Self-Destructing Trees, Smart Skin, and Fat Neandertals

(Left to right): Shawn Mansfield, University of British Columbia; Image courtesy of the University of Illinois; Ian Tattersall

Top Stories: Self-Destructing Trees, Smart Skin, and Fat Neandertals

Did Europeans Get Fat From Neandertals?

A new genetic analysis reveals that modern Europeans—but not Asians—inherited fat-processing genes from our extinct relatives, the Neandertals. These genes may have helped Europeans adapt to their colder environments. Today, though, they may be implicated in diseases like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

'Smart Skin' May Be the Next Big Thing in Wearable Computers

Imagine a world in which a single, wearable “smart skin” patch can check your vitals, beam the information to a doctor, and administer medication as needed. While such a device still faces substantial obstacles before wide-scale implementation, two teams of researchers have announced innovations combining standard electronics with flexible materials that may bring the futuristic concept closer to reality.

Cheaper Fuel From Self-Destructing Trees

Turning wood into biofuels is expensive. That’s because engineers must remove one of wood’s key components, known as lignin, to get to the sugary cellulose that’s used for fuels. But now, researchers have figured out how to get the lignin in poplar trees to self-destruct under mild processing conditions—a trick that could slash the cost of biofuels.

Japan Ordered to Stop Scientific Whaling

Japan has to stop capturing and killing whales under its whaling program in the Antarctic, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has said. In 1982, the International Whaling Commission adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling, allowing the taking and killing of whales for research purposes only. Antiwhaling critics say that Japanese whale research is a fig leaf for commercial hunting, as whale meat can be sold to cover research costs. This week, the ICJ ordered Japan to revoke existing permits to catch whales for scientific purposes and to stop granting such permits in the future.

Scientist Quits Effort to Live-Blog STAP Cell Replication

Controversy continues to swirl around two recent papers reporting that simply stressing adult cells could turn them into powerful stem cells called STAP cells. Scientist Kenneth Ka-Ho Lee, who has been trying to reproduce STAP cells and has been regularly blogging about his progress, has given up, writing "I don’t think STAP cells exist and it will be a waste of manpower and research funding to carry on with this experiment any further.” Lee hopes others will continue to investigate whether the new approach—which has been dogged by claims of research misconduct—can really lead to stem cells.