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Living World

Microbial secrets of sourdough

It all starts with a community teeming with yeasts and bacteria — but what’s really happening? Scientists peer into those jars on the kitchen counter to find out.

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Why jobless payments serve the public good

Amid political debate over benefits during the pandemic, a researcher explains why unemployment insurance and other government measures are crucial for the economy and employees to survive troubled times

The fragile state of contact languages

These linguistic mash-ups are at high risk of extinction. The race to save them is a matter of time, with more at stake than words.

Seeking a better test for Alzheimer’s

New blood assays and brain scans are among the biomarkers revolutionizing clinical trials and changing the way researchers think of the disease. They may soon change the way patients are treated as well.

The life that springs from dead leaves in streams

A crunchy brown leaf may seem like an ending. But the food webs it supplies can be far more expansive than the ones it nourished when it was young, green and in its prime.

Getting a Covid-19 vaccine — quickly and safely

Researchers around the globe are working with unprecedented speed to find the vaccines we need to find our way through the pandemic. What’s the bar for safety and effectiveness?

Less toy, more workhorse: Drones get functional

Airborne autonomous vehicles could soon be dropping off your Amazon packages, delivering your food and even ensuring that the infrastructure around you is safe and sound

The trouble with medicating mental illness

Psychotropic drugs have severely narrowed how we treat psychiatric disorders — to the detriment of patients and society as a whole. A look at the past suggests a better way forward.

How viruses evolve

Pathogens that switch to a new host species have some adapting to do. How does that affect the course of a pandemic like Covid-19?

Searching high and low for the origins of life

Researchers think they’re getting warmer: They’ve created amino acids and primitive membranes by simulating conditions found at scalding vents on the ocean floor

Earth to birds: Take the next left

Scientists have long thought that avian migration is guided by the magnetic field, but how, exactly? The search has led to three very different hypotheses.

Speaking of pandemics: The art and science of risk communication

Public health messages should be loud and clear, so that everyone listens and stays safe. But that’s easier said than done — especially with a case as complex as Covid-19.

Beyond the twilight zone

Tidally locked worlds are places of extremes. On one side it’s an endless day, the other a perpetual night. Yet scientists speculate that some may harbor conditions that could support life.

An elemental problem with the sun

For two decades, astronomers have argued over how much carbon, nitrogen and especially oxygen lie within our closest star — a dispute with implications for the entire universe

America the Unhealthy: Inequality kills

Smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise? Yes, but that’s not all. A researcher tells us what really hurts US life expectancy.

The bat-virus détente

Bats cope with myriad viruses, including the one causing Covid-19, with few ill effects. Scientists are probing their immune systems to fathom how they do it. The answers might help infected people, too.

Corporate crime and non-punishment

The legal system makes it easy for big businesses that break the law to escape prosecution and evade reform. There is a better way — and a legal scholar tells us exactly how it could work.

The 2020 census has arrived. Here’s why the population count matters.

COMIC: Written into the US Constitution, the decadal tally has always started arguments. But it is also fundamental to governing.

When courtroom science goes wrong — and how stats can fix it

COMIC: Bite marks, shoe prints, crime-scene fibers: Matches to suspects are often far shakier than courtroom experts claim. Better statistical methods — among them, a little beast known as the “likelihood ratio” — can cut down on wrong convictions.

The monarch’s stupendous migration, dissected

COMIC: The feisty orange-black butterfly uses a toolbox of biological tricks to find its way down to Mexico for winter and flap north again in spring. Here’s how scientists figured out those tricks — and what they don’t yet understand.

Jupiter revealed

The Juno spacecraft has been circling Jupiter since 2016. Here are four things we’ve learned so far about the biggest planet in the solar system.

Curbing implicit bias: what works and what doesn't

Psychologists have yet to find a way to diminish hidden prejudice, but they do have strategies for thwarting discrimination

The time of trials: Waiting for a coronavirus vaccine

An infected and impatient world needs protection from Covid-19, but rushing it won't be easy. How can we speed up a complicated process?