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Biology

origins of life

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

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.

White stick figures incased in blue teardrops surround other stick figures on a blue background. They are surrounded by stick figures on a red background.
Quantized Columns

The Unforgiving Math That Stops Epidemics

If you didn’t get a flu shot, you are endangering more than just your own health. Calculations of herd immunity against common diseases don’t make exceptions.

The delicate specialized structure of the water strider genus Rhagovelia looks like a Japanese fan.
evolution

Insects Conquered a Watery Realm With Just Two New Genes

Minor genetic changes can have big evolutionary consequences. When a gene duplication gave some water striders a novel leg part, it opened up a new world for them.

evolution

Simple Bacteria Offer Clues to the Origins of Photosynthesis

Studies of the energy-harvesting proteins in primitive cells suggest that key features of photosynthesis might have evolved a billion years earlier than scientists thought.

Cryo-electron microscopy
Abstractions blog

Supercool Protein Imaging Gets the Nobel Prize

This year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to researchers who made it possible to see proteins and other biomolecules at an atomic level of detail.

Clock
Abstractions blog

Nobel Prize Awarded for Biological Clock Discoveries

Three U.S. biologists share the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their research into the molecular mechanism that drives circadian rhythm.

Neuron drawings by Santiago Ramón y Cajal
Quantized Columns

Why the First Drawings of Neurons Were Defaced

Every exquisite drawing by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the founder of modern neuroscience, is marred by a curious mark. Here is the little-known story behind it.

Birds and mitonuclear conflict
evolution

Genetic Struggles Within Cells May Create New Species

Mitonuclear conflict — a struggle between the genes in a cell’s nucleus and its mitochondria — might sometimes split species in two.

Modern humans (at left) and Neanderthals (right)
evolution

Genetics Spills Secrets From Neanderthals’ Lost History

How many Neanderthals were there? Archaeology and genetics have given very different answers. A new study reconciles them and reveals the lost history of these ancient people — including an early brush with extinction.