Tag Archives: Ars Technica

Researchers edit coral genes, hope to understand how to save them

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

Coral reefs are the poster-organisms for ecosystem services, aiding fisheries, promoting biodiversity, and protecting land from heavy waves. Unfortunately, we seem to be repaying them by killing them. Our warming oceans are causing coral bleaching and death, rising sea levels will force them to move, and the acidification of our oceans will make it harder for them to form reefs. It would be nice if we could help them, but interventions are difficult to design when you don’t know enough about coral biology.

Now scientists have announced a new tool is available to study corals: genetic editing provided by the CRISPR/Cas9 system. The ability to selectively eliminate genes could help us understand how corals function normally and could eventually provide a tool

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A short new movie of a comet’s surface is pretty incredible

Enlarge / False-color image showing the smooth Hapi region connecting the head and body of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (credit: ESA)

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014 and subsequently became the first mission to ever orbit around a comet. Additionally, its small Philae lander became the first to touch down on a comet’s surface—although it was subsequently lost after it was unable to deploy its solar panels in a proper configuration to capture enough energy to continue operations.

During its two years in varying orbits around the comet, which is about 4km on its longest side, Rosetta captured some unprecedented imagery of these Solar System interlopers. Now, a Twitter user named landru79 has combed through the Rosetta image archives and found a

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On his first day, NASA’s new administrator sets an inclusive tone

Enlarge / Jim Bridenstine, standing with his family, takes the oath of office from Vice President Mike Pence. (credit: NASA)

During his lengthy confirmation process to become NASA’s new administrator, Oklahoma conservative Jim Bridenstine got pilloried for being a divider rather than a uniter. Noting Bridenstine’s attacks on Marco Rubio during the 2016 presidential election, Florida Senator Bill Nelson characterized Bridenstine’s politics as “divisive and extreme.” Given that the space agency was apolitical, Nelson asked, “How do you keep NASA from being dragged down in a divisive political background?”

Nelson, a Democrat, was never satisfied with Bridenstine’s answers and opposed his nomination to become administrator until the end. As a result, so did the entire Democratic party, and this forced a tense, party-line vote on

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Interest in science, not ability, builds trust in climate science

Enlarge (credit: Carrie Martin/LLNL)

Studies of how people perceive climate science paint a depressing picture—one in which ideology overwhelms evidence. Not only does opinion about the science break down along ideological lines, but knowledge of science seems to make matters worse, accentuating the partisan divide.

Those studies have always been somewhat dissatisfying, though, as they leave little room for anyone to dispassionately evaluate the evidence or voice trust in the researchers who have. And, in fact, they don’t explain how exceptions come to exist—the significant conservative voices that are calling for action on climate change.

A study done by Matthew Motta of the University of Minnesota delves into how people might escape ideological blinders. Motta found that people with a long-term interest in science tend

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“I feel whole again:” Wounded vet receives first penis-scrotum combo transplant

Enlarge / Doctors performing surgery. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

A young military veteran severely maimed by an improvised explosive device (IED) received a transplant of a large section of tissue, including the penis, scrotum, and a portion of the abdominal wall, from a deceased organ donor, according to The New York Times.

The 14-hour operation took place at Johns Hopkins Hospital last month. It marks the third successful penis transplant and the first complex penis transplant, which is to say it involved the scrotum and surrounding tissue as well as the penis. For ethical reasons, surgeons removed the testicles prior to the transplantation to prevent the possibility that the recipient could father children genetically belonging to the donor.

Though doctors expect his recovery and

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Are we sure there wasn’t a coal-burning species 55 million years ago?

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

If you’ve ever wished that a new study came packaged with some science fiction exploring the implications, this is your lucky day. Of course, not every research paper lends itself to a short story, but a manuscript by NASA’s Gavin Schmidt and the University of Rochester’s Adam Frank asks a fun question: are we sure that humans built the first industrial civilization in Earth’s history?

In recent years, scientists have debated defining a new geologic epoch—the “Anthropocene”—based on the idea that humans have done enough to leave a recognizable mark in Earth’s geologic archives. Theoretically, if another world harbored life that produced an industrial civilization, we could find the proof written in that world’s rocks, too.

To examine that idea,

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NASA’s new planet finder is in space. Now what?

Trevor Mahlmann

Most everyone reading this story will probably know that a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched on Wednesday carrying a NASA spacecraft into orbit—the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite—that will further the space agency’s mission of searching for exoplanets.

Less well known is the TESS spacecraft’s clever orbit, which will enable an on-a-budget but robust science mission of searching for planets transiting in front of nearby stars. This “lunar resonant” orbit, which has never been used by a spacecraft, will allow TESS to both observe nearby stars and transmit data back to Earth with a minimal energy expenditure. (The useful lifetime of a spacecraft is often determined by its amount of onboard propellant).

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White House reportedly exploring wartime rule to help coal, nuclear

(credit: Kym Farnik)

According to reports from Bloomberg and E&E News, the Trump Administration has been exploring another way to help coal and nuclear generators: the Defense Production Act of 1950.

The Act was passed under President Truman. Motivated by the Korean War, it allows the president broad authority to boost US industries that are considered a priority for national security. On Thursday, E&E News cited sources that said “an interagency process is underway” at the White House to examine possible application of the act to the energy industry. The goal would be to give some form of preference to coal and nuclear plants that are struggling to compete with cheap natural gas.

Third time’s the charm?

This appears to be the third attempt

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Here are the types of marijuana best for stress and anxiety, according to users

Enlarge / Inventory including “Merry N’Berry” is on display at a medical marijuana dispensary (credit: Getty | Tom Williams)

By passively monitoring user-generated data from medical cannabis patients, researchers have glimpsed the types and amounts of marijuana that seem effective for relieving symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. The findings could direct more detailed research into the best strains for specific conditions. But the data also hints at a danger of using marijuana to manage depression symptoms in the long term.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Affective Disorders by researchers at Washington State University, is based on data from a medical cannabis app called Strainprint, which lets patients track symptom severity after medical cannabis use. Before that, users enter detailed information

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Tiny krill appear to mix up the ocean

Enlarge / Differences in the density of water show the complex mixing generated by a moving brine shrimp. (credit: Isabel Houghton, image obtained with the assistance and facilities of R. Strickler)

If you’ve heard of krill at all, it’s probably in the context of their role as whale food. Nature programs love to point in amazement to the fact that the largest animals on the planet subsist on some of the smallest, namely the krill. But these tiny animals exist independently of their function as food, and a new study suggests that they and their peers may have a significant role in their ecosystems: mixing up the top layers of the ocean.

Krill are crustaceans, as a careful look at them will indicate (although Wikipedia tells

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