Top stories: tarantula poaching, a ‘geological Google,’ and fixing health care in Madagascar

This amazing blue tarantula is a new spider species—but did researchers break the law when they studied it?

A female of the world’s newest tarantula species has electric-blue legs and a creamy toffee body. She’s native to the state of Sarawak in Malaysia and would fit nicely in your palm. Spider enthusiasts were thrilled when the new species came to light. But its emergence also highlights a growing illegal trade in tarantulas and researchers’ laissez-faire attitudes about sourcing specimens for study. 

Earth scientists plan to meld massive databases into a ‘geological Google’

The British Geological Survey (BGS) in Nottingham has one of the world’s premier geological collections with roughly 3 million fossils. But this data trove “was not really very useful to anybody,” says Michael Stephenson, a BGS paleontologist. Now, that could change, thanks to a nascent international effort to meld earth science databases into what Stephenson and other backers are describing as a “geological Google.”

A prescription for Madagascar’s broken health system: data and a focus on details

Madagascar, one of the poorest countries in the world, has shockingly high rates of maternal and childhood mortality and malnutrition. Public health experts are convinced the interventions that bring in the most international dollars, such as bed nets for malaria, are simply not enough. Now, a recently founded nongovernmental organization called PIVOT seeks to use rigorous data gathering and analysis to help create an affordable and effective health care system that could ultimately be scaled up to cover all of Madagascar and, perhaps, be adapted for other countries.

New way to turn carbon dioxide into coal could ‘rewind the emissions clock’

If humans hope to limit climate change to just 2°C of warming, we’ve got a lot of work to do, scientists say: reducing emissions, planting trees, and scrubbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the skies with the latest technologies. Now, a new process can convert gaseous CO2—the product of burning fossil fuels—into solid carbon at room temperature, using only a trickle of electricity. But getting it to work on a planetwide scale will be a formidable challenge.

This celebrity cat has broken the internet. Now, we have its genome

Cats may rule the internet, but few felines have achieved the online fame of Lil Bub. Discovered as a feral kitten outside Bloomington, Indiana, in 2011, she had a series of congenital abnormalities: extra toes, shorter-than-usual limbs, and a tongue that perpetually hangs out of her mouth. This week, geneticists reported they sequenced Lil Bub’s whole genome, discovering the genetic basis of her much-loved idiosyncrasies.