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(Left to right): Sander Heezen; Matthieu Paley/National Geographic Creative; UNSW/Andrew Kelly

Top stories: Life-saving mini-organs, seasonal gut bacteria, and the world’s smallest antennas

This ancient Babylonian tablet may contain the first evidence of trigonometry

Trigonometry, the study of the lengths and angles of triangles, sends most modern high schoolers scurrying to their cellphones to look up angles, sines, and cosines. Now, a fresh look at a 3700-year-old clay tablet suggests that Babylonian mathematicians not only developed the first trig table, beating the Greeks to the punch by more than 1000 years, but that they also figured out an entirely new way to look at the subject. However, other experts on the clay tablet say the new work is speculative at best.

Mini-antennas could power brain-computer interfaces, medical devices

Engineers have figured out how to make antennas for wireless communication 100 times smaller than their current size, an advance that could lead to tiny brain implants, micro–medical devices, or phones you can wear on your finger. The brain implants in particular will take time to develop, but scientists are already trying to make them a reality.

Zebrafish implanted with a cancer patient’s tumor could guide cancer treatment

For the first time, scientists have started growing implanted human tumor cells in zebrafish larvae. The fish act as cancer “avatars,” minuscule models of a patient’s cancer—and test beds for treatments. Similar avatars have been created with mice, but the piscine approach may be faster and cheaper, making it accessible for more patients. 

Early human gut bacteria may have cycled with the season

Scientists have long known that the foods we eat influence our intestinal microbiomes, but a new study finds that the gut residents of one of the world’s few remaining hunter-gatherer groups change seasonally, with different bacterial profiles in the dry and wet seasons. The findings—the first to show such a cyclical change in humans—may help researchers understand what our ancestors’ microbiomes were like before most of them switched to agriculture.

This scientist is building miniature guts, livers, and lungs that could save your life one day

Hans Clevers, the head of the Hubrecht Laboratory in Utrecht, the Netherlands, has pioneered the development of organoids, miniature versions of human organs that are transforming science and medicine. Clevers and other scientists have developed organoids of the gut, liver, lung, brain, and many other human organs that can be used to model disease or to serve as test beds for drugs. Researchers have also created organoids from tumors to mimic cancer, and they’re introducing mutations into organoids grown from healthy tissue to study how cancer arises.

A bold open-access push in Germany could change the future of academic publishing

The future of academic publishing is being negotiated this week in a third-floor conference room overlooking the famous Potsdamer Platz, once bisected by the Berlin Wall. The backdrop is fitting, because if the librarians and academic leaders at the table get their way, another major divide will soon fall: the paywall that surrounds most research papers.