Why humans (and other primates) lend a helping hand

Kate Shaw Human society is rife with examples of individuals helping each other, but they can be a confusing and contentious subject for evolutionary biologists. We often help others at our own expense, whether it’s a matter of holding a door for someone or rescuing them from an oncoming train. Where does this behavior come … Continue reading

Why Are Air Conditioners So Heavy?

It’s the copper. By Maura Kelly Why are air conditioners so heavy? With temperatures rising, Americans have begun the annual summer tradition of installing cumbersome removable air conditioners. It’s tough to find a window unit that’s lighter than 46 pounds—and a machine like that would be able to cool only a fairly small room (150 … Continue reading

Goodbye, Genetic Blueprint

What the new field of epigenetics reveals about how DNA really works. By Christine Kenneally There are almost as many metaphors for genes as there are genes. One of the most familiar, and the hardest to let go of, is the tidy blueprint, at once reassuringly clear and oppressively deterministic: Our genome is the architectural … Continue reading

Giant Viruses

The recent discovery of really, really big viruses is changing views about the nature of viruses and the history of life James L. Van Etten The common view of viruses, mostly true, is of tiny burglars that sneak into cells, grab the biosynthetic controls and compel the cell to make huge numbers of progeny that … Continue reading

Do Babies Resemble Their Fathers More Than Their Mothers?

Recent studies do not support the claim of an enhanced resemblance between fathers and their young offspring By John Matson  FATHER’S FEATURES? Most studies find that babies resemble both parents in approximately equal measures. Image: © USGirl/iStockphoto Does junior really have his father’s nose? A common bit of parenting folklore holds that babies tend to … Continue reading

I Didn’t Always Wash After Peeing; Now I Will

Cord Jefferson I’m going to be straight with you: I used to not wash my hands after peeing. Before you write me off completely, you should know that I’ve always washed my hands after shitting (I’m not a monster!), just as I’ve always scrubbed up if I’m about to eat food. But for as long … Continue reading


A Conversation with Hugo Mercier "The article,” Haidt said, "is a review of a puzzle that has bedeviled researchers in cognitive psychology and social cognition for a long time. The puzzle is, why are humans so amazingly bad at reasoning in some contexts, and so amazingly good in others?" "Reasoning was not designed to pursue … Continue reading

Why Do Humans Reason?

Arguments for an Argumentative Theory Hugo Mercier University of Pennsylvania Dan Sperber affiliation not provided to SSRN Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 57-74, 2011 Abstract: Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and … Continue reading

Early Americans helped colonise Easter Island

Michael Marshall South Americans helped colonise Easter Island centuries before Europeans reached it. Clear genetic evidence has, for the first time, given support to elements of this controversial theory showing that while the remote island was mostly colonised from the west, there was also some influx of people from the Americas. Easter Island is the … Continue reading

Farmers were genetic breeders 10,000 years ago

Michael Marshall Chinese rice farmers 10,000 years ago were early pioneers of modern genetic breeding. Like modern breeders they seemed to realise that shorter plants would produce higher yields, and unwittingly selected for mutations in a gene that shrinks rice stems: the stalkier plants produce more grain without falling over. Masanori Yamasaki of Kobe University … Continue reading

Disorienting mosquitoes with a blend of odors

Yun Xie As we enjoy the outdoors through various summer activities, we also have to deal with pests like mosquitoes, which are potential disease carriers, on top of being annoying. DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) is an effective repellent, but it requires high concentrations, can be a skin irritant, and is damaging to some materials, including plastics. Certain … Continue reading

scientific controversy: arsenic in DNA

John Timmer We spend so much time discussing manufactured controversies about science that it’s a bit refreshing to be able to report on a real one. And one has been brewing since late last year, when Science released a report that suggested that researchers had forced bacteria to evolve to the point where they no … Continue reading

Violent Video Games Reduce Brain Response to Violence and Increase Aggressive Behavior

Scientists have known for years that playing violent video games causes players to become more aggressive. The findings of a new University of Missouri (MU) study provide one explanation for why this occurs: the brains of violent video game players become less responsive to violence, and this diminished brain response predicts an increase in aggression. … Continue reading

Crazy Sex Trick Fuels All-Male Clam Species

Brandon Keim Amidst the animal kingdom’s menagerie of sexual practices, those of Corbicula clams stand out. A common freshwater genus about the size of a half-dollar, nearly all Corbicula species are clones. That’s odd, albeit not extraordinary. They’re also physically hermaphroditic but genetically male — again odd, but not extraordinary. What’s really strange is that, … Continue reading

Unnatural amino acids combine with HGH to make for better therapy

Diana Gitig The universal genetic code allows for 20 amino acids to be used in proteins. They can be smaller, bigger, acidic, basic, polar, nonpolar, linear, or with rings—but there are only 20. Of course there are plenty of other amino acids that can be synthesized, but DNA cannot instruct cells to put them into … Continue reading

Why Japan’s recent quake defied expectations

John Timmer Last week, Science released three papers and a perspective, all focused on understanding what happened during the March earthquake that struck Japan. Now officially termed the Tohoku-Oki quake, the event is estimated as a magnitude 9 quake—one of the biggest in recorded history—and it has triggered significant aftershocks. But it’s not the size … Continue reading

Can a Virgin Give Birth?

Yes—but it’s very, very, very, very unlikely. By Melinda Wenner Is it possible for a virgin to give birth?During the holidays, Christians celebrate the birth of a human baby to his virginal mother. We know that female wasps, fish, birds, and lizards can produce healthy offspring without having sex, but what about people? Are natural … Continue reading

Protein flaws responsible for complex life

By Jason Palmer Science and technology reporter, BBC News Some proteins have remained largely unchanged since they first appeared Tiny structural errors in proteins may have been responsible for changes that sparked complex life, researchers say. A comparison of proteins across 36 modern species suggests that protein flaws called "dehydrons" may have made proteins less … Continue reading

The Mystery of the Canadian Whisky Fungus

Adam Rogers A scanning electron microscope image (500X) of the mold found outside the Hiram Walker Distillery. Photo: Caren Alpert The air outside a distillery warehouse smells like witch hazel and spices, with notes of candied fruit and vanilla—warm and tangy- mellow. It’s the aroma of fresh cookies cooling in the kitchen while a fancy … Continue reading

Penguins Continue Diving Long After Running out of Oxygen

Breathing heavily at the edge of an ice hole, an Antarctic emperor penguin prepares to dive. Taking a last gulp of air, the bird descends and may not emerge again for another 20 minutes. The penguin initially carries sufficient oxygen in three stores — the blood, lungs and myoglobin in muscle — to sustain aerobic … Continue reading

Venomous Catfish Surprisingly Common

Name all the venomous animals you can think of and you probably come up with snakes, spiders, bees, wasps and perhaps poisonous frogs. But catfish? A new study by University of Michigan graduate student Jeremy Wright finds that at least 1,250 and possibly more than 1,600 species of catfish may be venomous — far more … Continue reading

How Do Venomous Snakes Inject Venom Into Victim’s Wound?

Most snakes do not inject venom into their victims bodies using hollow fangs, contrary to common misconceptions. The fact is that most snakes and many other venomous reptiles have no hollow fangs. Physicists have now uncovered the tricks these animals use to force their venom under the skin of their victims. For years Professor Leo … Continue reading

Youthful ingenuity honored at Intel ISEF

Young scientists receive awards in international competition By Laura Sanders LOS ANGELES — Cancer-killing X-rays, nuclear threat detection and a fishy new plastic were behind the projects that took top awards at the 2011 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. In addition to those top winners, hundreds of students took over $4 million in awards … Continue reading

Simple Toadfish Grunts May Contain Complex Information

By Dave Mosher The simple-sounding grunts and hoots of the toadfish contain surprisingly complex information. Sounds hidden within the toadfish calls may communicate everything from, “It’s me again, can we spawn?” to, “It’s your neighbor, but get away from my nest.” Birds, amphibians and mammals often use hard-to-discern sounds to add an extra layer of … Continue reading

Breastfed babies make better-behaved children

Jessica Hamzelou, reporter Breastfed babies are 30 per cent less likely to develop behavioural problems, according to the latest evidence that breast really is best. To assess the effects of breastfeeding on behaviour, Maria Quigley at the University of Oxford and her colleagues collected data from more than 10,000 mothers in the UK. When their … Continue reading

High-Quality DNA

In an improbable corner of China, young scientists are rewriting the book on genome research. by Lone Frank Ian Teh / Panos for Newsweek (4) Lab technicians at the Beijing Genomics Institute in Shenzhen, China. Clockwise from upper left: Zhi Wei Luo; Wan Ling Li; Zi Long Zhang; and Yu Zhu Xu. The world’s largest … Continue reading

Women who start periods early likelier to have girls

WILL a baby be a boy or a girl? If the mother started her period at a young age, it is more likely to be a girl. That’s according to Misao Fukuda at the M&K Health Institute in Hyogo, Japan, and colleagues, who found subtle differences in sex ratios of children depending on when a … Continue reading

Grand Canyon born by continental lift

"Drip" within the Earth may have raised the Colorado plateau By Alexandra Witze HIGH AND MIGHTY The Colorado Plateau, home to the Grand Canyon and other wonders, may have risen to its current heights through a geological process that chips away at heavier rock from below.Doug Dolde/Wikimedia Commons For all its glorious views, the Colorado … Continue reading

Bees’ royal jelly secret revealed

by Michael Marshall There’s more than one way to turn a commoner into royalty. Honeybees create queens by feeding their larvae royal jelly, the secret ingredient of which has now been identified. Masaki Kamakura of Toyama Prefectural University in Imizu, Japan, stored royal jelly at 40 °C for 30 days, feeding it to bee larvae … Continue reading

Man discovers a new life-form at a South African truck stop

By Rob Dunn  Like many biologists, the German biologist Oliver Zompro spends thousands of hours looking at specimens of dead animals. He found his first new species when he was twenty. By the age of thirty he had named dozens of wild new forms. While other people around him did crossword puzzles and drank lattes, … Continue reading

Too Hard for Science?

Philip Zimbardo–creating millions of heroes By Charles Q. Choi  If outside influences can make people act badly, can they also be used to help people do good? In "Too Hard for Science?" I interview scientists about ideas they would love to explore that they don’t think could be investigated. For instance, they might involve machines … Continue reading

Ozone loss made tropics rainier

Hole over Antarctica changes weather patterns all the way to the equator By Alexandra Witze From high above the South Pole, Earth’s ozone hole can affect rainfall as far away as the tropics, scientists have found. Thinning ozone causes weather patterns to shift southward across the Southern Hemisphere, bringing more rain to a band that … Continue reading

For Family Violence Among Adolescents, Mattering Matters

Adolescents who believe they matter to their families are less likely to threaten or engage in violence against family members, according to a new study led by Brown University sociologist Gregory Elliott. The research s published in the Journal of Family Issues. A relatively new concept, "mattering" is the belief persons make a difference in … Continue reading

Microcar Runs On Aluminum Pull-Tabs

By Mark Brown, Wired UK This clean and green microcar runs on something you’d normally just toss away: the aluminum ring pulls that snap off your beer cans. The all-electric radio controlled vehicle, named “dAlH2Orean”, can zip along at 30km/hr (18 mph) by turning waste aluminum scraps like ring pulls into hydrogen, and then into … Continue reading

Sea anemones spawn mixed-up kids

by Michael Marshall Species: Urticina felina Habitat: rocky coastlines of Canada and north-west Europe, having identity crises You may not be just you. A few people are actually chimeras, created when two embryos fuse in the womb. Chimeras carry the genetic material from both embryos – different organs contain different sets of genes. Unlike conjoined … Continue reading

The Human Skin Condition

Mother Nature gave us pimples, and then she made us self-conscious about them. By Jesse Bering Humans are pimply. It’s part of what sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. While it’s true that some form of acne vulgaris affects other species—it’s been found in some Mexican hairless dogs and induced experimentally … Continue reading

Is a geothermal heat pump right for you?

By George Musser  I’ve tried it all: caulking cracks, blowing in insulation, replacing drafty windows and—I’m especially proud of this one—installing a mail-slot cover so airtight it could be used in a space shuttle docking module. Yet my home heating bill remains an object of fear and loathing. After years of trying low-tech solutions, I’m … Continue reading

Too Hard For Science? Creating Naked Singularities

Neutrino beams might create such enigmas, but dare we risk making anything so unpredictable? In "Too Hard For Science?" I interview scientists about ideas they would love to explore that they don’t think could be investigated. For instance, they might involve machines beyond the realm of possibility, such as particle accelerators as big as the … Continue reading

Hunger Hormone Sharpens Shnoz

The hormone ghrelin, which makes you want to eat, also appears to activate your nose, probably to make it easier to find food. Christopher Intagliata reports When your stomach’s empty, it pumps out the hormone ghrelin, to whet your appetite and get your juices flowing. But ghrelin doesn’t just make you crave a bite. It … Continue reading

What makes old beer taste bad? Why, it’s the trans-iso-alpha acids, of course

By John Matson  Beer, for the most part, is not like wine—it does not improve with age. Quite the contrary, in fact. Old beer is a comparatively unpalatable shadow of its former self—skunky in odor, bitter in aftertaste. So what happens between the brewery and the bottle opener to make long-in-the-tooth beer taste bad? A … Continue reading

How bicycles keep the rubber on the road

Engineers try to explain the surprising stability of two wheels By Devin Powell An unusual riderless bike with two wheels that spin backwards demonstrates that the physics behind the stability of bicycles is more complicated than previously thought. Sam Rentmeester/FMAX Bicycle abuse isn’t something you’d expect from the Dutch. But engineers in the Netherlands who … Continue reading

Fish ‘ebola’ caused marine mass death in Milwaukee

A VIRUS likened to the human Ebola virus because it makes fish bleed to death has been identified as the mystery agent that caused thousands of dead fish to clog up Milwaukee harbour last month. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced on 1 April that the shoals of gizzard shad, Dorosoma cepedianum, had … Continue reading

Can I expand my short-term memory?

by David Robson Never mind mastering a second language or a subject syllabus, most us have enough difficulty remembering the orders for a round of drinks at the pub. That’s because the average short-term, working memory can only hold five to seven pieces of information at any one time. This limit constrains pretty much everything … Continue reading

Nanoparticles successfully take down MRSA bacteria

By Diana Gitig LLNL Traditional antibiotics like doxycyclin and vancomycin—the kind that many bacteria can now resist because of their overuse—work by getting inside the bacterial cell and interfering with essential cellular processes. Charged peptides have been proposed as alternatives, since they work by electrostatically interacting with the negatively charged bacterial cell wall, poking holes … Continue reading

RNA duplicating RNA, a step closer to the origin of life

By Yun Xie NASA JPL According to the “RNA world” model of life’s origin, RNA performed all of the operations that are essential to life. RNA alone passed on genetic information and catalyzed the reactions of basic metabolism; DNA and proteins were not in the picture. The RNA world hypothesis is an appealingly simple model … Continue reading

Genetic roots of ‘orchid’ children

Some kids may inherit sensitivity to family contexts, for better or worse By Bruce Bower A Swedish expression that translates as “orchid child” refers to a youngster who blossoms spectacularly if carefully nurtured but withers badly if neglected. Scientists have now identified gene variants that may help to cultivate orchid children by heightening their sensitivity … Continue reading

Coffee Drinking in Your Genes?

Genetic Variants in Two Genes Linked With Caffeine Intake Two genes in which variation affects intake of caffeine, the most widely consumed stimulant in the world, have been discovered. A team of investigators from the National Cancer Institute, Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel … Continue reading

Strong Indian Crust Thrust Beneath the Tibetan Plateau, New Study Suggests

For many years, most scientists studying Tibet have thought that a very hot and very weak lower and middle crust underlies its plateau, flowing like a fluid. Now, a team of researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is questioning this long-held belief and proposing that an entirely different mechanism is at play. "The … Continue reading

Chimpanzees’ Contagious Yawning Evidence of Empathy, Not Just Sleepiness, Study Shows

Contagious yawning is not just a marker of sleepiness or boredom. For chimpanzees, it may actually be a sign of a social connection between individuals. New research at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, may help scientists understand empathy, the mechanism thought to underlie contagious yawning, in both chimpanzees and humans. The research … Continue reading

The Trouble With Teens

Fast driving, drugs, and unsafe sex: The risk-loving behavior of adolescents may result from a neurological gap in the developing brain. by Carl Zimmer iStockphoto Teenagers are a puzzle, and not just to their parents. When kids pass from childhood to adolescence their mortality rate doubles, despite the fact that teenagers are stronger and faster … Continue reading