The New York Times, August 31, 2023


No place on the planet has escaped the influence of Homo sapiens, from the rainforests cleared for farms to microplastic-laced deep oceans to climate-altered jet streams. Last November, the world population reached 8 billion.

But as omnipresent as humans may be today, a team of scientists now claims that our species came very close to never appearing at all.

Continue reading “Humanity’s Ancestors Nearly Died Out, Genetic Study Suggests”

The New York Times, August 25, 2023


Over the past few years, a flurry of studies have found that tumors harbor a remarkably rich array of bacteria, fungi and viruses. These surprising findings have led many scientists to rethink the nature of cancer.

The medical possibilities were exciting: If tumors shed their distinctive microbes into the bloodstream, could they serve as an early marker of the disease? Or could antibiotics even shrink tumors?

In 2019, a start-up dug into these findings to develop microbe-based tests for cancer. This year, regulators agreed to prioritize an upcoming trial of the company’s test because of its promise for saving lives.

Continue reading “Researchers Dispute High-Profile Discoveries of Cancer Microbes”

The New York Times, August 10, 2023


Susannah Woodruff can’t wait to stop pulling teeth out of polar bears.

Dr. Woodruff, a wildlife biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, keeps tabs on Alaska’s population of the bears. She needs to know how old they are to estimate how many will soon die of old age, and how many will enter their reproductive years and start producing cubs.

Continue reading “How Old Is That Polar Bear? The Answer Is in Its Blood.”

The New York Times, August 3, 2023


A construction team working on a highway expansion in Maryland in 1979 discovered human remains on the grounds of an 18th-century ironworks. Eventually, archaeologists uncovered 35 graves in a cemetery where enslaved people had been buried.

In the first effort of its kind, researchers now have linked DNA from 27 African Americans buried in the cemetery to nearly 42,000 living relatives. Almost 3,000 of them are so closely related that some people might be direct descendants.

Continue reading “Enslaved African Americans in Maryland Linked to 42,000 Living Relatives”

The New York Times, August 2, 2023


Paleontologists on Wednesday unveiled the fossilized bones of one of the strangest whales in history. The 39-million-year-old leviathan, called Perucetus, may have weighed about 200 tons, as much as a blue whale — by far the heaviest animal known, until now.

While blue whales are sleek, fast-swimming divers, Perucetus was a very different beast. The researchers suspect that it drifted lazily through shallow coastal waters like a mammoth manatee, propelling its sausage-like body with a paddle-shaped tail.

Continue reading “This Ancient Whale May Have Been the Heaviest Animal Ever”