Archives: Science

Praveen Rahi spent the better part of the past 3 years identifying and describing a new species of a nitrogen-fixing bacteria he discovered on peas cultivated in the mountains of northern India. But it could take years for Rahi, a microbial ecologist at India’s National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS), to get the new species validated and officially named—if he doesn’t get scooped.

,

Madagascar was once home to towering elephant birds, giant tortoises, and even giant lemurs. Today no animal heavier than a car tire exists, and researchers have long debated whether humans or climate change were to blame. Now, a study of cave deposits on another Indian Ocean island has helped provide an answer: Unusually dry conditions did make life hard for these giant animals, but humans were the straw that broke the elephant bird’s back.

As a baby, Quincy appeared healthy and happy, smiling at an early age and giggling frequently. But during her first few months of life, she missed many developmental milestones: At 10 weeks, she was not making eye contact. When her parents waved toys in front of her, she stared blankly. She had trouble feeding. And when she was lying on her stomach, she could not lift her head.

The 197 radio astronomy dishes of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in South Africa will sit within a radio-quiet zone the size of Pennsylvania where even a cellphone is forbidden, to preserve the array’s views of the heavens. Yet that precaution won’t save the telescope, due to be completed in the late 2020s, from what may soon be overhead: tens of thousands of communications satellites beaming down radio signals straight from the heavens. “The sky will be full of these things,” says SKA Director General Phil Diamond.

,

Tinnitus—a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears that affects about 15% of people—is difficult to understand and even harder to treat. Now, scientists have shown shocking the tongue—combined with a carefully designed sound program—can reduce symptoms of the disorder, not just while patients are being treated, but up to 1 year later.

,

Even before they learn to talk, human infants and toddlers know how to joke: They play games such as peek-a-boo and take whatever unexpected actions get a rise from adults. Now, it appears that nonhuman apes—like gorillas and orangutans—engage in similar behaviors, according to a paper published last week in Biology Letters.

,

The bacteria that live in our bodies, particularly our guts, play key roles in immunity and development. But babies born by cesarean section don’t get the rich blend of microbes that come from a vaginal birth—microbes that may help prevent disorders such as asthma and allergies. Now, a study suggests feeding these infants a small amount of their mothers’ feces could “normalize” their gut microbiome—the ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the digestive system—and possibly give their immune systems a healthier start.

,

As the world’s climate changes, plants and animals have adapted by expanding into new territory and even shifting their breeding seasons. Now, research suggests that over the past 75 years, flowers have also adapted to rising temperatures and declining ozone by altering ultraviolet (UV) pigments in their petals.

,

Never before has “bird brain” been such a compliment: In recent years, birds have been found to make tools, understand abstract concepts, and even recognize paintings by Monet and Picasso. But their lack of a neocortex—the area of the mammalian brain where working memory, planning, and problem solving happen—has long puzzled scientists. Now, researchers have found a previously unknown arrangement of microcircuits in the avian brain that may be analogous to the mammalian neocortex. And in a separate study, other researchers have linked this same region to conscious thought.

Call it neuroscience on the go. Scientists have developed a backpack that tracks and stimulates brain activity as people go about their daily lives. The advance could allow researchers to get a sense of how the brain works outside of a laboratory—and how to monitor diseases such as Parkinson’s and post-traumatic stress disorder in real-world settings.