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Biology

Illustration of a connection between a bat and a human, with a backdrop of coronaviruses.
Quantized Columns

The Animal Origins of Coronavirus and Flu

February 25, 2020

Zoonotic diseases like influenza and many coronaviruses start out in animals, but their biological machinery often enables them to jump to humans.

Two arrows that are intertwined for most of their length but then point in different directions.
Abstractions blog

In Brain Waves, Scientists See Neurons Juggle Possible Futures

February 24, 2020

Faced with a decision, the brain weighs its options by bundling them into rapidly alternating cycles of brain waves.

Illustration of an RNA sequence, with an arrow pointing from one end to the other, and a sequence of complementary nucleotides, with an arrow pointing the other way.
Abstractions blog

New Clues About ‘Ambigram’ Viruses With Strange Reversible Genes

February 12, 2020

For decades, scientists have been intrigued by tiny viruses whose genetic material can be read both forward and backward. New research begins to explain this puzzling property.

Illustration of an immune cell that wields weapons on one side of its body and construction tools on the other.
immunology

Immune Cell Assassins Reveal Their Nurturing Side

February 11, 2020

Don’t be misled by the bloodthirsty names of immune cells. Mounting research shows that the cells also fine-tune tissues and help the body heal.

Photo of James P. Allison sitting at his desk at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Q&A

The Contrarian Who Cures Cancers

James P. Allison believed that unleashing the immune system was a way to beat cancer when almost no one else did. A Nobel Prize and a growing list of cancer survivors vindicate him.

Spindly green star-shaped cells against a black background.
Abstractions blog

Glial Brain Cells, Long in Neurons’ Shadow, Reveal Hidden Powers

January 27, 2020

The glial cells of the nervous system have been eclipsed in importance by neurons for decades. But glia are turning out to be central to many neurological functions, including pain perception.

Micrograph of a section of brain organoid tissue.
neuroscience

An Ethical Future for Brain Organoids Takes Shape

January 23, 2020

Collaborations in progress between ethicists and biologists seek to head off challenges raised by lab-grown “organoids” as they become increasingly similar to human brain tissue.

Photo of Scarlett Howard, a researcher at the University of Toulouse, working with honeybees
Q&A

Secrets of Math From the Bee Whisperer

January 22, 2020

As Scarlett Howard taught honeybees to do arithmetic, they showed her how fundamental numbers might be to all brains.

Steven Strogatz listens to a podcast guest speak about many scientific and mathematical subjects.
Quantized Columns

Why I’m Hosting The Joy of x Podcast

January 15, 2020

The noted mathematician and author Steven Strogatz explains why he wanted to share intimate conversations with leading researchers from diverse fields in his new podcast.