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  • Experiences

    Me and my microbiome

    I first suspected I might be inhabited by traitors when I read a research paper linking gut bacteria to obesity. I was a newspaper reporter in St. Louis in 2006 when local researchers in Jeffrey Gordon’s lab at Washington University found that the mix of bacteria in the gut can help determine whether a mouse is lean or obese. I’ve been writing about the microbiome — the microbes that inhabit...

    01/07/2014 - 12:25 Microbes, Health
  • Flightless birds face extinction

    The government of New Zealand is desperately trying to save what is left of its world-famous flightless birds. The man-sized moa has been extinct for two centuries, and the flightless huia for one. Other species, including the remaining varieties of huia, the kiwi, the flightless rail, the takahe and the kakapo are all on the verge of disappearance.

    Of these, the kiwi is perhaps the...

    01/06/2014 - 12:12 Animals
  • Science Visualized

    Gut bacteria respect diets, not borders

    They live on opposite sides of the planet, but people in Malawi and Venezuela have similar microbes in their guts. Americans, on the other hand, have a distinctive microbiome with about 25 percent less diversity than indigenous Venezuelans’.

    It comes down largely to diet, researchers determined after comparing more than 500 people from rural Malawi, the United States and the Guahibo...

    01/06/2014 - 09:56 Microbes, Health
  • Say What?


    A cellular part such as a light-harvesting chloroplast that an organism takes from algae it has eaten. Some sea slugs hold on to these stolen chloroplasts for months. Scientists thought the slugs might get extra food from the photosynthetic organelles (SN: 2/13/10, p. 10).

    But now it appears that two of the four species known to steal chloroplasts don’t use them. The slugs lack genes...

    01/02/2014 - 09:45 Plants, Animals
  • Mystery Solved

    Tea time

    Leave it to the English to solve the mystery of a tea kettle’s whistle.

    English physicist Lord Rayleigh proposed in 1877 that water molecules bouncing back and forth in the spout produce the whistle, but new experiments show that little swirls of steam are responsible.

    University of Cambridge engineers mimicked a tea kettle in the laboratory using tubing and a series of pressure...

    12/31/2013 - 12:15 Physics
  • Feature

    Microscopic menagerie

    What is a wasp?” might seem like an overly simple question for a Ph.D. biologist to be asking. “What is a human?” Even more so.

    But these are strange times in the life sciences. Seth Bordenstein of Vanderbilt University in Nashville now embraces the notion that each wasp he studies, each squirrel darting around campus — not to mention himself, every reader of science magazines and every...

    12/27/2013 - 14:05 Microbes, Microbiology
  • Feature

    Mother lode

    A bonanza of potent disease-fighting compounds has been discovered in a surprisingly common source — the breasts of every nursing mother on the planet. Human milk, the only substance that evolved to feed and protect us, seems to contain a trove of medicines just now being unlocked by scientists.

    “We go down to the bottom of the ocean to find new compounds and test them out against...

    12/27/2013 - 14:05 Human Development, Microbes, Health
  • Feature

    The vast virome

    Studying complex diseases is like trying to solve a massive jigsaw puzzle with a blank box cover and who knows how many missing pieces. Scientists now realize that human genes form the borders of many disorders. But it turns out that the picture can’t be filled in without considering microbes, especially the bacteria and viruses that make the human body home.

    Four years ago, evolutionary...

    12/27/2013 - 14:00 Microbes, Ecosystems, Health
  • Editor's Note

    A newfound respect for the microbial world

    Many years ago, I heard the scientist and writer Stephen Jay Gould speak eloquently and convincingly about bacterial dominance. Despite what many people think about humans’ place in the scheme of things, he said, we live in a world of microbes. “The most outstanding feature of life’s history is that through 3.5 billion years this has remained, really, a bacterial planet,” he said in a 1997...

    12/18/2013 - 10:30 Microbes, Health
  • Letters to the Editor


    Sometimes science is political

    In “Science slowdown” (SN: 11/30/13, p. 14), Beth Mole reported on how the recent U.S. government shutdown affected science and on the long-term decline in federal research funding. In the same issue’s editor’s note, Eva Emerson expressed concern that efforts to foster scientific curiosity and talent among students will be wasted if there aren’t enough research...

    12/18/2013 - 10:30 Science & Society, Neuroscience