Jordana Cepelewicz

Staff Writer

520px photo of Jarvis holding a zebra finch
Q&A

In Birds’ Songs, Brains and Genes, He Finds Clues to Speech

January 30, 2018

The neuroscientist Erich Jarvis found that songbirds’ vocal skills and humans’ spoken language are both rooted in neural pathways for controlling learned movements.

520px 3D illustration of tissue curling
Abstractions blog

Tissue Engineers Hack Life’s Code for 3-D Folded Shapes

January 25, 2018

Mechanical tension between tethered cells cues developing tissues to fold. Researchers can now program synthetic tissue to make coils, cubes and rippling plates.

520px illustration of microbial networks
microbiology

Simpler Math Tames the Complexity of Microbe Networks

January 19, 2018

The dizzying network of interactions within microbe communities can defy analysis. But a new approach simplifies the math and makes progress possible.

Aribidopsis thaliana inflorescence
Abstractions blog

With ‘Downsized’ DNA, Flowering Plants Took Over the World

January 11, 2018

Compact genomes and tiny cells gave flowering plants an edge over competing flora. This discovery hints at a broader evolutionary principle.

Illustration: altered DNA in bears
synthetic biology

Is a Bigger Genetic Code Better? Get Ready to Find Out

January 2, 2018

Evolution settled on a genetic code that uses four letters to name 20 amino acids. Synthetic biologists adding new bases to DNA will be free to improve on nature — if they can.

RNA Peptide 520
origins of life

The End of the RNA World Is Near, Biochemists Argue

December 19, 2017

For decades, an origin-of-life story starring RNA has prevailed. New research may be shaking that theory’s hold on our understanding of life’s beginnings.

New finch species "Big Bird "(offspring)
Abstractions blog

New Bird Species Arises From Hybrids, as Scientists Watch

December 13, 2017

The rapid, unorthodox emergence of a new finch in the Galápagos hints that speciation isn’t rare. New hybrid species may quietly appear and disappear without anyone noticing.

Illustration of a doctor trying to get to a patient
molecular biology

Bacteria Sacrifice DNA Repair for Better RNA

November 22, 2017

Preserving its DNA ought to be a cell’s top priority. But bacteria slow their DNA repair to a crawl in favor of proofreading gene transcripts.

origins of life

Life’s First Molecule Was Protein, Not RNA, New Model Suggests

November 2, 2017

Which mattered first at the dawn of life: proteins or nucleic acids? Proteins may have had the edge if a theorized process let them grow long enough to become self-replicating catalysts.