A political dispute involving the National Science Foundation (NSF) that has taken on near-biblical importance within the scientific community may be inching closer to resolution. A new statement from Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), the chair of the science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives that oversees NSF, appears to be a significant softening of his long-standing criticism of NSF’s grantsmaking process. And although a different congressional panel is expected to register the same complaint against the agency at a hearing next week, the shift in the political landscape is good news for U.S. scientists.
Global warming is increasing temperatures twice as fast in the Arctic as elsewhere on the planet. Some scientists have suggested that this so-called Arctic amplification can alter circulation patterns that affect weather in the United States, Europe, and Asia, potentially helping cause the powerful winter storms and deep freezes that have blasted the midlatitudes over the past decade. A new study suggests Arctic warming could ultimately pack a summertime punch, too, possibly contributing to extreme events such as the deadly 2010 Russian heat wave.
You’re not completely human, at least when it comes to the genetic material inside your cells. You—and everyone else—may harbor as many as 145 genes that have jumped from bacteria, other single-celled organisms, and viruses and made themselves at home in the human genome. That’s the conclusion of a new study, which provides some of the broadest evidence yet that, throughout evolutionary history, genes from other branches of life have become part of animal cells.
Almost half a billion years ago, the largest animal on Earth was a 2-meter-long, helmet-headed sea creature that fed on some of the ocean’s tiniest prey. The newly described species is one of the largest arthropods yet discovered, a class of animals that includes spiders and crabs. The well-preserved remains of the multisegmented creature are providing clues about how subsequent arthropods’ legs may have evolved from the dozens of stubby flaps used to propel this beast through the water.
Researchers have changed the size of a handful of Florida ants by chemically modifying their DNA, rather than by changing its encoded information. The work is the latest advance from a field known as epigenetics and may help explain how the insects—despite their high degree of genetic similarity—grow into the different varieties of workers needed in a colony.
The sugar industry convinced the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) that studies that might persuade people to cut back on sugary foods should not be part of a national plan to fight childhood tooth decay, a new study of historical documents argues. The authors say the industry’s activities, which occurred more than 40 years ago, are reminiscent of the tobacco companies’ efforts to minimize the risks of smoking.
Ancient canyons scar the surface of Mars, a relic from a time billions of years ago when rivers flowed on its surface. But water may not be the only factor that shaped these canyons—the wind whipping through them could be just as important, according to a new study of river canyons on Earth. Scientists studying chasms in the Andes mountains in northeast Chile have found that wind carves some canyons 10 times faster than water. The discovery may be significant for understanding how much water flowed on the surface of ancient Mars.