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A devastating earthquake in Indonesia in 1861 was the crescendo of a 32-year-long clash between the tectonic plates below the island. It is the longest such ‘slow slip event’ ever recorded, and it left its mark in the bodies of the long-lived corals that inhabit the seas above. Researchers analysed growth patterns in corals on Simeulue Island, which were periodically exposed to the air as the land rose up and down. The corals record decades of vertical movement at the fault, from 1738 to the moment they died when thrust up by the 1861 quake. The findings will help seismologists to better understand some of the most dangerous quakes on Earth: the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people were preceded by a slow slip.
The maximum lifespan for humans, according to an analysis of blood cell counts and physical activity among ageing people. (Scientific American | 6 min read)
Features & opinion
Two books offer complementary insights into how artificial intelligence (AI) is shaping society. In The Alignment Problem, writer Brian Christian gives an intimate view of the people making AI technology — their aims, expectations, hopes, challenges and desolations. In Atlas of AI, scholar Kate Crawford deals with how, practically, AI gets into and plays out in our lives. “Meticulously researched and superbly written, these books… show that the responsible — ethical, legal and beneficial — development and use of AI is not about technology,” writes reviewer Virginia Dignum. “It is about us.”
Even laboratory-grown meat is made from cows — or from one cow, at least. Researchers must start with conventional meat cells, which someday might serve as the seed for huge bioreactors churning out more environmentally sound, ethical flesh. This means scientists must get their hands on reliable cell lines to study — but in the secretive world of cultured meat, no one wants to share. “There’s basically nowhere to start yet. If anyone wants to get into this field, it takes a significant amount of resources and time to acquire and characterize a cell line in-house,” says cultivated-meat researcher Elliot Swartz.
Do you know a champion of science (or maybe you are one)? Nominations are now open for the 2021 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science. The award recognizes the work of any individual who promotes science and evidence on a matter of public interest in the face of hostility. There is also a prize for early-career individuals. The closing date is 14 June — find out more or nominate someone here.
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With contributions by John Pickrell