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Living World

To date a dinosaur

Stegosaur expert Susie Maidment is laying crucial groundwork for assigning ages to fossils from North America’s most dinosaur-rich rocks. More precise timings promise to reveal plenty about how the beasts lived and evolved through time.

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Predicting biological invaders

Complex mathematical tools are aiding the battle to identify invasive species before they get a foothold in the environment. But bureaucracy can blunt the techniques.

War and drugs: Together since forever

Alcohol-drenched medieval battlefields. Opium-laced imperialism. Modern-day narco-terrorism. There’s a lot of history between armed conflict and psychoactive substances.

A world in a bottle of water

Revolutionary techniques using traces of environmental DNA are analyzing entire ecosystems “from microbes to whales”

How our bodies coddle cancer

Tumors resist chemotherapy with help from a surprising source: nearby normal cells. Researchers are developing workarounds.

How the moon landings changed our view of the solar system

Lunar samples hinted at a barrage of debris pummelling planets billions of years ago. Fifty years after Apollo 11, that story is still unfolding. 

Mucus: the body’s unsung hero

The slimy stuff has a surprisingly wide array of beneficial biological functions

Tiny, living stones of the sea

How limestone-covered algae sway global climate — and how their fate may shift as the oceans acidify

The hidden strengths of freshwater mussels

The humble bivalves can clean polluted water and bump up diversity — but in dammed rivers and fouled watersheds, many species face extinction. With help, maybe they can save themselves.

First, do harm

Studies that deliberately infect people with diseases are on the rise. They promise speedier vaccine development, but there’s a need to shore up informed consent.

How 3-D printing could help shape surgery

Technology is enabling increasingly lifelike models of organs to help doctors practice operations.

Life’s a blur — but we don’t see it that way

Our brains manage to construct stable images even as our eyes keep darting around. Here’s what we know about how that happens. 

Plasmonics brings the molecular world into sharper focus

People have been using metals to manipulate light for centuries. Now researchers are using it to create powerful biosensors.

Putting the squeeze on glaucoma

The eye disease causes millions to go blind. New treatments aimed at protecting nerve cells — or generating new ones — may slow or even stop the damage.

The mighty Milky Way

Our galaxy is far bigger, brighter and more massive than most others

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.

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.