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[l] at 8/19/22 1:17pm
Enlarge / The story of a conquest: The fruiting body of a parasitic fungus erupts from the body of its victim. (credit: Roberto García-Roa/CC BY 4.0) The striking photograph above vividly captures the spores of a parasitic "zombie" fungus (Ophiocordyceps) as they sprout from the body of a host fly in exquisite detail. Small wonder it won the 2022 BMC Ecology and Evolution image competition, featured along with eight other honorees in the journal BMC Ecology and Evolution. The winning images were chosen by the journal editor and senior members of the journal’s editorial board. Per the journal, the competition "gives ecologists and evolutionary biologists the opportunity to use their creativity to celebrate their research and the intersection between art and science." Roberto García-Roa, an evolutionary biologist and conservation photographer affiliated with both the University of Valencia in Spain and Lund University in Sweden, snapped his award-winning photograph while trekking through a Peruvian jungle. The fungus in question belongs to the Cordyceps family. There are more than 400 different species of Cordyceps fungi, each targeting a particular species of insect, whether it be ants, dragonflies, cockroaches, aphids, or beetles. Consider Cordyceps an example of nature’s own population control mechanism to ensure that eco-balance is maintained. According to García-Roa, Ophiocordyceps, like its zombifying relatives, infiltrates the host's exoskeleton and brain via spores scattered in the air that attach to the host body. Once inside, the spores sprout long tendrils called mycelia that eventually reach into the brain and release chemicals that make the unfortunate host the fungi’s zombie slave. The chemicals compel the host to move to the most favorable location for the fungus to thrive and grow. The fungus slowly feeds on the host, sprouting new spores throughout the body as one final indignity.Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Gaming & Culture, Science, Ecology, evolution, science, zombie fungus]

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[l] at 8/19/22 9:21am
Enlarge / How long do we really need chemicals to last? (credit: Sura Nualpradid | EyeEm via Getty) PFAS chemicals seemed like a good idea at first. As Teflon, they made pots easier to clean starting in the 1940s. They made jackets waterproof and carpets stain-resistant. Food wrappers, firefighting foam, even makeup seemed better with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. Then tests started detecting PFAS in people’s blood. Today, PFAS are pervasive in soil, dust, and drinking water around the world. Studies suggest they’re in 98 percent of Americans’ bodies, where they’ve been associated with health problems including thyroid disease, liver damage, and kidney and testicular cancer. There are now over 9,000 types of PFAS. They’re often referred to as “forever chemicals” because the same properties that make them so useful also ensure they don’t break down in nature.Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, Forever chemicals, PFAS, syndication]

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[l] at 8/19/22 6:00am
Enlarge / Annotations recording Galileo's discovery of the four moons of Jupiter, from the single-leaf manuscript in the collection of the University of Michigan. The library recently discovered the manuscript is a 20th-century forgery. (credit: University of Michigan Library) Since 1938, one of the most prized items in the University of Michigan library's collection has been a rare manuscript page allegedly written by Galileo. But after an internal investigation, the library's curators have concluded that the manuscript is in fact a fake—and most likely executed by a well-known 20th-century forger. The curators were tipped off about the forgery by Georgia State historian Nick Wilding, who became suspicious of the manuscript's authenticity while working on a biography of Galileo. “It was pretty gut-wrenching when we first learned our Galileo was not actually a Galileo,” Donna L. Hayward, interim dean of the University of Michigan’s libraries, told The New York Times. Nonetheless, the library opted for transparency and publicly announced the forgery. “To sweep it under the rug is counter to what we stand for,” Hayward said. The single-leaf manuscript in question purported to be a draft of an August 24, 1609, letter that Galileo wrote to the doge of Venice describing his observations with a telescope (occhiale) he had constructed. (The final letter is housed in the State Archives in Venice.) Galileo first heard of a marvelous new instrument for “seeing faraway things as though nearby” in a letter from a colleague named Paolo Sarpi, who had witnessed a demonstration in Venice. Unsatisfied with the performance of the available instruments, Galileo built his own, even learning to grind his own lenses to improve the optics.Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Gaming & Culture, Science, astronomy, forgery, Galileo, History, history of science, Physics]

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[l] at 8/19/22 5:00am
Enlarge / Skyrora announced this week it has completed a hot fire test of its XL rocket's second stage. (credit: Skyrora) Welcome to Edition 5.07 of the Rocket Report! We are now just 11 days away from NASA's first attempt to launch its SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft. I've reported this story for more than 11 years and can hardly believe we've reached this moment. Starting Monday, I'll have a lot of coverage—good and bad—on Ars to put this moment into context. Be sure to check it out. As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar. Really—the Electron is going to Venus. Rocket Lab announced this week plans to self-fund the development of a small spacecraft and its launch on an Electron rocket. The craft will send a tiny probe flying through the clouds of Venus for about five minutes at an altitude of 48-60 km. Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck has joined up with several noted planetary scientists, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sara Seager, to design this mission, Ars reports.Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, rocket report, space]

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[l] at 8/18/22 2:13pm
Enlarge / Bikes, infrastructure, and willingness to use both are all needed for Netherlands-level cycling use. (credit: Scott E Barbour) Transportation produces about a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and passenger vehicles account for over half that figure. As such, nearly every plan for future emissions cuts includes some variant of getting people out of internal-combustion vehicles—typically into electric versions of the same vehicle. But a couple of countries have managed an alternate route to lower emissions: Denmark and the Netherlands both have bicycle-focused transportation that gets many people out of cars entirely. An international team of researchers decided to look into what factors have enabled these countries to make that shift and what might happen if more countries adopted a similar transportation focus. Two conclusions are clear: It's hard to get reliable data on bicycles, and bicycle-focused transportation could eliminate emissions equivalent to that of a decent-sized industrialized country. How many bikes are there? We have very good figures on the use of motor vehicles through government-required licensing and registration data. For bicycles, this is almost never the case, so the researchers had to estimate the number of bicycles present in most countries. To do so, they took figures on the manufacturing, import, and export and combined them in a model with information on how long bicycles typically last before being junked. The data runs up to 2015, so is already a bit out of date, as the pandemic has boosted cycling in many countries, but the countries they are able to make estimates for cover 95 percent of the global GDP.Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Cars, Science, alternative transportation, bicycles, carbon emissions, transportation]

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[l] at 8/18/22 6:54am
Enlarge / Space-based solar power involves harvesting sunlight from Earth orbit and then beaming it down to the surface where it is needed. (credit: Andreas Treuer/ESA) Europe is seriously considering developing space-based solar power to increase its energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the leader of the European Space Agency said this week. "It will be up to Europe, ESA and its Member States to push the envelope of technology to solve one of the most pressing problems for people on Earth of this generation," said Josef Aschbacher, director general of the space agency, an intergovernmental organization of 22 member states. Previously the space agency commissioned studies from consulting groups based in the United Kingdom and Germany to assess the costs and benefits of developing space-based solar power. ESA published those studies this week in order to provide technical and programmatic information to policymakers in Europe.Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science]

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[l] at 8/17/22 12:13pm
Enlarge / CDC Director Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate committee hearing in July 2021. (credit: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images) After persistent and often harsh criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and now the monkeypox emergency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will undergo a significant overhaul, involving cultural and structural changes aimed at realizing its prior reputation as the world's premier public health agency. “For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for COVID-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in an email to CDC's 11,000-person staff Wednesday, which was seen by The New York Times and Stat News. “My goal is a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication, and timeliness.” Though the CDC endured meddling and undermining during the Trump administration, many of the agency's pandemic misfires were unforced errors—such as the failure to stand up reliable SARS-CoV-2 testing in the early days and muddled messaging on masks. In a meeting with senior staff Wednesday, Walensky made a startling acknowledgement of the failures while outlining the overhaul in broad strokes.Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, CDC, COVID-19, monkeypox, pandemic, Trump]

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[l] at 8/17/22 7:09am
Enlarge / An artist's impression of Rocket Lab's proposed mission to Venus. (credit: MDPI Aerospace/Rocket Lab) Never let it be said that Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck lacks a flamboyant streak. Although his Electron launch vehicle is one of the smallest orbital rockets in the world, Beck gleans every bit of performance from the booster he can. On just the rocket's second launch, in January 2018, he added a disco-ball like geodesic sphere called "Humanity Star" to give humans a small and bright shining object to, however briefly, gaze upon in the night sky. "The whole point of the program is to get everybody looking up at the star, but also past the star into the Universe, and reflect about the fact that we’re one species, on one planet," he said at the time.Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, electron, rocket lab, space, Venus]

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[l] at 8/17/22 7:00am
Enlarge / A tunnel in Finland’s nuclear waste repository. (credit: Posiva) Even if all nuclear power plants were shut down today, there’s a mountain of radioactive waste waiting to be disposed of. Yet only Finland has an approved solution for nuclear waste disposal, while projects in the US, UK, and Germany have failed for decades, and progress is also slow in other countries. With growing calls to extend the life of existing nuclear power stations and build new ones, that mountain of radioactive waste sitting in temporary, vulnerable, and expensive storage will keep growing. The challenge is daunting. “High-level” nuclear waste, which includes spent nuclear fuel, stays radioactive for hundreds of millennia, so a waste facility must keep it safely away from aquifers, violent weather, war, plane crashes, sea level rise, future ice sheets, volcanic activity, and even curious future humans for a time span that dwarfs all of previous human history. Ultimately, it’s the geology of a proposed disposal site that determines if it's a safe place to entrust nuclear waste for millennia. We talked to people involved in the Finnish, US, and UK programs about what investigations of the rock and groundwater at those sites revealed about their suitability—or lack thereof.Read 50 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Features, Science, Energy, geology, nuclear power, nuclear waste]

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[l] at 8/17/22 6:11am
Enlarge / Robert F. Kennedy Jr., heads up to a meeting at Trump Tower on January 10, 2017 in New York City. (credit: Spencer Platt | Getty Images) As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to ramp up efforts to halt the spread of poliovirus in New York, anti-vaccine activists are celebrating dips in childhood vaccination rates, calling them a "COVID silver lining." On Tuesday, the CDC published new details on the case of paralytic polio in New York's Rockland county that was first announced in mid-July. The case, which occurred in an unvaccinated, immune-competent young adult male, began in June. Among the report's revelations is that the infection left the man with ongoing flaccid weakness in both legs. As of August 10, officials had tested 260 wastewater samples in Rockland and nearby Orange county. Twenty-one of those 260 samples—8 percent—tested positive, with positive detections spanning samples collected in April, May, June, and July, the report notes. Separately, New York officials announced last Friday, August 12, that sewage samples in New York City had also tested positive.Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, anti-vaccine, CDC, Infectious disease, polio, public health, Robert F. Kennedy, vaccine]

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[l] at 8/16/22 2:02pm
Enlarge / A hunger stone in the Elbe River in Děčín, Czech Republic. The oldest readable carving is from 1616, with older carvings (1417 and 1473) having been wiped out by anchoring ships over the years. (credit: Dr. Bernd Gross/CC BY-SA 3.0) Stories have been circling around the Internet this past week about the re-emergence in certain Czech and German rivers of so-called "hunger stones"—rocks embedded in rivers during droughts to mark the water level and warn future generations of the likely famine and hardship to come whenever the stones became visible again. The coverage has been fueled largely by an August 11 tweet noting one stone in particular, inscribed with a dire warning: "If you see me, weep." Hunger stones (hungerstein) are very much a real thing with a long and fascinating history. And Europe is in the midst of a historically severe drought—severe enough that water levels may indeed be sufficiently low for the stones to re-emerge once more. But that August 11 tweet and the related coverage are actually rehashing a series of news stories from 2018, when the re-emergence of the hunger stones in the midst of that year's extreme drought in Europe made headlines. It's hardly an egregious case of misinformation, but it does provide an illustrative example of why including context is so important in the digital age—even in a relatively simple tweet enthusing about newly acquired knowledge.Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Gaming & Culture, Science, climate change, drought, History, hunger stones]

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[l] at 8/16/22 8:43am
Enlarge (credit: Kateryna Kon/Science Photo Library/Getty Images) When you hear about the gut microbiome, does it ever make you wonder what tiny creatures are teeming inside your own body? As a microbiologist who studies the microbiomes of plants, animals, and people, I’ve watched public interest in gut microbes grow alongside research on their possible dramatic influence on human health. In the past several years, microbiome testing techniques used by researchers like me are now available to consumers at home. These personal gut microbiome testing kits claim to tell you what organisms live in your gut and how to improve your gut microbiome using that data. I became very interested in how these home test kits work, what kind of information they provide, and whether they can really help you change your gut microbiome. So I ordered a few kits from Viome, Biohm, and Floré, tried them out, and sifted through my own microbiome data. Here is what I learned. Your gut microbiome can be a partner in your health—if you have the right bacteria. How do gut microbiome kits work? All gut microbiome kits require you to carefully collect fresh fecal material. You put it in the various tubes provided in the kit and mail the samples back to the company. Several weeks later, you’ll receive a report describing the types of microbes living in your gut and suggestions on how to change your diet or activities to potentially alter your gut microbiome.Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, Health, human microbiome, microbiome]

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[l] at 8/16/22 8:30am
Enlarge / This old file photo shows a Minuteman III rocket being launched from California. (credit: Lee Corkran/Sygma via Getty Images) Early on Tuesday morning, an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, to test the capabilities of the US nuclear armed forces. The missile carried a test reentry vehicle, which traveled about 6,700 km to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where there is sophisticated tracking equipment to verify the accuracy and reliability of the ICBM weapon system. During an armed conflict, such a missile, which has a range of nearly 10,000 km, could be equipped with a nuclear warhead. In a news release, the US Air Force took pains to describe this test as long-scheduled and not conducted due to current world events. Rather, the Air Force said, it was the result of "months of preparation" across multiple government partners.Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, ICBM, minuteman III, space]

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[l] at 8/16/22 7:44am
Enlarge (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Of all the species that humanity has wiped off the face of the Earth, the thylacine is possibly the most tragic loss. A wolf-sized marsupial sometimes called the Tasmanian tiger, the thylacine met its end in part because the government paid its citizens a bounty for every animal killed. That end came recently enough that we have photographs and film clips of the last thylacines ending their days in zoos. Late enough that in just a few decades, countries would start writing laws to prevent other species from seeing the same fate. On Tuesday, a company called Colossal, which has already said it wants to bring the mammoth back, is announcing a partnership with an Australian lab that it says will de-extinct the thylacine with the goal of re-introducing it into the wild. A number of features of marsupial biology make this a more realistic goal than the mammoth, although there's still a lot of work to do before we even start the debate about whether reintroducing the species is a good idea. To find out more about the company's plans for the thylacine, we had a conversation with Colossal's founder, Ben Lamm, and the head of the lab he's partnering with, Andrew Pask.Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, Biology, cloning, DNA, Ecology, gene editing, Genetics, Genomics, mammoth, stem cells, thylacine]

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[l] at 8/15/22 4:33pm
Enlarge / Former president Donald Trump, right, listens to Deborah Birx, former coronavirus response coordinator, as she speaks during a news conference in the White House in Washington, DC, on Thursday, April 23, 2020. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg) This December, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will finally regain control of national COVID-19 hospital data—which the agency abruptly lost early in the pandemic to an inexperienced private company with ties to then-President Donald Trump. As SARS-CoV-2 raged in the summer of 2020, the Trump administration was busy sabotaging the once-premier public health agency. The administration's meddling included stripping the CDC of its power to collect critical data on COVID-19 patients and pandemic resources in hospitals around the country. According to multiple investigative reports at the time, then-White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Deborah Birx was frustrated by the CDC's slow and somewhat messy process of collecting and tidying the data submitted by thousands of hospitals. The data included stats on admissions, patient demographics, bed availability, ventilator use, discharges, and personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies.Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, birx, CDC, COVID-19, data, data collection, HHS, hospital, Infectious disease, pandemic, TeleTracking, Trump]

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[l] at 8/15/22 2:41pm
Enlarge / Researchers manipulated light with liquid crystals to create a sculpted laser beam capable of producing this photorealistic image of a cat. (credit: P.F. Silva & S.R. Muniz, 2022) Every cat owner knows how their feline companions delight in chasing a tiny pinpoint of light from a simple laser pointer. Now, Brazilian physicists have figured out how to trap and bend laser light into intricate shapes, producing the impressive photorealistic image of a cat pictured above. Among other potential applications, their method—described in a recent paper posted to the physics arXiv—could prove useful for building better optical traps to create clouds of ultra-cold atoms for a variety of quantum experiments. The ability to produce and precisely control the shape of laser beams with high fidelity is vital for many segments of research and industry, according to co-authors Pedro Silva and Sergio Muniz of the University of Sao Paulo. They group most wavefront engineering approaches into two basic categories. The first includes such approaches as digital micro mirrors (DMDs) and acoustic optical modulators (AOMs), which are easy to implement and boast a fast response for near real-time feedback control. But they have a limited ability to control the phase of the light field and can't create certain kinds of structured light. They are also prone to speckle, diffraction, or other distortions.Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, atomic physics, Bose Einstein condensates, lasers, Optical trapping, optics, Physics, science, ultra cold atoms]

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[l] at 8/15/22 12:13pm
Enlarge / NASA's Space Launch System rocket, reflected in the turn basin at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, rolls out for a fourth attempt at a wet dress rehearsal on June 6, 2022. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann) It's actually happening. NASA is finally set to launch its massive Space Launch System rocket, and barring catastrophe, the Orion spacecraft is going to fly to the Moon and back. The space agency's final pre-launch preparations for this Artemis I mission are going so well, in fact, that NASA now plans to roll the rocket to Launch Pad 39B as soon as Tuesday, August 16, at 9 pm ET (01:00 UTC Wednesday). This is two days ahead of the previously announced rollout schedule. This earlier date for the rocket's rollout follows completion of a flight termination system test over the weekend. This was the final major test of the launch system and spacecraft prior to rollout and marks the completion of all major pre-launch activities. NASA continues to target three dates to attempt the Artemis I launch: August 29, September 2, and September 5.Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, artemis 1, NASA, sls rocket, space]

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[l] at 8/15/22 11:57am
Enlarge / The two reactors of the Diablo Canyon facility. (credit: Tracey Adams) On Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom sent a series of aggressive climate proposals to the state legislature. And, in a separate but related move, his administration is circulating potential legislation that would allow the state's last nuclear power plant to continue operating past its planned shutdown in 2025. The proposed legislation is remarkably complicated despite its seemingly simple goal and is already facing a backlash from environmental groups, yet it has to be passed by the end of the month when the current legislative session expires. Big goals California already has one of the most ambitious sets of climate goals among the US states. But Newsom's plan would accelerate the targets already in place. It would set 2045 as the latest date by which the state would reach net carbon neutrality and make that target legally binding. To make that easier, it would boost the 2030 greenhouse gas emissions cuts from 45 percent to 55 percent relative to the 1990 baseline. As part of that, California will rapidly cut carbon emissions from electrical generation, with 90 percent clean energy in 2035, and 95 percent in 2040. Concurrently, it will put more areas in the state off-limits to oil extraction and start supporting carbon capture and sequestration.Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, California, carbon emissions, Energy, nuclear power]

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[l] at 8/15/22 7:32am
Enlarge / Stacey Morgan and her four children watch Drew Morgan launch in July 2019. (credit: Stacey Morgan) One of the very first things that a new NASA astronaut learns is that there is no "I" in team. As part of their nearly two years of training before becoming eligible for flight assignments, prospective astronauts are told not to use the space agency, or their spaceflight status, for self-promotion. The mission comes first, and while astronauts may be the most visible part of the NASA team, they are there to represent the agency and not themselves. Some recent astronauts who used their spaceflights to successfully boost their public profiles—such a Chris Hadfield and Scott Kelly—did so knowing they never intended to fly again. That's not to say that Hadfield and Kelly were not great astronauts, nor team players. It's just that astronauts who want to earn future flight assignments don't call attention to themselves. This ironclad rule makes the recent publication of a book by Stacey Morgan, The Astronaut's Wife, notable. In the book Morgan tells the story of her relationship with her husband, Drew Morgan, whom she met at West Point when they were both undergraduates. The narrative includes stories about their four children, life lessons, and Scripture references; but the centerpiece of the book concerns Morgan's spaceflight from July 2019 to April 2020.Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, Ars Shopping, astronaut, NASA, space, spacefight]

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[l] at 8/15/22 6:26am
Enlarge (credit: KATERYNA KON) Vertebrates such as ourselves rely on a complicated, multi-layer immune system to limit the impact of pathogens. Specialized B and T cells play a central role by recognizing specific pathogens and providing a memory of past infections. Obviously, single-celled organisms like bacteria and archaea can't take the same approach. But that doesn't mean they're defenseless. They also have an adaptive defense system that maintains a memory of past infections (and happens to make a great gene editing tool). Now, researchers have found that a family of related proteins is used to fight viruses in organisms ranging from bacteria to humans. While the effects it triggers vary among organisms, it appears to be capable of recognizing a wide range of viruses. Finding family members Mammals have a family of immune proteins called STAND (for reasons that are unimportant) that are part of what calls the innate immune system. This arm of our immune system doesn't recognize specific pathogens; instead, it recognizes general features of infection, such as molecules that are found on the surface of most bacteria.Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, bacteria, Biology, evolution, immunology, viruses]

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[l] at 8/13/22 6:00am
Enlarge If the spectacular images from the NASA James Webb Space Telescope have you hankering to learn more about what’s Out There—or at least to see more pretty pictures of it—The Short Story of the Universe arrives just in time to sate your craving. Like all of the books in the Short Story of... series, Gemma Lavender's The Short Story of the Universe (Amazon, Bookshop) is organized into four cross-referenced sections. First is Structure, which begins with the Universe and ends with subatomic particles. Next is History and Future. It begins “Before the Beginning” (the "beginning" being the Big Bang, T=0, 13.8 billion years ago) and ends with “The Fate of the Universe” at T > 10100 years. The shape of that future depends on how dark energy behaves. If dark energy weakens over time, “it may cause gravity to lead the Universe slowly to contract back on itself in a Big Crunch.” Alternatively, if dark energy strengthens or even stays the same over time, the Universe will just keep on expanding forever until either all matter entropically decays into radiation or the fabric of space-time gets torn in a Big Rip. We don’t know which path dark energy will take because we don’t yet know what dark energy is.Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

[Category: Science, Ars Shopping, book review, cosmology, Physics]

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