Headlines 

It made me question my ancestry: does DNA home testing really understand race?

Dubious results, emotional fallout, privacy concerns: inside the 7.7bn industry that promises to tell you who you really are Last year, I did what 12 million people from all over the world have done and surrendered my spit to a home DNA-testing company. I hoped a longed for a country to attribute my blackness to, or for help answering the ubiquitous Where are you from? question. Id spent years making up exotic-sounding combinations to justify my appearance (some days Jamaican-Spanish-Swedish; other days half Brazilian, or half Iranian). But, at 24,…

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Slime Molds RememberBut Do They Learn?

Slime molds are among the world’s strangest organisms. Long mistaken for fungi, they are now classed as a type of amoeba. As single-celled organisms, they have neither neurons nor brains. Yet for about a decade, scientists have debated whether slime molds have the capacity to learn about their environments and adjust their behavior accordingly. Audrey Dussutour/CNRS However, the notion that single-celled organisms can learn something and retain their memory of it at the cellular level is new and controversial. Traditionally, scientists have directly linked the phenomenon of learning to the…

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This Giant Invasive Flower Can Give You Third-Degree Burns

The giant hogweed is hard to miss. The monstrous plant towers up to 15 feet tall, with a crown of white flowers the size of an umbrella. They burst into bloom between the last week of June and the first week of July—just in time to be the perfect dramatic backdrop to red-white-and-blue-themed parties. But whatever you do, don’t touch it. The giant hogweed’s toxic sap could give you third-degree burns if you don’t get out of the sun and wash it off immediately. Like an anti-sunblock, chemicals in its…

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Brainless Embryos Suggest Bioelectricity Guides Growth

The tiny tadpole embryo looked like a bean. One day old, it didn’t even have a heart yet. The researcher in a white coat and gloves who hovered over it made a precise surgical incision where its head would form. Moments later, the brain was gone, but the embryo was still alive. The brief procedure took Celia Herrera-Rincon, a neuroscience postdoc at the Allen Discovery Center at Tufts University, back to the country house in Spain where she had grown up, in the mountains near Madrid. When she was 11…

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Can Machine Learning Find Medical Meaning in a Mess of Genes?

“We don’t have much ground truth in biology.” According to Barbara Engelhardt, a computer scientist at Princeton University, that’s just one of the many challenges that researchers face when trying to prime traditional machine-learning methods to analyze genomic data. Techniques in artificial intelligence and machine learning are dramatically altering the landscape of biological research, but Engelhardt doesn’t think those “black box” approaches are enough to provide the insights necessary for understanding, diagnosing and treating disease. Instead, she’s been developing new statistical tools that search for expected biological patterns to map…

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3.5 Billion-Year-Old Fossils Challenge Ideas About Earths Start

In the arid, sun-soaked northwest corner of Australia, along the Tropic of Capricorn, the oldest face of Earth is exposed to the sky. Drive through the northern outback for a while, south of Port Hedlund on the coast, and you will come upon hills softened by time. They are part of a region called the Pilbara Craton, which formed about 3.5 billion years ago, when Earth was in its youth. Jeff Miller (Epoxy mount); J. William Schopf, UCLA (Microfossil) The fossils add to a wave of discoveries that point to…

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Odds and Ends 

Youre A Single-Celled Organism. Can You Evolve Into A Duck?

This feature requires JavaScript to function. Okay, so. Im on the thing. You are this. You know life is me. … Never mind. Great. For your first act as a living thing, you die. You did not manage to evolve into a duck. Share Your Results Surrender yourself to the vision. You surrender yourself to the vision. You think about this. Ah…a duck. Its perfect. So it is resolved: You will be this thing. Someday, the child of the child of your distant descendant will wake up, and it will…

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Odds and Ends 

Prepared food distribution service Power Supply rebrands as Territory and raises $6.7 million

If you thought the world didnt need another prepared food distribution and delivery service, apparently youd be wrong, as the newly minted startup Power Supply raised the money as it looks to expand to new geographies and consolidate its position in the Washington, DC, Southern California and San Francisco markets itsalready operating within. The timing is auspicious, as another twist on the meal delivery service, Maple (which was backed by the Momofuku-famous celebrity chef, David Chang) MedStar Healthymeals that are 350 to 600 calories, contain 30 to 60 grams of…

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Pincer-wielding 507m-year-old fossil sheds light on evolution of crabs

Mandibulates, a group that includes crustaceans and insects, show huge diversity Tokummia katalepsis could be the missing link that explains why A fossilised ancient creature boasting huge pincers resembling can-openers, a hinged two-piece shell and more than 50 pairs of legs has been discovered, shedding light on the evolutionary past of a huge and diverse group of animals. Researchers say the creature, thought to have lived about 507 million years ago during the Cambrian period, offers insights into the early body plan of mandibulates a group that encompasses creatures including…

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