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Transposable elements were long dismissed as useless, but they are emerging as major players in evolution. Their interactions with the genome and the environment affect how genes are translated into physical traits.
The term RNAi — short for RNA interference — crops up again and again in biology research these days. This is in part because of its power as a laboratory tool, and in part because it is a widespread natural phenomenon.
What determines how long we will live? Studies of simple organisms, single cells and mammals hint that certain shared principles underlie ageing, and raise the possibility of devising ways to extend life — if we want to.
Why, when the human race shows comparatively little genetic variation, are cultural differences so widespread and enduring? Thinking about cultures in terms of biological species provides some provocative answers.
A neglected mathematical theory is enjoying new popularity, thanks to its relevance to network dynamics in biological systems. The beating of a leech's heart is just one example that has a mathematical basis in ‘groupoid theory’.
Matter dominates antimatter, at least in our corner of the Universe. Part of the explanation could be an imbalance between the two at the level of fundamental interactions, encapsulated in the phenomenon of CP violation.
Why is the prevalence of type 2 diabetes mellitus now exploding in most populations, but not in Europeans? The genetic and evolutionary consequences of geographical differences in food history may provide the answer.
Natural philosophers have speculated on the existence of worlds around other suns for millennia. Now that real data are available, we find a diversity far beyond that expected by scientists, or science-fiction writers.
It is seven years since the first bacterial genome was completely sequenced, and more than 60 others have now been determined. What has been the impact of these projects on pure science and public welfare?
Plant stem cells, contained in specialized structures called meristems, have amazing regenerative powers. They enable plants to grow and produce new organs throughout lifetimes that can span hundreds of years.
We know how many drugs of abuse – cocaine, heroin and nicotine – work, but less about how they lead to addiction. Studies of the brain-learning systems concerned are addressing the causes of addiction, with the intent of developing better treatments.
The inventor of the term ‘black hole’, John Wheeler, has a gift for memorable phrases. ‘Getting its from bits’ is another of his creations. It refers not to an object, but to a vision of a world derived from pure logic and mathematics. That vision has to a remarkable extent been embodied in modern physics — here is a progress report.
One of the most versatile and universal signalling agents in the human body is the calcium ion, Ca2+. How does this simple ion act during cell birth, life and death, and how does it regulate so many different cellular processes?
The four large moons of Jupiter form the most coherently organized planetary system known. Over the past two years, the Galileo spacecraft has illuminated both the interconnections between these worlds and the uniqueness of each, challenging theories of moon formation and evolution.
At the beginning of this month, Stanley Prusiner of the University of California, San Francisco, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the infectious agent that causes spongiform encephalopathies _ the prion. His ‘protein-only’ theory now has many advocates, and the advances that have been made, the questions that remain and the ways in which these could be addressed are discussed in this feature.
Projections of future climate change depend largely on the results of computer models. Such models are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but they do not offer the certainties that policy-makers would like.
Neurons and their networks underlie our perceptions, actions and memories. The latest work on information processing and storage at the single-cell level reveals previously unimagined complexity and dynamism.