What's up in

biology

Illustration of a placenta that is a mosaic of different colors, with a connected fetus that is all one color.
genomics

New Genomic Study of Placenta Finds Deep Links to Cancer

April 8, 2021

A patchwork of genomic differences in the placenta may explain the organ’s “live fast, die young” strategy and its connections to cancer.

developmental biology

Cells Form Into ‘Xenobots’ on Their Own

March 31, 2021

Embryonic cells can self-assemble into new living forms that don’t resemble the bodies they usually generate, challenging old ideas of what defines an organism.

Illustration of researchers trying to reconstruct the shape of an epidemic curve from its distorted shadow on the floor.
COVID-19

Chasing the Elusive Numbers That Define Epidemics

March 22, 2021

Most modeling efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic have sought to address urgent practical concerns. But some groups aim to bolster the theoretical underpinnings of that work instead.

The zoologist Arik Kershenbaum of the University of Cambridge and his dog.
Q&A

Why Extraterrestrial Life May Not Seem Entirely Alien

March 18, 2021

The zoologist Arik Kershenbaum argues that because some evolutionary challenges are truly universal, life throughout the cosmos may share certain features.

Alt text caption: Three images showing highly magnified images of a snowflake, red blood cells and a tardigrade.
book excerpts

What Is Life? Its Vast Diversity Defies Easy Definition.

March 9, 2021

Scientists have struggled to formulate a universal definition of life. Is it possible they don’t need one?

An illustration showing Steven Strogatz at a microphone, surrounded by a swirl of icons representing different subjects.
The Joy of x

New Season of The Joy of x Podcast Explores Scientists’ Inner Lives

March 2, 2021

In a second season of enlightened conversations, Steven Strogatz and leading researchers nourish our pandemic-starved minds.

Quantized Columns

How to Understand COVID-19 Variants and Their Effects on Vaccines

February 25, 2021

Researchers are tracking the different strains of SARS-CoV-2 and studying how they spread through our population and our bodies.

Animation of a neuron that periodically alters its responses to stimuli when it is reset into a new state by another input.
neural networks

Artificial Neural Nets Finally Yield Clues to How Brains Learn

February 18, 2021

The learning algorithm that enables the runaway success of deep neural networks doesn’t work in biological brains, but researchers are finding alternatives that could.

An illustration of a human brain against “pink noise” static.
neuroscience

Brain’s ‘Background Noise’ May Hold Clues to Persistent Mysteries

February 8, 2021

By digging out signals hidden within the brain’s electrical chatter, scientists are getting new insights into sleep, aging and more.