V. Bush

Vannevar Bush This has not been a scientist’s war; it has been a war in which all have had a part. The scientists, burying their old professional competition in the demand of a common cause, have shared greatly and learned much. It has been exhilarating to work in effective partnership. Now, for many, this appears … Continue reading

Dodos Solitaires

This classic Marginalia on the dodo’s disappearance was first published in 1954 G. Evelyn Hutchinson The progress of Man in civilization, no less than his numerical increase, continually extends the geographical domain of Art by trenching on the territories of Nature, and hence the Zoologist or Botanist of future ages will have a much narrower … Continue reading


For decades, our view of heredity has been written in the language of DNA — and genetic mutations and recombinations have driven most descriptions of how phenotypic traits are handed down from one generation to another. Yet, as is amply demonstrated in Science‘sspecial issue of 10 August 2001, recent discoveries in the field of epigenetics … Continue reading

Why Your DNA Isn’t Your Destiny

JOHN CLOUD The remote, snow-swept expanses of northern Sweden are an unlikely place to begin a story about cutting-edge genetic science. The kingdom’s northernmost county, Norrbotten, is nearly free of human life; an average of just six people live in each square mile. And yet this tiny population can reveal a lot about how genes … Continue reading

Sex-Deprived Flies Seek Swig Solace

Sexually frustrated fruit flies preferred alcohol-laced food more than their satisfied compatriots did. Cynthia Graber You know the scene—it’s a Friday night, and your date just canceled. You’re bummed, maybe a little hurt. You think now might be a good time for a beer, maybe a bourbon. And you have good company: fruit flies. Turns … Continue reading

Man as Machine

A peculiar experiment inspired by the Enlightenment sheds light on the age-old question of what makes us human. Max Byrd Once or twice a year France’s National Museum of Technology, on the nondescript rue Vaucanson in Paris, announces a special demonstration. On the second floor, at the end of a corridor of antique steam engines … Continue reading

How the Bioweapon Ricin Kills

ScienceDaily (Dec. 1, 2011) — A key protein that controls how the deadly plant poison and bioweapon ricin kills, has finally been identified by researchers at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna, Austria. The discovery was made using a revolutionary technology that combines stem cell biology and modern screening methods, and reported on 2 … Continue reading

Earliest human bedding didn’t let the bedbugs bite

Michael Marshall After a hard day hunting and gathering, humans 77,000 years ago could count on a good night’s mosquito-free sleep on a comfy bed of grass and leaves. Archaeologists have discovered the oldest evidence of humans using plant bedding, 50,000 years before it appears anywhere else. Many animals make beds for themselves, says lead … Continue reading

Do Bacteria Age?

When a bacterial cell divides into two daughter cells and those two cells divide into four more daughters, then 8, then 16 and so on, the result, biologists have long assumed, is an eternally youthful population of bacteria. Bacteria, in other words, don’t age — at least not in the same way all other organisms … Continue reading

"Living fossil" populating the coast of Africa

John Timmer The coelacanth is a textbook example of what’s sometimes termed a "living fossil." It belongs to a group called lobe-finned fishes, which were very common back in the Devonian. In its relatives, the long, lobed fins evolved into the four limbs of the tetrapods, which include us mammals. The lineage was thought to … Continue reading

Evolutionary Comparison Finds Shocking History for Vertebrates

By Mark Brown, Wired UK Evolutionary biologists from Cornell University have discovered that just about every vertebrate on Earth — including humans — descended from an ancient ancestor with a sixth sense: the ability to detect electrical fields in water. About 500 million years ago there was probably a predatory marine fish with good eyesight, … Continue reading

Follow the Odor and CO2

Flight Patterns Reveal How Mosquitoes Find Hosts to Transmit Deadly Diseases The carbon dioxide we exhale and the odors our skins emanate serve as crucial cues to female mosquitoes on the hunt for human hosts to bite and spread diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever. Two entomologists at the University of California, Riverside … Continue reading

Earth’s Plant Life ‘Recycles’ Carbon Dioxide Faster Than Previously Estimated

A Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego-led research team followed the path of oxygen atoms on carbon dioxide molecules during photosynthesis to create a new way of measuring the efficiency of the world’s plant life. A team led by postdoctoral researcher Lisa Welp considered the oxygen atoms contained in the carbon dioxide taken … Continue reading

Pigeon ‘Milk’ Contains Antioxidants and Immune-Enhancing Proteins

Production of crop milk, a secretion from the crops of parent birds, is rare among birds and, apart from pigeons, is only found in flamingos and male emperor penguins. Essential for the growth and development of the young pigeon squab, pigeon ‘milk’ is produced by both parents from fluid-filled cells lining the crop that are … Continue reading

Watching Your Dreams and Memories

Philip Yam  Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have reconstructed the internal “movie” that plays in a person’s head. To re-create dynamic visual experiences, they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the brain activity of volunteers (the other members of the research team) as they watched short movie clips (left panel in … Continue reading

Bashing Orthodoxy

Michael Powell OXFORD, England —You walk out of a soft-falling rain into the living room of an Oxford don, with great walls of books, handsome art and, on the far side of the room, graceful windows onto a luxuriant garden. Does this man, arguably the world’s most influential evolutionary biologist, spend most of his time … Continue reading

Anti-Aging Uncertainties Persist

New research raises further questions about the role of sirtuins in aging. By Emily Singer Two papers published today in Nature present contradictory evidence about a promising approach to understanding and manipulating the biology of aging: boosting expression of a gene called Sir2. One of the papers calls into question whether boosting Sir2 expression truly … Continue reading

‘Gloomy’ gene may make you more positive

IS THE glass half full or half empty? A gene variant usually considered to make people more gloomy could also help them see the positive. Previous studies have linked the short version of the 5-HTTLPR serotonin-transporter gene with vulnerability and depression, in contrast to the "happier" carriers of the long version. To explore further, Elaine … Continue reading

Fathers responsible for mother tongues

YOUR mother tongue may come from your father. The language of some cultures correlates with a prehistoric influx of foreign males. This is still reflected in the genetics of people today. Written records are powerless to tell us about the evolution of language before writing was invented. Instead, Peter Forster and Colin Renfrew of the … Continue reading

Can pumping too much groundwater raise sea level?

cott K. Johnson The Ogallala Aquifer The overuse of groundwater is a concern that looms over discussions of water supply in many regions around the world. Many groundwater aquifers are pumped more quickly than they can be replenished, meaning wells have to be drilled deeper and deeper to reach an ever-diminishing resource. The Ogallala Aquifer, … Continue reading

About Urine

Rachel Zurer Illustration: Olimpia Zagnoli It’s handy in a crisis … kind of. You hear about survivalists or people stranded in the desert swigging their own urine, but experts agree that’s a bad idea even in an emergency. Pee is about 2 percent salt, which will dehydrate you. Plus it’s chock-full of toxins your body … Continue reading

What’s Inside Red Wine

Patrick Di Justo Photo: Kenji Aoki Ethanol Most cultures see something magical, even holy, about the way this toxin confuses our brain into thinking we are gods. It’s formed by microorganisms that eat sugar (C6H12O6) and excrete the waste as CH3CH2OH. Glycerol Some insist that this syrupy sugar alcohol, a byproduct of ethanol fermentation, is … Continue reading

Marvels and Flaws of Intuitive Thinking

The power of settings, the power of priming, and the power of unconscious thinking, all of those are a major change in psychology. Daniel Kahneman … If you want to characterize how something is done, then one of the most powerful ways of characterizing the way the mind does anything is by looking at the … Continue reading

Testosterone Drops Steeply After Baby Arrives

Fathers Wired to Provide Offspring Care A new Northwestern University study provides compelling evidence that human males are biologically wired to care for their offspring, conclusively showing for the first time that fatherhood lowers a man’s testosterone levels. The effect is consistent with what is observed in many other species in which males help take … Continue reading

Natural CO2 seeps suggest carbon storage is low risk

John Timmer A volcanic carbon seep in Iceland. Progress toward limiting carbon emissions continues to be slow, which has helped maintain interest in carbon capture and storage (CCS). This approach involves separating out carbon dioxide from other gasses, often directly from the exhaust stream of a fossil fuel power plant. This gas can then be … Continue reading

Sweet Sounds and Sour Notes

Kim Krieger A mathematical model may explain how the nerves in your ear sense harmony, a team of biophysicists reports. The model suggests that pleasant harmonies cause neurons to fire in regular patterns whereas discordant notes stimulate messier neuron activity. Strike the middle C on a piano and hold it. Count two white keys to … Continue reading

Thirsty Birds ‘Burn The Engine’ In Flight

Joe Palca Migratory songbirds like Swainson’s thrushes spend their winters in South and Central America. But as spring approaches, they fly thousands of miles north to Canada. Along the way, these little birds show endurance that would shame even the toughest athletes. They can fly for up to eight hours straight without stopping for food … Continue reading

Is Addiction A Disease Of The Brain?

Alva Noë Addiction has been moralized, medicalized, politicized, and criminalized. And, of course, many of us are addicts, have been addicts or have been close to addicts. Addiction runs very hot as a theme. Part of what makes addiction so compelling is that it forms a kind of conceptual/political crossroads for thinking about human nature. … Continue reading

How Our Brains Got Big and Our Penises Lost Their Spines

Lost DNA provides keys to human anatomy and a new way to study evolution Josh Fischman The relationship between humans and chimpanzees, thought to be pretty close in evolutionary terms, now comes down to a number: 510. Those are the genetic elements, in key areas of the genome, that differ between the two species. Surprisingly … Continue reading

The Pitfalls of Positive Thinking

How rosy thoughts can lead to negative outcomes Alla Katsnelson    From superstar athletes to self-help devotees, advocates of positive thinking—imagining yourself succeeding at something you want to happen—believe it is a surefire way to help you attain a goal. Past studies have backed that idea, too, but now researchers are refining the picture. Paint … Continue reading

Sunshine of Your Love

Why does semen glow in the dark? Forrest Wickman There’s a way to check what’s on that hotel bed … and carpet … and wall When prosecutors in Manhattan filed to drop charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn on Monday, they revealed more than the flimsiness of their evidence. As the New York Times‘ City Room blog … Continue reading

The amphibious fish that mates with itself

Michael Marshall Species: Kryptolebias marmoratus Habitat: Mangrove swamps on the east coast of North and South America Faced with the inevitability of death, some people draw up a "bucket list": a checklist of things they plan to do, like learning a musical instrument or visiting the Grand Canyon. The Bucketlist website collates these ideas, including … Continue reading

Gene Study Sheds New Light On Origins of British Men

New genetic evidence reveals that most British men are not descended from immigrant farmers who migrated east 5,000-10,000 years ago — contrary to previous research. Instead, scientists from the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh say that most European men can trace their lineage to people — most likely hunter-gatherers — who had settled in Europe … Continue reading

Interbreeding Between Modern Humans and Evolutionary Cousins Gave Healthy Immune System Boost to Human Genome

For a few years now, scientists have known that humans and their evolutionary cousins had some casual flings, but now it appears that these liaisons led to a more meaningful relationship. Sex with Neanderthals and another close relative — the recently discovered Denisovans — has endowed some human gene pools with beneficial versions of immune … Continue reading

Economic Inequality Is Linked to Biased Self-Perception

Pretty much everybody thinks they’re better than average. But in some cultures, people are more self-aggrandizing than in others. Until now, national differences in "self-enhancement" have been chalked up to an East-West individualism-versus-collectivism divide. In the West, where people value independence, personal success, and uniqueness, psychologists have said, self-inflation is more rampant. In the East, … Continue reading

The Scent of a Woman

Don’t trust the hype about pheromones and sexual attraction. Randi Hutter Epstein Is there any truth to the pheromones craze? The notion that our body odors are potent, chemically charged mating signals—so-called pheromones—is so pervasive in women’s magazines and websites, you would think that all you need is one good sweat to lure your guy. … Continue reading

Fresh Meats with a Three-Year Shelf Life

Give me a nice 2008 rib-eye Paul Adams Rib Steak Michael C. Berch Those of us who want to keep meat from spoiling for more than a few weeks have had limited options till now. We can cure it into bacon or sausage; freeze it or dry it; or buy it supermarket-"fresh" in a shrink-wrapped … Continue reading

Why Are Scientific Retractions Increasing?

Jonah Lehrer In the WSJ, Gautam Naik reports on a troubling surge in scientific retractions: Since 2001, while the number of papers published in research journals has risen 44%, the number retracted has leapt more than 15-fold, data compiled for The Wall Street Journal by Thomson Reuters reveal. Just 22 retraction notices appeared in 2001, … Continue reading

Lost the plot? The contraceptive pill might help

HORMONAL contraceptives might inadvertently change how the brain functions. In particular, a new study shows that taking the pill alters the way women recall an emotional narrative. Shawn Nielsen of the University of California, Irvine, and her colleagues asked 34 women who were on the pill and 35 who were not taking any hormonal contraceptive … Continue reading

Biofuel from bacteria? Running fat-burning cycle in reverse

John Timmer The majority of plant matter we have available to produce biofuels comes in the form of cellulose, a long polymer of sugars. It’s easiest to convert this material to ethanol, but that creates its own problems: ethanol is less energy dense than petroleum-based fuels, and most vehicles on the road can’t burn more … Continue reading

Science education requires overcoming childhood understanding

John Timmer It’s not a secret that the general population hangs on to no end of non-scientific beliefs despite contrary evidence; the Nobel Intent forums have been visited by proponents of homeopathy and intelligent design, to give just two examples. Two developmental psychologists at Yale are now suggesting these and many other non-scientific beliefs—their list … Continue reading

Existence: Where did we come from?

Stephen Hawking WHY are we here? Where did we come from? According to the Boshongo people of central Africa, before us there was only darkness, water and the great god Bumba. One day Bumba, in pain from a stomach ache, vomited up the sun. The sun evaporated some of the water, leaving land. Still in … Continue reading

Chimp brains don’t shrink

Study indicates brain withering may be uniquely human By Laura Sanders Unlike humans, chimpanzees’ brains don’t shrink as they get older. That means that, so far, people seem to be the only lucky species whose brains wither with age, researchers report online July 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Chimp aging … Continue reading

Telling Real Whiskey from Fake, Faster

Methods for distinguishing between authentic and counterfeit Scotch whisky brands have been devised by scientists at Strathclyde. Researchers from the Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry have found new ways to compare the content of whisky samples to determine if they are the whisky on the label or an imitation brand. A series of blind … Continue reading

Minority Rules

Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at … Continue reading

Editing the Genome

Scientists Unveil New Tools for Rewriting the Code of Life The power to edit genes is as revolutionary, immediately useful and unlimited in its potential as was Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press. And like Gutenberg’s invention, most DNA editing tools are slow, expensive, and hard to use — a brilliant technology in its infancy. Now, Harvard … Continue reading

Learnin’ lizards

Underappreciated reptiles can cope when the old rules change By Susan Milius CHOICES, CHOICESIn a lab test of mental flexibility, an Anolis lizard needs to select the round plastic lid of the correct color — which researchers may have switched — and then dislodge the lid to get a treat of freshly killed fly larva. … Continue reading

Weevil Has Nuts and Bolts in Its Legs

By Mark Brown, Wired UK Think nuts and bolts are exclusive to mechanics and engineers? Think again. The Trigonopterus oblongus weevil has been using the mechanism in its hips for 100 million years. Using samples from the Karlsruhe State Museum of Natural History and the instruments at the Institute for Synchrotron Radiation at the Karlsruhe … Continue reading


Steven Shapin Alexis St Martin was one of the 19th century’s most important scientific guinea pigs. In 1822, the illiterate young French-Canadian was working as a ‘voyageur’ for John Jacob Astor’s fur-trading company in northern Michigan. He was hanging out with a bunch of rowdies in the company store when a shotgun accidentally went off … Continue reading

Shaved bat wings show sensory hairs help manage flight

John Timmer Although one of the diagnostic features of mammals is the hair they sport, the typical description of a bat’s wing usually includes the term "leathery." In contrast to the rest of their bodies, the wings of these animals are largely devoid of hair. Largely, but not completely. Researchers have rediscovered a set of … Continue reading