The New York Times, December 8, 2023


Why do we grow old and die?

In the 19th century, the German biologist August Weismann argued that the machinery of life inevitably wore out with time. Death had evolved “for the need of the species,” he declared. It cleared away weak, old individuals so they wouldn’t compete with young ones.

That explanation never made sense to George Williams, an American evolutionary biologist. Natural selection acts only on the genes that are passed down from one generation to the next. What happens at the end of an animal’s life can have no effect on the course of evolution.

Continue reading “Genes That Boost Fertility Also Shorten Our Life, Study Suggests”

The New York Times, December 4, 2023


Traumatic brain injuries have left more than five million Americans permanently disabled. They have trouble focusing on even simple tasks and often have to quit jobs or drop out of school.

A study published on Monday has offered them a glimpse of hope. Five people with moderate to severe brain injuries had electrodes implanted in their heads. As the electrodes stimulated their brains, their performance on cognitive tests improved.

Continue reading “Brain Implants Helped 5 People Toward Recovery After Traumatic Injuries”

The New York Times, November 30, 2023


Penguins are champion power nappers. Over the course of a single day, they fall asleep thousands of times, each bout a few seconds long, a new study has found.

Although animals have a wide range of sleeping styles, penguins easily take the record for fragmented sleeping.

“It’s really unusual,” said Paul-Antoine Libourel, a neuroscientist at the Neuroscience Research Center of Lyon in France who helped make the discovery. “This just highlights the fact that we don’t know much about sleep, and all animals are not sleeping like the way we read in textbooks.”

Continue reading “Penguins Take Thousands of Naps Every Day”

The New York Times, November 21, 2023


By November 2021, nearly two years after the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan and spread across the world, the surprises seemed to be over. More than four billion people had been vaccinated against the virus, and five million had died. Two new variants, known as Alpha and Delta, had surged and then ebbed. As Thanksgiving approached, many Americans were planning to resume traveling for the holiday.

And then, the day after turkey, the pandemic delivered a big new surprise. Researchers in Botswana and South Africa alerted the world that a highly mutated version of the virus had emerged and was spreading fast. Omicron, as the World Health Organization called the variant, swiftly overtook other forms of the virus. It remains dominant now, on its second anniversary.

Continue reading “Omicron, Now 2 Years Old, Is Not Done With Us Yet”

The New York Times, November 16, 2023


If a troop of baboons encounters another troop on the savanna, they may keep a respectful distance or they may get into a fight. But human groups often do something else: They cooperate.

Tribes of hunter-gatherers regularly come together for communal hunts or to form large-scale alliances. Villages and towns give rise to nations. Networks of trade span the planet.

Human cooperation is so striking that anthropologists have long considered it a hallmark of our species. They have speculated that it emerged thanks to the evolution of our powerful brains, which enable us to use language, establish cultural traditions and perform other complex behaviors.

Continue reading “Scientists Find First Evidence That Groups of Apes Cooperate”