Archivo: Science

Fifty percent of the oxygen we breathe comes from ocean microbes. Yet these tiny marine organisms have largely remained a mystery to science. Now, thanks to the efforts of more than 100 researchers around the globe, scientists have found a way to unlock the genomes of a handful of these creatures by genetically engineering their DNA.

Like many animals, you couldn’t see without proteins called opsins, which dwell in the light-sensitive cells of your eyes. A new study reveals for the first time that fruit flies can also use some of these proteins, nestled at the tip of their nose, to taste noxious molecules in their food. Opsins in our bodies could also serve the same function, researchers speculate.


Un nuevo estudio de la revista Science identifica por primera vez variantes genéticas que influyen en las diferencias individuales de la corteza cerebral y cómo se relacionan con el riesgo genético de trastornos como la depresión o el TDHA. Los resultados están disponibles para que la comunidad científica pueda seguir avanzando en el conocimiento de la anatomía y funcionamiento del cerebro.


Last Thursday, the first cat tested positive for the new coronavirus. The feline had diarrhea, vomiting, and difficulty breathing, and it had come down with COVID-19 about 1 week after its owner did, Belgian health officials announced.

COVID-19, caused by the new pandemic coronavirus, is strangely—and tragically—selective. Only some infected people get sick, and although most of the critically ill are elderly or have complicating problems such as heart disease, some killed by the disease are previously healthy and even relatively young. Researchers are now gearing up to scour the patients’ genomes for DNA variations that explain this mystery. The findings could be used to identify those most at risk of serious illness and those who might be protected, and they might also guide the search for new treatments.


The city of Minamata, Japan, is dotted with monuments commemorating victims of an industrial mass poisoning decades ago. High in the hills, a small stone memorial honors other deaths—of cats sacrificed in secret to science. Now, after restudying the remains of one of those cats, a team of scientists is arguing, controversially, that the long-standing explanation for the tragedy is wrong.

“IT IS POSSIBLE TO STOP THE EPIDEMIC.” That’s the message splashed atop a website built by a University of Oxford team this week to share new research on the spread of the novel coronavirus. Below that hopeful statement comes a big caveat: To stop the virus’ spread, health officials need to find and isolate the contacts of infected people—lots of them—and fast. Such contact tracing is a mainstay of infectious disease control. But the Oxford team is one of several now advocating for a new approach: tapping into cellphone location data to track the spread of infection and warn people who may have been exposed.

Where on Earth, wondered Henri Weimerskirch, were all the penguins? It was early 2017. Colleagues had sent the seabird ecologist aerial photos of Île aux Cochons, a barren volcanic island halfway between Madagascar and Antarctica that humans rarely visit. The images revealed vast areas of bare rock that, just a few decades before, had been crowded with some 500,000 pairs of nesting king penguins and their chicks. It appeared that the colony—the world’s largest king penguin aggregation and the second biggest colony of any of the 18 penguin species—had shrunk by 90%. Nearly 900,000 of the regal, meter-high, black, white, and orange birds had disappeared without a trace. “It was really incredible, completely unexpected,” recalls Weimerskirch, who works at the French national research agency CNRS.

For years, drug discovery chemists have struggled to streamline a process that can boost a drug’s potency up to 2000-fold: “magic methylation.” The reaction sweeps out single hydrogen atoms and replaces them with methyl groups—reshaping the drug molecule to more easily interact with its biological targets. But carrying out this sleight of hand is so difficult that few researchers even try. Now, a team of chemists reports it has created a new catalyst that performs this delicate exchange with ease on a wide variety of druglike molecules, an advance that could lead to novel treatments for everything from cancer to infectious diseases.

In 2015, archaeologists Jeffrey Blomster and Víctor Salazar Chávez began excavating the Mexican site of Etlatongo, a 3400-year-old village in the mountains of Oaxaca. They chose a spot in the center of the site, one that appeared to be an important public space. But instead of finding anything resembling a palace or a temple, the team unearthed a flat stone floor that extended at least 46 meters (about half the length of a soccer field), flanked by low steps made from clay and stone. Mounds at least 1 meter tall enclosed this narrow area on either side.