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  • News in Brief

    GM moth trial gets a green light from USDA

    Cabbage-chomping moths genetically modified to be real lady-killers may soon take flight in upstate New York. On July 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture OK’d a small open-air trial of GM diamondback moths (Plutella xylostella), which the agency says do not pose a threat to human or environmental health.

    These male moths carry a gene that kills female offspring before they mature....

    07/14/2017 - 13:11 Agriculture, Genetics
  • Feature

    DNA evidence is rewriting domestication origin stories

    One lab full of rats looks pretty much the same as another. But visiting a lab in Siberia, geneticist Alex Cagan can distinguish rats bred to be tame from those bred to be aggressive as soon as he opens the lab door.

    “It’s a completely different response immediately,” he says. All of the tame rats “come to the front of the cage very inquisitively.” The aggressive rats scurry to the backs...

    07/06/2017 - 12:00 Genetics, Animals
  • News

    Primitive whales had mediocre hearing

    Early on, whale hearing may have been ho-hum.

    Unlike today’s whales that specialize in making  — and hearing — very high- or low-pitched sounds, early whales’ ears probably picked up noises somewhere in the middle, paleontologists Mickaël Mourlam and Maeva Orliac report June 8 in Current Biology.

    Looking at CT scans of ancient whale ear bones allowed the researchers, from the...

    06/09/2017 - 03:00 Paleontology, Animals, Evolution
  • News

    The Zika epidemic began long before anyone noticed

    The Zika virus probably arrived in the Western Hemisphere from somewhere in the Pacific more than a year before it was detected, a new genetic analysis of the epidemic shows. Researchers also found that as Zika fanned outward from Brazil, it entered neighboring countries and South Florida multiple times without being noticed.

    Although Zika quietly took root in northeastern Brazil in late...

    05/24/2017 - 13:00 Genetics, Microbes
  • Feature

    Chaco Canyon’s ancient civilization continues to puzzle

    Chaco Canyon is a land of extremes. Summer heat scorches the desert canyon, which is sandwiched between sandstone cliffs nearly two kilometers above sea level in New Mexico’s northwestern corner. Bitter cold sweeps in for winter. Temperatures can swing as many as 28 degrees Celsius during the course of a day. Through it all, Chaco Canyon maintains a desolate beauty and a craggy pride as home...

    05/17/2017 - 07:00 Archaeology, Anthropology
  • Feature

    Yes, statins protect hearts. But critics question their expanding use

    Cholesterol is so important to life that practically every human cell makes it. Cells use the compound to keep their membranes porous and springy, and to produce hormones and other vital substances. The body can make all the cholesterol it needs, but Americans tend to have a surplus, thanks in large part to too little exercise and too much meat, cheese and grease. Fifty years ago, researchers...

    05/03/2017 - 07:00 Health, Biomedicine
  • Feature

    Competing ideas abound for how Earth got its moon

    The moon’s origin story does not add up. Most scientists think that the moon formed in the earliest days of the solar system, around 4.5 billion years ago, when a Mars-sized protoplanet called Theia whacked into the young Earth. The collision sent debris from both worlds hurling into orbit, where the rubble eventually mingled and combined to form the moon.

    If that happened, scientists...

    04/04/2017 - 06:00 Planetary Science, Chemistry
  • On the Scene

    The stories of supernova 1987A, as told by Science News

    The planning for our supernova special issue began months ago. In one early meeting, astronomy writer Christopher Crockett lit up as he told the story of the night supernova 1987A was discovered. The account has all the ingredients of a blockbuster. There’s a struggle (with an observatory door), the element of surprise (an unexpected burst on a photographic plate), disbelief (by our...

    02/24/2017 - 11:51
  • News

    Oxygen flooded Earth’s atmosphere earlier than thought

    The breath of oxygen that enabled the emergence of complex life kicked off around 100 million years earlier than previously thought, new dating suggests.

    Previous studies pegged the first appearance of relatively abundant oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere, known as the Great Oxidation Event, or GOE, at a little over 2.3 billion years ago. New dating of ancient volcanic outpourings, however,...

    02/06/2017 - 15:45 Earth, Evolution, Chemistry
  • Feature

    Some lucky birds escaped dino doomsday

    The asteroid strike (or was it the roiling volcanoes?) that triggered dino doomsday 66 million years ago also brought an avian apocalypse. Birds had evolved by then, but only some had what it took to survive.

    Biologists now generally accept birds as a kind of dinosaur, just as people are a kind of mammal. Much of what we think of as birdlike traits — bipedal stance, feathers, wishbones...

    01/25/2017 - 14:30 Evolution, Animals