Science

Top stories: superhuman divers, #MeToo allegations at Salk, and postwar science in Colombia

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(Left to right): TIMOTHY ALLEN/GETTY IMAGES; JUSTIN BROWN (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0); JUAN CRISTOBAL COBO

Colombian scientists race to study once-forbidden territory before it is lost to development—or new conflict

For decades, Colombia’s Urabá region was occupied by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist guerrilla group that waged war on the state from 1964 until a peace deal was reached in September 2016. Guerrilla fighters shuttered their jungle camps and handed over their weapons. Now, scientists are rushing in to Urabá and other areas were formerly controlled by the FARC, seduced by the prospect of prying scientific secrets from huge swaths of land that are no longer off-limits.

Famed cancer biologist allegedly sexually harassed women for decades

Inder Verma, the prominent geneticist and cancer scientist who has made his mark on U.S. research for decades, has sexually harassed women for just as long, according to allegations from eight women. Verma, 70, spent his career at the storied Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego, California. The allegations—from Salk staffers, faculty, and women outside the institute—suggest that as Verma’s scientific career soared, a parallel tale of sexual harassment unfolded over 4 decades.

Indonesian divers have evolved bigger spleens to hunt underwater

Some of the most exciting recent discoveries in evolutionary biology have shown how humans adapted to extreme conditions like living at high altitude. Now, researchers have found that Indonesia’s Bajau people, who for generations have spent the majority of their days diving and hunting underwater, also have genetic adaptations for their unusual lifestyle. These “sea nomads” carry a gene variant that seems to lead to unusually large spleens that can supply an extra boost of oxygenated red blood cells on demand.

New rule could force EPA to ignore major human health studies

Research looking at everything from links between air pollution and disease to the effect a pesticide has on children’s brains could be banned from consideration by environmental regulators under a new policy proposed this week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The policy would require the agency to use only studies in which the underlying data are available for public scrutiny when formulating new “significant” regulations. Agency head Scott Pruitt touted the new policy as a way to increase transparency and enable the public to double-check research underpinning environmental regulations.

Neandertals, Stone Age people may have voyaged the Mediterranean

Odysseus, who voyaged across the wine-dark seas of the Mediterranean in Homer’s epic, may have had some astonishingly ancient forerunners. A decade ago, when excavators claimed to have found stone tools on the Greek island of Crete dating back at least 130,000 years, other archaeologists were stunned—and skeptical. But since then, at that site and others, researchers have quietly built up a convincing case for Stone Age seafarers—and for the even more remarkable possibility that they were Neandertals, the extinct cousins of modern humans.

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