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The New Science of Evolutionary Forecasting

Scientists may not be able to predict what the world may look like 100 million years from now, but looking at how diseases may look a few months from now could save lives: "Lässig hopes to be able to make predictions about future flu seasons that the World Health Organization could consult as they decide which strains should be included in flu vaccines. 'It’s just a question of a few years,' he said."
PUBLISHED: July 17, 2014
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5407 words)

The Girl Who Turned to Bone

Investigating a rare genetic disorder that causes those who suffer from it to grow a second skeleton:

"Within a few years, she would begin to grow new bones that would stretch across her body, some fusing to her original skeleton. Bone by bone, the disease would lock her into stillness. The Mayo doctors didn’t tell Peeper’s parents that. All they did say was that Peeper would not live long.

"'Basically, my parents were told there was nothing that could be done,' Peeper told me in October. 'They should just take me home and enjoy their time with me, because I would probably not live to be a teenager.'
PUBLISHED: May 23, 2013
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6663 words)

The Rise of the Tick

The writer visits a farm in the town of Lyme, Conn. with a group of biologists to learn what's driving the population of pathogen-laden ticks:

It's startling to look at the graphs of tick-borne diseases over the past few decades. They’re mostly going in the wrong direction. The research on Lyme disease is fairly recent, sparked in the mid-1970s after a cluster of children around Lyme developed fever and aches. They were diagnosed with juvenile arthritis—a peculiar diagnosis for so many children in one place. Their parents searched for an explanation, and eventually Allan Steere, a doctor at Yale, figured out that they suffered from an infectious disease. The fact that they all came from a rural part of the state suggested that an insect or some other animal had delivered the infection. In 1982, Willy Burgdorfer, an entomologist with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, discovered corkscrew-shaped bacteria in black-legged ticks from Long Island. He exposed the bacteria to serum from people with Lyme disease and discovered that their antibodies swarmed around the microbes. That was a sign that these bacteria—which would later be named Borrelia burgdorferi after him—were the cause of Lyme disease.
PUBLISHED: April 30, 2013
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5793 words)

Bringing Them Back to Life

Scientists have made advances in cloning procedures that would conceivably allow them to bring back extinct species. But is "de-extinction" something humans should be doing?

"Other scientists who favor de-extinction argue that there will be concrete benefits. Biological diversity is a storehouse of natural invention. Most pharmaceutical drugs, for example, were not invented from scratch—they were derived from natural compounds found in wild plant species, which are also vulnerable to extinction. Some extinct animals also performed vital services in their ecosystems, which might benefit from their return. Siberia, for example, was home 12,000 years ago to mammoths and other big grazing mammals. Back then, the landscape was not moss-dominated tundra but grassy steppes. Sergey Zimov, a Russian ecologist and director of the Northeast Science Station in Cherskiy in the Republic of Sakha, has long argued that this was no coincidence: The mammoths and numerous herbivores maintained the grassland by breaking up the soil and fertilizing it with their manure. Once they were gone, moss took over and transformed the grassland into less productive tundra."
PUBLISHED: March 17, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3657 words)


Scientists track down a killer superbug by sequencing its genome:

"In late August, as word of the outbreak circulated among the NIH staff, Snitkin and his boss, Julie Segre, approached the Clinical Center with an unusual offer. In their jobs at the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, the two scientists had previously sequenced genomes from a bacterial outbreak long after it had died out. But today, sequencing technology had become so fast and so cheap. Why not analyze the bacteria in the middle of an outbreak? By tracking the bug’s transmission route through the hospital, they might be able to isolate it and stop its lethal spread. They put this question to the center’s top brass, who immediately accepted their offer. 'It was a no-brainer,' says Tara Palmore, the center’s deputy epidemiologist, who headed up its fight against KPC."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 17, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5433 words)

King of the Cosmos

One person's mission to get Americans to embrace science again. A profile of Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History:

"Although he is a card-carrying astrophysicist with a long list of scientific papers in publications like Astrophysical Journal, Tyson has turned himself into a rock-star scientist. He plays to sold-out houses. He appears on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, on the New York Times bestseller list, on Twitter (@neiltyson, with 242,400 followers as I write this). He is now shooting a remake of Carl Sagan’s classic Cosmos series, which will air on Fox in 2013.

"Tyson spreads himself so wide for two reasons. One is that there’s so much in the sky to talk about. The other reason is down here on earth. For all the spectacular advances American science has made over the past century—not just in astrophysics but in biology, engineering, and other disciplines—the best days of American science may be behind us. And as American science declines, so does America. So here, in the dark, under the stars, Tyson is going to try to save the future, one neck cramp at a time."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 2, 2012
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6734 words)

Can You Live Forever? Maybe Not—But You Can Have Fun Trying

When I asked these skeptics about the future, even their most conservative visions were unsettling: a future in which people boost their brains with enhancing drugs, for example, or have sophisticated computers implanted in their skulls for life. While we may never be able to upload our minds into a computer, we may still be able to build computers based on the layout of the human brain. I can report I have not drunk the Singularity Kool-Aid, but I have taken a sip.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 22, 2011
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6467 words)