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Sustainability

Toward greener plastics

Researchers and companies are working on new kinds of biodegradable packaging, bottles and other products that break down like compost. 

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If it pleases the Prosecution

The immense powers of prosecutors throughout the US mean that the scales are tipped against defendants — and justice itself, says a legal expert

As climate changes, so does life in the planet’s soils

To understand what might be lost, ecologist Janet K. Jansson taps molecular methods to explore Earth’s underground microbes, from the permafrost to the grasslands

Always look on the bright side of life

How a positive outlook may buffer us from stress and ward off health problems 

A blizzard of “sustainability” labels

Earth-friendly certifications and standards abound for products like coffee, chocolate and palm oil. But do the programs work?

A quantum origin for spacetime

Physicists find hints that entanglement explains Einstein’s equations for gravity

The body’s tiny cargo carriers

Scientists are finding that microscopic membranous bubbles called extracellular vesicles transmit messages from cells and do big jobs in many areas of biology — plus they might be useful for therapies.

What does it look like to “turn on” a gene?

Only recently have scientists directly witnessed this most pivotal of events in biology, thanks to new technology that allows them to observe the process in living cells. It’s teaching them a lot.

Low marks for performance reviews

Annual assessments can be wildly inaccurate — not to mention soul-crushing. Here’s why the ritual, dreaded by managers and the managed alike, falls short, and what might work better.

The dappled dilemma facing vitiligo science

Even as scientists celebrate progress in the lab, a stigma-busting movement asserts that those with the autoimmune skin condition are more in need of acceptance than medicine

Listening to ketamine

The fast-acting drug offers a new way to treat depression and fathom its origins. Recent approval of a nasal spray promises to expand access, but much remains unknown about long-term use and the potential for abuse.

Firenadoes and drifting embers: The secrets of extreme wildfires

Researchers probe the weather-like physics of deadly infernos

Watching Alzheimer’s in action

A look inside the brains of engineered mice suggests therapies might need to target two key proteins — tau and amyloid-beta — at the same time

The story of Snowball Earth

Ancient rocks suggest that ice entirely covered our planet on at least two occasions. This theory may help explain the rise of complex life that followed.

Grim relics

Archaeology of the Nazi era is about digging for truth through science. Reinhard Bernbeck discusses the origins and ethics of this approach.

Unpersuasive: Why arguing about climate change often doesn't work

COMIC: In the US, where political parties have increasingly staked claims on one side of the issue or the other, beliefs may be more about belonging than facts

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.

A deeper understanding of the Grand Canyon

After 100 years as a national park and eons as a geological wonder, the American icon continues to reveal layers of its past and of the landscape ahead

The quest for autism’s causes, and what it reveals about all of us

The more researchers look, the more multifaceted the risk factors appear — and the more we learn about how the brain works and develops

Why speech is a human innovation

Many animals have the equipment for spoken language, but only people have all the right neural connections

The human factor in clean water

There are many cheap and effective ways to provide safe water to the world’s poor regions. But projects often fail due to inadequate planning, maintenance or persuasive power.

In praise of parasites

They worm into snails and infect the brains of fish. They’ve also found their way into Kevin Lafferty’s heart. He sees them as beautiful examples of sophisticated evolution, and as keys to ecosystem balance.

Genetics extends the long arm of the law

In an evolving branch of forensic science, genealogists help solve crimes, sometimes identifying suspects with the DNA of distant relatives they’ve never met. As cold cases yield, concerns about privacy issues persist.