Top stories: rival giant telescopes, hefty plants, and the mystery behind ‘gluten sensitivity’

Rival giant telescopes join forces to seek U.S. funding

Two U.S.-led giant telescope projects, rivals for nearly 2 decades, announced this week that they have agreed to join forces. The Giant Magellan Telescope, a telescope under construction in Chile, and the Thirty Meter Telescope, which backers hope to build atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, have not finished acquiring the necessary partners and money. They will now work together to win funding, which could help the projects catch up to a third giant telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, due to begin operations in 2024.

Plants outweigh all other life on Earth

Plants pack more heft than any other kingdom of life on the planet, making up 80% of all the carbon stored in living creatures. That’s just one surprise in a comprehensive new survey of Earth’s biomass, which finds that groups with the greatest number of species—such as arthropods—aren’t necessarily the heaviest. Humans and their cattle, pigs, and other livestock are dwarfed by plants, but outweigh wild mammals by more than 20-fold.

What’s really behind ‘gluten sensitivity’?

A small community of researchers is trying to figure out why wheat products make some people sick. The patients aren’t crazy—that much is clear. But their ailment is a mystery. They don’t have celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten—that often-villainized tangle of proteins in wheat, barley, and rye. And they’ve tested negative for a wheat allergy. They occupy a medical no man’s land.

Quaillike creatures were the only birds to survive the dinosaur-killing asteroid impact

Scientists have long wondered just how many birds survived the asteroid impact that wiped out the rest of the dinosaurs some 66 million years ago. Now, they may have their answer: very few, mostly small ones. A new study suggests that widespread forest fires made it impossible for tree-dependent birds to survive, meaning the vast avian diversity of today likely arose from just a few ground-dwelling survivors.

The world’s largest amphibian is being bred to extinction

The world’s largest amphibian—the Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus)—should be split into at least five species, all of which are critically endangered in the wild, according to a new study. What’s more, current conservation practices could be causing these genetically distinct species to crossbreed with one another, effectively fusing them into a single species.