Archives: Science

There is no force on Earth quite like a subduction zone. Slips along these faults, found where plates of dense ocean crust dive beneath continents, cause the world’s most destructive earthquakes and tsunamis: 1964 in Alaska; 2004 in Indonesia; 2011 in Japan. But much remains unknown about how those faults slip and stick between catastrophes.

Researchers say they have solved a long-standing mystery about Saturn’s tiny, frozen moon Enceladus: why its south pole features long, water-spewing geysers known as tiger stripes. The study could also help explain why these unique formations aren’t seen on any other satellite in the solar system.

Two thousand years ago, the streets of Rome bustled with people from all over the ancient world. The empire’s trade routes stretched from North Africa to Asia, and new immigrants poured in every day, both by choice and by force. Now, an ancient DNA study has shown those far-flung connections were written in the genomes of the Romans.

In 2016, a 73-year-old woman from Medellín, Colombia, flew to Boston so researchers could scan her brain, analyze her blood, and pore over her genome. She carried a genetic mutation that had caused many in her family to develop dementia in middle age. But for decades, she had avoided the disease. The researchers now report that another rare mutation—this one in the well-known Alzheimer’s disease risk gene APOE—may have protected her. They can’t prove this mutation alone staved off disease. But the study draws new attention to the possibility of preventing or treating Alzheimer’s by targeting APOE—an idea some researchers say has spent too long on the sidelines.

In some ways, drilling into Antarctica’s ancient ice is easier than interpreting it. Today, more than 2 years after presenting the discovery of the world’s oldest ice core, scientists have published an analysis of the 2.7-million-year-old sample. One surprising finding: Air bubbles from 1.5 million years ago—from a time before the planet’s ice age cycles suddenly doubled in length—contain lower than expected levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), a possible clue to the shift in the ice age cycle.

A new genetic study suggests all modern humans trace our ancestry to a single spot in southern Africa 200,000 years ago. But experts say the study, which analyzes the DNA of living people, is not nearly comprehensive enough to pinpoint where our species arose.

Electric vehicles are poised to transform nearly every aspect of transportation, including fuel, carbon emissions, costs, repairs, and driving habits. The primary impetus now is decarbonization to address the climate change emergency, but it soon may shift to economics because electric vehicles are anticipated to be cheaper and higher-performing than gasoline cars. The questions are not if, but how far, electrification will go. What will its impact be on the energy system and on geoeconomics? What are the challenges of developing better batteries and securing the materials supply chain to support new battery technology?

Biogen stunned investors and scientists alike today, announcing it will resurrect an Alzheimer’s drug it had declared a failure in March; the company plans in early 2020 to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for marketing approval of aducanumab, an antibody designed to bind and eliminate the protein beta-amyloid in the brain.

Most geodes—hollow, crystal-lined rocks—can fit in the palm of your hand. But the giant Pulpí Geode, which is about half the size of a small bedroom, fills part of an abandoned mine in southeastern Spain. Now, researchers have analyzed some of its crystals to figure out its age—and how this real-life Fortress of Solitude came to be so big.

Brain scientists can watch neurons fire and communicate. They can map how brain regions light up during sensation, decision-making, and speech. What they can’t explain is how all this activity gives rise to consciousness. Theories abound, but their advocates often talk past each other and interpret the same set of data differently. Now, the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF), a nonprofit best known for funding research at the intersection of science and religion, hopes to narrow the debate with experiments that directly pit theories of consciousness against each other.