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Q&A

How to control chronic wasting disease

A prion sickness similar to mad cow is spreading rapidly through North America’s deer and elk populations. A veterinary microbiologist discusses the options for keeping it in check.

Inching toward a global treaty on plastic pollution

Delegates from 175 nations are working on an international agreement that would tackle the vast amounts of plastic waste in the environment. A marine scientist specializing in plastic pollution discusses the problem and her hopes for the proceedings.

Psychedelic drugs and the law: What’s next?

The push to legalize magic mushrooms, MDMA, LSD and other hallucinogens is likely to heighten tensions between state and federal law, drug law expert Robert Mikos says

How to overcome political polarization on climate change

Conversations — in real life — can help bridge the partisan divide, but the trick is to have some structure to the discussion, says a human ecologist

Indigenous languages are founts of environmental knowledge

Peoples who live close to nature have a rich lore of plants, animals and landscapes embedded in their mother tongues — which may hold vital clues to protecting biodiversity

How shade coffee lends conservation a hand

When managed in the right way, the farms that provide our morning brew can be a refuge for plant and animal biodiversity

The growing link between microbes, mood and mental health

New research suggests that to maintain a healthy brain, we should tend our gut microbiome. The best way to do that right now is not through pills and supplements, but better food.

Central American volcanoes offer clues to Earth’s geological evolution

Along 1,100 kilometers, from Mexico to Costa Rica, lies the Central American volcanic arc, where the variety of magma types make for a geological paradise

The race to understand polar ice sheets

As glacial cliffs break off and destabilize frozen landscapes, glaciologist Richard Alley focuses on the fractures. The work could improve predictions about future sea-level rise.

The remaining frontiers in fighting hepatitis C

A scientist whose work was key to identifying, studying and finding treatments for this life-threatening virus discusses the scientific journey and challenges that persist

Does it work to pay people not to cut the forest?

Evidence that the approach helps to save trees, preserve ecosystems and reduce carbon emissions is often hard to come by. But it can succeed if it’s done right, says an economist.

The knotty economics of student loan debt

People in the US owe a whopping $1.7 trillion for higher education. An economist weighs in on how to deal with the ballooning college tab.

The ‘least crazy’ idea: Early dark energy could solve a cosmological conundrum

Measurements of the acceleration of the universe don’t agree, stumping physicists working to understand the cosmic past and future. A new proposal seeks to better align these estimates — and is likely testable.

To help birds and insects, cultivate native gardens

Entomologist Doug Tallamy explains how filling our yards with local plants can provide our feathered friends with a caterpillar buffet

Can probiotics protect corals from problems like bleaching?

Lab experiments suggest that a dose of carefully selected microbes may boost the health of these reef-building creatures and their symbiotic algae

Natural pest control: Plants enlist their enemies’ enemies

These stealthy survival tactics could teach us how to curb the widespread use of chemical pesticides in agriculture. But first, researchers must learn how seemingly helpless flora deploy this masterful strategy.

Is this ‘age of the delta’ coming to an end?

The wet landmasses, though inherently impermanent, have been essential to both people and wildlife for thousands of years. But recent shifts have brought on some rapid losses that worry scientists.

After Covid-19, can mRNA vaccines help with cancer as well?

The pandemic put the technology, long in development, to the test. Here’s a look at the status of its application to cancer and when it might reach patients.

Like hungry locusts, humans can easily be tricked into overeating

Our bodies crave more food if we haven’t had enough protein, and this can lead to a vicious cycle — especially if we’re reaching for ultraprocessed instead of high-fiber whole foods

Understanding carjacking

Criminologist Bruce Jacobs has spoken to carjackers in detail about their crimes. Here’s what he’s learned in two decades of study.

Teens can have excellent executive function — just not all the time

Adolescents’ brains are highly capable, if inconsistent, during this critical age of exploration and development. They are also acutely tuned into rewards.

When criminals rule the land

In Latin America, tens of millions of people live in territories that are governed by outlaws — from powerful drug cartels to crime syndicates. What can be done to restore legitimate law and order?

Not enough fish in the sea

The scientist who found a way to tally up global catches is an ocean advocate and a vocal critic of industrial fisheries. Now we have a treaty for the high seas — but does it go far enough?

Controlled burns won’t save all of California from wildfire

There are two types of wildfire in the state, and they’re on the rise for different reasons. Each needs a distinct management approach, a researcher says.

What makes for a ‘great’ sex life?

Research into intimacy upends many popular notions about sexual fulfillment. One hint: It’s more about connection than technique.

Can cosmology untangle the universe’s most elusive mysteries?

From the Big Bang to dark energy, knowledge of the cosmos has sped up in the past century — but big questions linger

Navigating the ethics of ancient human DNA research

Paleogenomic research has expanded rapidly over the past two decades, igniting heated debate about handling remains. Who gives consent for study participants long gone — and who should speak for them today?

AI for better crops

The technology could transform how growers protect their harvests, by detecting plant diseases very early on. But the challenge is to develop tools that are as affordable as they are effective.

Mistletoes in a warming world

Can the famous parasitic plants help animals to survive climate change, or will they be killed off by extreme weather?

Color is in the eye, and brain, of the beholder

The way we see and describe hues varies widely for many reasons: from our individual eye structure, to how our brain processes images, to what language we speak, or even if we live near a body of water 

What can cities do to survive extreme heat?

Urban heat waves are getting worse, but better data and timely government action could make them less deadly

Our ancestors ate a Paleo diet. It had carbs.

There is no one prehistoric meal plan. A modern hunter-gatherer group known as the Hadza has taught researchers surprising things about the highly variable menu consumed by humans past.

Rethinking insurance for floods, wildfires and other catastrophes

The industry is in crisis just when disaster coverage is most needed

She saw the obesity epidemic coming. Then an unexpected finding mired her in controversy.

Katherine Flegal was a scientist who found herself crunching numbers for the government, until one day her analyses set off a firestorm. What does she make of her decades as a woman in public health research?

The science of a wandering mind

More than just a distraction, mind-wandering (and its cousin, daydreaming) may help us prepare for the future

Doing away with cash bail

In the US, people charged with a crime usually need to post a large cash bond to be released before trial — a system used barely anywhere else in the world. This doesn’t enhance public safety and causes great hardship to defendants and families. There’s a better way, researchers say.

An archaeological look at modern refugees

The techniques of archaeology, usually used to study the past, also illuminate the experiences of today’s displaced people

Inside the adolescent brain

This challenging phase of life may get a bad rap, but it’s also full of opportunity. A developmental neuroscientist shares what she’s learned from studies on young people’s risk-taking behavior, reasoning and more.

Making microbots smart

What would it take to create a truly intelligent microbot, one that can operate independently? A roboticist describes the fascinating minutiae and the medical jobs these tiny machines could do for us.

How cities can fight climate change

Urban activities — think construction, transportation, heating, cooling and more — are major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions. Today, a growing number of cities are striving to slash their emission to net zero — here’s what they need to do.

Mining museums’ genomic treasures

The world’s natural history collections hold billions of biological specimens, many of which still contain DNA. Scientists exploring these genetic repositories are gaining new, historical perspectives on how animals evolve.

Mapping the brain to understand the mind

New technology is enabling neuroscientists to make increasingly detailed wiring diagrams that could yield new insights into brain function

Vaccinating the world against Covid-19

Lower-income countries haven’t gotten an equal share of lifesaving coronavirus vaccines. Older, more familiar vaccine technologies may hold the key to more equitable use, says Maria Elena Bottazzi.

Rethinking air conditioning amid climate change

ACs and refrigerators help keep people safe — but they also further warm the planet. Scientists are working on eco-friendlier solutions as global demand for cooling grows.

The invention of incarceration

Prisons have been controversial since their beginnings in the late 1700s — why do they keep failing to live up to expectations?

To learn Klingon or Esperanto: What invented languages can teach us

NuqneH! Saluton! A linguistic anthropologist (and creator of the Kryptonian language, among others) studies the people who invent new tongues.

How to handle climate anxiety

Worry over the planet’s future is taking a toll on emotional well-being, researchers say. Here’s how to cope so we don’t lose hope for our planet and for ourselves.

Salmonella: Why it’s a chicken and egg thing

Eliminating this food-poisoning bacterium from poultry is tricky — not least because rapid, precise tests are still unavailable. Researchers are looking at vaccines, probiotics, prebiotics and even essential oils as ways to reduce contamination on the farm.

To understand airborne transmission of disease, follow the flow

Viruses and bacteria travel in fluids, such as the air we breathe. Studying exhalations, toilet flushes and rain drops, with math and modeling, can sharpen the big-picture view of how to prevent infections.

Can statistics help crack the mysterious Voynich manuscript?

The meaning of the cryptic text has eluded scholars for centuries. Their latest efforts include computational analyses seeking new insights into the medieval enigma.

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