In electrifying advance, researchers create circuit within living plants
Talk about flower power. Researchers have crafted flexible electronic circuits inside a rose. Eventually such circuitry may help farmers eavesdrop on their crops and even control when they ripen. The advance may even allow people to harness energy from trees and shrubs not by cutting them down and using them for fuel, but by plugging directly into their photosynthesis machinery.
Mathematician claims breakthrough in complexity theory
For days, rumors about the biggest advance in years in so-called complexity theory have been lighting up the Internet. That’s only fitting, as the breakthrough involves comparing networks just like researchers’ webs of online connections. László Babai, a mathematician and computer scientist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, has developed a mathematical recipe or «algorithm» that supposedly can take two networks—no matter how big and tangled—and tell whether they are, in fact, the same, in far fewer steps than the previous best algorithm. Computer scientists are abuzz, as the task had been something of a poster child for hard-to-solve problems.
Nonreligious children are more generous
Religious doctrines typically urge the faithful to treat others with compassion and to put the greater good before selfish interests. But when it comes to generosity, nonreligious kids seem to be more giving, according to a new study of 1170 children from around the world. Children from religious homes—particularly Muslims—also showed a greater inclination to judge someone’s misdeeds as wrong and punish the perpetrators. The study, the first large-scale analysis of its kind, suggests that religion and moral behavior don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand for children.
Feature: How the Amazon became a crucible of life
The western Amazon, which includes parts of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and northwestern Brazil, “is the most diverse region in the world in terms of plants,” says Christopher Dick, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “We have about 300 tree species in eastern North America. In the western Amazon, we have 300 tree species in a single hectare.” And plant diversity is just part of the picture. All told, the Amazon Basin, a 6.7-million-square-kilometer area extending through Brazil all the way to the Atlantic, is home to 10% of the world’s known species.
Alzheimer’s disease tied to brain’s navigation network
The way you navigate a virtual maze may predict your chances of getting Alzheimer’s. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which finds that people at risk for Alzheimer’s have lower activity in a newly-discovered network of navigational brain cells known as “grid cells.” The finding could lead to new ways to diagnose this debilitating disorder.
Climate cycles didn’t shape ocean’s abyssal hills
Can Earth’s ice ages be seen in the undulating fabric of the sea floor? Earlier this year, a pair of papers suggested that long-term cycles of glaciation and melting trigger pulses of lava that harden into sea floor hills. But now, a new study throws cold water on that hypothesis, finding that these climate-driven pulses did not significantly shape the sea floor. Instead, they say, the underwater hills likely come from faulting action and steady—rather than climate-driven—magma eruptions.
Bedtime problems boost kids’ math performance
Yet if a school child’s parents replace a bedtime story with a math discussion even one night a week, the child’s math skill may improve markedly compared with peers who listen to nonmathematical stories, a new study shows.
Ancient tsunami heaved 700-ton boulders over island cliffs
An ancient landslide on an island volcano is providing a worrisome lesson about tsunamis, thanks to some geologic sleuthing. According to a new study in the Cape Verde archipelago, a landslide triggered a tsunami powerful enough to push massive boulders on a neighboring island onto a high plateau. The scientists warn that although such events are extremely rare, they could also be devastating if they hit a populated coastal area.
Why bison put their females in charge
Standing 2 meters tall and weighing as much as 1000 kilograms, European bison (Bison bonasus) are impressive animals. These cousins of the American bison—nearly driven to extinction in the last century—are being reintroduced in small herds across Europe, leading some farmers and forest managers to worry that the large herbivores will destroy their habitat.
The man who wants to beat back aging
On a blazingly hot morning this past June, a half-dozen scientists convened in a hotel conference room in suburban Maryland for the dress rehearsal of what they saw as a landmark event in the history of aging research. In a few hours, the group would meet with officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a few kilometers away, to pitch an unprecedented clinical trial—nothing less than the first test of a drug to specifically target the process of human aging.