA J153429.75-104303.3 — more affectionately known as "The Accident." The Accident is a brown dwarf, a ball of gas that never quite grew large enough to start nuclear fusion and become a star — but it’s cold, strange, and unlike any other brown dwarf we’ve seen. This weird brown dwarf is the first of its kind that we’ve detected, and it’s changing the way astronomers search for the smallest stars in our galaxy.
Songbirds might hold the key to managing our cholesterol levels
Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death globally — and high levels of blood cholesterol increases the chances of both of them. While significant progress has been made in developing a slate of medicines that can maintain normal levels and reduce the associated risks, we’re still a long way from understanding all the ways cholesterol acts and affects humans. Now, a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the ultimate solution to managing this disease might come from songbirds.
A new drug reduces risk of psychosis relapse in patients with dementia
Dementia is a constellation of progressive cognitive problems, such as memory loss and disorientation, which occurs in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other diseases that reduce brain function. But dementia affects more than cognition. Hallucinations occur in up to 50% of the 50 million cases of dementia worldwide, and delusions...
There's a connection between fasting, gut microbiota and blood pressure
Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of premature death worldwide, causing over 17 million deaths annually. One major risk factor for these diseases is high blood pressure (hypertension). With hypertension on the rise globally, there is an urgent need to find treatments and prevention strategies for this condition. Our lifestyle,...
After decades of work, an effective cytomegalovirus vaccine is on the horizon
Cytomegalovirus infection before birth is a leading cause of sickness affecting children's development. There are no approved vaccines to prevent this infection, which happens when a pregnant person is exposed to cytomegalovirus (CMV) and the virus passes through the placenta to the fetus. To better evaluate vaccine candidates for clinical trials, we need an "immune correlate of protection," a sign that helps us predict whether a vaccine will protect against CMV infection and disease. Such a sign was discovered through a study conducted under the leadership of Sallie R. Permar, a physician-scientist at the Duke University School of Medicine.
Cuttlefish can learn with the brains they keep in their arms
Here's a puzzle for you. Using the building blocks of a nervous system, design the perfect brain. You have two types of cells to work with: neurons, and glia. Where would you put this agglomeration inside a body? For an animal to be considered relatively intelligent, they should have memory. Would your brain be solely focused on retaining and recalling events from the past, or should it also help the creature see and touch… maybe even move? You probably would design a brain unlike any other, but nature might have made one that’s even more bizarre. Cue the cephalopods.
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