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You Are Getting SleepyTagged Proteins May Point to Why

Two years ago, scientists in Japan reported the discovery of a mouse that just could not stay awake. This creature, which had a mutation in a gene called Sik3, slept upwards of 30 percent more than usual: Although it awoke apparently refreshed, it would need to snooze again long before its normal lab mates’ bedtime. It was as if the mouse had a greater need for sleep. International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine/University of Tsukuba Their experiments compared Sleepy and normal mice that were either well-rested or in various states…

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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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When Overtaxed Working Memory Knocks Your Brain Out of Sync

In 1956, the renowned cognitive psychologist George Miller published one of the field’s most widely cited papers, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two.” In it, he argued that although the brain can store a whole lifetime of knowledge in its trillions of connections, the number of items that humans can actively hold in their conscious awareness at once is limited, on average, to seven. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studies the interplay of brain waves…

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Troubled Times for Alternatives to Einsteins Theory of Gravity

Miguel Zumalacárregui knows what it feels like when theories die. In September 2017, he was at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Saclay, near Paris, to speak at a meeting about dark energy and modified gravity. The official news had not yet broken about an epochal astronomical measurement—the detection, by gravitational wave detectors as well as many other telescopes, of a collision between two neutron stars—but a controversial tweet had lit a firestorm of rumor in the astronomical community, and excited researchers were discussing the discovery in hushed tones. A…

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An Anti-Aging Pundit Solves a Decades-Old Math Problem

In 1950 Edward Nelson, then a student at the University of Chicago, asked the kind of deceptively simple question that can give mathematicians fits for decades. Imagine, he said, a graph—a collection of points connected by lines. Ensure that all of the lines are exactly the same length, and that everything lies on the plane. Now color all the points, ensuring that no two connected points have the same color. Nelson asked: What is the smallest number of colors that you’d need to color any such graph, even one formed…

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In Search of Gods Mathematical Perfect Proofs

Paul Erdős, the famously eccentric, peripatetic and prolific 20th-century mathematician, was fond of the idea that God has a celestial volume containing the perfect proof of every mathematical theorem. “This one is from The Book,” he would declare when he wanted to bestow his highest praise on a beautiful proof. Whether the proof is understandable and beautiful depends not only on the proof but also on the reader. The book, which has been called “a glimpse of mathematical heaven,” presents proofs of dozens of theorems from number theory, geometry, analysis,…

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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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