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Biology

Photo of green leafy plants in close-up.
Abstractions blog

Why Are Plants Green? To Reduce the Noise in Photosynthesis.

July 30, 2020

Plants ignore the most energy-rich part of sunlight because stability matters more than efficiency, according to a new model of photosynthesis.

Illustration of a woman brandishing a shield to keep viruses at bay. One virus has slipped through a small hole in it.
infectious disease

Our Genes May Explain Severity of COVID-19 and Other Infections

July 27, 2020

Researchers are examining the power of subtle genetic weaknesses in the immune system to affect the severity of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

John Priscu holds an ice core sample in a sterile laboratory.
Q&A

He Found ‘Islands of Fertility’ Beneath Antarctica’s Ice

July 20, 2020

John Priscu’s search for life that thrives under ice took him to subglacial lakes at the South Pole. Now he has his eye on Mars and Europa.

Side-by-side images of a rabbit, bees in a hive, and a tornado.
information theory

What Is an Individual? Biology Seeks Clues in Information Theory.

July 16, 2020

To recognize strange extraterrestrial life and solve biological mysteries on this planet, scientists are searching for an objective definition for life’s basic units.

Simple line drawing of a beating human heart.
Abstractions blog

How Your Heart Influences What You Perceive and Fear

July 6, 2020

The heartbeat and other bodily processes play a surprising role in shaping perception and cognition.

Animated illustration showing vulnerable red shapes become “infected” and turn green, amid immune blue shapes.
Abstractions blog

The Tricky Math of Herd Immunity for COVID-19

June 30, 2020

Herd immunity differs from place to place, and many factors influence how it’s calculated.

A DNA double helix being struck by a cosmic ray.
Abstractions blog

Cosmic Rays May Explain Life’s Bias for Right-Handed DNA

June 29, 2020

Cosmic rays may have given right-handed genetic helixes an evolutionary edge at the beginning of life’s history.

People in India stand near a red van that serves as a mobile testing center for COVID-19 .
infectious disease

Why South Asia’s COVID-19 Numbers Are So Low (For Now)

June 23, 2020

Many theories have been offered for why the official COVID-19 toll on the Indian subcontinent has been surprisingly low. The best explanation may be the shortage of good, timely data.

Illustration of a flying albatross, a swimming basking shark and the Lévy walk paths they take.
behavior

Random Search Wired Into Animals May Help Them Hunt

June 11, 2020

The nervous systems of foraging and predatory animals may prompt them to move along a special kind of random path called a Lévy walk to find food efficiently when no clues are available.