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Top stories: Brexit’s toll on research, Planet Nine as a black hole, and sugar-coated RNAs

Split decisions: How Brexit has taken a toll on five researchers

For some researchers, Brexit is not just a looming threat: It has already taken a toll on their lives and their science. Science talks to five U.K. scientists whose lives have been altered by Brexit.

‘Planet Nine’ may actually be a black hole

For nearly 5 years, growing numbers of scientists have blamed the weird orbits of distant solar system objects on the gravitational effects of an as-yet-undiscovered Planet Nine that lies in the icy realm far beyond Neptune. But a pair of physicists is now floating an intriguing idea that could offer a new way to search for the object: What if that supposed planet is actually a small black hole?

Sugar-coated RNAs could ‘alter the face of biochemistry as we know it’—if they’re real

Sugar isn’t just for sweets. Inside cells, sugars attached to proteins and fats help molecules recognize one another—and let cells communicate. Now, for the first time, researchers report that sugars also appear to bind to some RNA molecules, the cellular workhorses that do everything from translating DNA into proteins to catalyzing chemical reactions. It’s unclear just what these sugar-coated RNAs do. But if the result holds up, it suggests vast new roles for RNA.

Ancient DNA traces the Black Death to Russia’s Volga region

In the 14th century, the Black Death wiped out as much as 60% of the population of Europe, spreading rapidly from the shores of the Black Sea to central Europe. Now, by analyzing 34 ancient genomes of Yersinia pestis from the teeth of people buried at 10 sites across Europe, researchers have found the earliest known evidence of this pandemic comes from Laishevo, in Russia’s Volga region.

Echolocation in blind people reveals the brain’s adaptive powers

The brain has a way of repurposing unused real estate. When a sense like sight is missing, corresponding brain regions can adapt to process new input, including sound or touch. Now, a study of blind people who use echolocation—making clicks with their mouths to judge the location of objects when sound bounces back—reveals a degree of neural repurposing never before documented.