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Biology

Illustration of a woman with “hands” behind her eyes and “eyes” in her hands, showing how the brain integrates its sense of the world with the actions to be taken in response.
neuroscience

‘Noise’ in the Brain Encodes Surprisingly Important Signals

November 7, 2019

Activity in the visual cortex and other sensory areas is dominated by signals about body movements, down to little tics and twitches. Scientists are now rethinking how they study and conceive of perception.

A Tsimané man plays an instrument resembling a violin.
Abstractions blog

Perceptions of Musical Octaves Are Learned, Not Wired in the Brain

October 30, 2019

Singing experiments with residents of the Bolivian rainforest demonstrate how biology and experience shape the way we hear music.

Animation of one icon tracing a wave pattern over a brain, followed by another icon that erases the pattern.
neuroscience

Dueling Brain Waves Anchor or Erase Learning During Sleep

October 24, 2019

While we sleep, one kind of slow brain wave helps to reinforce memories, but a competing wave weakens them.

A fractal pattern.
neuroscience

A Power Law Keeps the Brain’s Perceptions Balanced

October 22, 2019

Researchers have discovered a surprising mathematical relationship in the brain’s representations of sensory information, with possible applications to AI research.

Illustration of two strips of movie film coiled around each other in a double helix.
behavior

Inherited Learning? It Happens, but How Is Uncertain

Studies suggest that epigenetics allows some learned adaptive responses to be passed down to new generations. The question is how.

Climbing up the side of a high mountain peak.
Abstractions blog

Nobel Prize Awarded for Discoveries on How Cells Adapt to Oxygen

October 7, 2019

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine honored William Kaelin Jr., Peter Ratcliffe and Gregg Semenza for their work on elucidating how cells adjust to low oxygen levels.

Illustration of DNA that combines elements of mealybug and bacterial imagery.
evolution

Cell-Bacteria Mergers Offer Clues to How Organelles Evolved

October 3, 2019

Cells in symbiotic partnership, sometimes nested one within the other and functioning like organelles, can borrow from their host’s genes to complete their own metabolic pathways.

Scanning electron micrograph of a cluster of coccolithophores.
ecology

How Jurassic Plankton Stole Control of the Ocean’s Chemistry

October 1, 2019

Only 170 million years ago, new plankton evolved. Their demand for carbon and calcium permanently transformed the seas as homes for life.

An osprey flying low over a river holds a trout in its claws.
Abstractions blog

Your Brain Chooses What to Let You See

September 30, 2019

Beneath our awareness, the brain lets certain kinds of stimuli automatically capture our attention by lowering the priority of the rest.