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Living World

Mucus: the body’s unsung hero

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

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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.

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

Sex strategies of the evolutionary kind

For women, a short-term fling may involve a quest for good genes or just a good time. It’s a puzzle for the researchers looking at how people choose mates.

Toward greener plastics

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

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 middle path to sustainable farming

Agricultural economists are homing in on hybrid, low-input methods that will both safeguard the environment and feed the future billions

Will the food of the future be genetically engineered or organic? How about both?

Feeding the planet — now and tomorrow — is no small task. Plant biologist Pamela Ronald says sustainability means using every tool in the toolbox.

A blizzard of “sustainability” labels

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

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.

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

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.