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Lung cancer cell, coloured scanning electron micrograph

A lung cancer cell: imaging advances are enabling researchers to sniff out ever-smaller tumours. Credit: Anne Weston, EM STP, The Francis Crick Institute/SPL

Nations gather to detect cancer early

Researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom are joining forces to harness recent advances in cancer genetics and imaging to detect cancer when it is at its most treatable. The International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection will receive up to £40 million (US$52 million) over 5 years from the charity Cancer Research UK, with the possibility of an additional £15 million from other funders in the US.

Nature | 2 min read

Aye-aye is the first six-fingered primate

The aye-aye, a type of lemur, has a ‘pseudo-thumb’ that acts as a sixth digit — possibly to help it hang onto trees in its Madagascar home. The aye-aye’s other fingers are extremely specialized, with a long, thin, mobile fourth finger that it uses to tap on wood in search of grubs and a non-opposable thumb. The panda evolved a similar bony outcrop in its palm, as lauded in Stephen Jay Gould’s landmark essay, but the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is the only primate known to have such an extra little helper.

National Geographic | 7 min read

Reference: American Journal of Physical Anthropology paper

Californians will be warned seconds ahead of a quake

Everyone in earthquake-prone California will soon be able to receive alerts on their mobile phones a few seconds in advance of a tremor. The warnings rely on a network of US Geological Survey sensors, which can detect fast-moving ‘P waves’ that arrive in advance of the powerful ‘S waves’ that cause shaking. People farther away from the epicentre will have a few seconds more warning — for example, fans attending the fateful World Series baseball game on 17 October 1989 would have been alerted about 15 seconds before they felt the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake.

Buzzfeed News | 6 min read


Putting the ‘I’ in science

In his new book, astrophysicist Chris Lintott tells the story of the most ambitious, successful citizen-scientist initiative so far: Zooniverse. Much more than just a way to bag some free labour, projects such as Zooniverse often exploit the human brain’s ability to recognize patterns, or to spot unusual features in data that even the most sophisticated computer algorithms can miss. What’s more, notes reviewer Michael West, they help to foster a more scientifically literate society and empower a new generation of scientists.

Nature | 5 min read

An unsung scientist and the lives he saved

During the US government shutdown earlier this year, journalist Michael Lewis was struck by a list of employees who had been deemed ‘inessential’ and sent home. The list was alphabetical, so Lewis decided to get in touch with the person at the top: Arthur A. Allen. The story of Allen’s 40-year career as the lone oceanographer at the US Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue division delves into the fascinating science behind his work, his dedication to saving lives, and the question of what happens when experts walk out of the door and are never replaced.

Bloomberg | 29 minute read

Tiny proteins are rewriting the biology rule book

Proteins just a fraction of the size of their bigger neighbours have an outsized influence on biological processes from muscle performance to the immune system. “Their small size seems to allow them to jam the intricate workings of larger proteins, inhibiting some cellular processes while unleashing others,” reports Science. Their origins in stretches of DNA and RNA that were thought to be barren of protein-producing powers only adds to the miniproteins mystery.

Science | 13 min read


Cartoon: A diamond in a job interview says its biggest strength is “I work well under pressure.”