The New York Times, May 17, 2023


One of the greatest transformations in the history of life occurred more than 600 million years ago, when a single-celled organism gave rise to the first animals. With their multicellular bodies, animals evolved into a staggering range of forms, like whales that weigh 200 tons, birds that soar six miles into the sky and sidewinders that slither across desert dunes.

Scientists have long wondered what the first animals were like, including questions about their anatomy and how they found food. In a study published on Wednesday, scientists found tantalizing answers in a little-known group of gelatinous creatures called comb jellies. While the first animals remain a mystery, scientists found that comb jellies belong to the deepest branch on the animal family tree.

Continue reading “Bizarre Sea Creatures Illuminate the Dawn of the Animal Kingdom”

The New York Times, May 17, 2023


Scientists have revealed a surprisingly complex origin of our species, rejecting the long-held argument that modern humans arose from one place in Africa during one period in time.

By analyzing the genomes of 290 living people, researchers concluded that modern humans descended from at least two populations that coexisted in Africa for a million years before merging in several independent events across the continent. The findings were published on Wednesday in Nature.

Continue reading “Study Offers New Twist in How the First Humans Evolved”

The New York Times, April 27, 2023


It has been 20 years since scientists put together the first rough draft of the human genome, the three billion genetic letters of DNA tightly wound inside most of our cells. Today, scientists are still struggling to decipher it.

But a batch of studies published in Science on Thursday has cast a bright light into the dark recesses of the human genome by comparing it with those of 239 other mammals, including narwhals, cheetahs and screaming hairy armadillos.

Continue reading “What Cheetahs, Armadillos and Whales Revealed About Human DNA”

The New York Times, March 23, 2023


Dozens of the world’s largest natural history museums revealed on Thursday a survey of everything in their collections. The global inventory is made up of 1.1 billion objects that range from dinosaur skulls to pollen grains to mosquitoes.

The survey’s organizers, who described the effort in the journal Science, said they hoped the survey would help museums join forces to answer pressing questions, such as how quickly species are becoming extinct and how climate change is altering the natural world.

Continue reading “Science Museums Take Stock of 1.1 Billion Objects From Around the World”

The New York Times, March 17, 2023 (with Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Benjamin Mueller)


WASHINGTON — Long after the Covid pandemic emerged from Wuhan, the origin of the coronavirus remains a subject of intense scientific scrutiny, and even more intense political debate.

A team of researchers has added fuel to the bonfire by presenting data at a World Health Organization meeting suggesting a wild animal known as a raccoon dog was sold at the same stall at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, where investigators found traces of the coronavirus.

Continue reading “The Origins of the Covid Pandemic: What We Know and Don’t Know”