It’s no secret that warming temperatures are transforming landscapes in extreme northern regions. In Alaska, where wildfires have burned through many old-growth spruce forests in the past half decade, deciduous trees—such as aspen and birch—are starting to take over. But little is known about the impact these changes will have on how much carbon the forests release and store.
To find out, researchers trudged through the Alaskan taiga, seeking out wildfire sites where spruce once dominated. They mined these sites for information on carbon and nitrogen stores and forest turnover over time. What they found surprised them: In the long run, their estimates suggest that intensifying heat and more wildfires may lead to more carbon sequestration in Alaskan forests, they report today in Science. It’s impossible to know for sure that the flames will subside, but it’s a bit of good news as the fires burn out the old growth and bring in the new.
Read the research: https://scim.ag/3soUc4e
Host Sarah Crespi talks with Staff Writer Adrian Cho about a new measurement of the magnetism of the muon—an unstable cousin of the electron. This latest measurement and an earlier one both differ from predictions based on the standard model of particle physics. The increased certainty that there is a muon magnetism mismatch could be a field day for theoretical physicists looking to add new particles or forces to the standard model.
Also on this week’s show, Charles Marshall, director of the University of California Museum of Paleontology and professor of integrative biology, joins Sarah to talk about his team’s calculation for the total number of Tyrannosaurus rex that ever lived. In a sponsored segment from the Science/AAAS Custom Publishing Office, Sean Sanders interviews Imre Berger, professor of biochemistry at the University of Bristol, about his Science paper on finding a druggable pocket on the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 and how the work was accelerated by intensive cloud computing. This segment is sponsored by Oracle for Research.
Host Sarah Crespi talks with Contributing Correspondent Joshua Sokol about magnetars—highly magnetized neutron stars. A recent intense outburst of gamma rays from a nearby galaxy has given astronomers a whole new view on these mysterious magnetic monsters.
Also on this week’s show, Christoph Zollikofer, a professor of anthropology at the University of Zurich, talks about the evolution of humanlike brains. His team’s work with brain-case fossils suggests the complex brains we carry around today were not present in the early hominins to leave Africa, but later developed in the cousins they left behind.
Podcast Producer Meagan Cantwell talks with Pamela Soltis, a professor and curator with the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida and the director of the University of Florida Biodiversity Institute, about how natural collections at museums can be a valuable resource for understanding future disease outbreaks.
Read the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report Biological Collections: Ensuring Critical Research and Education for the 21st Century. This segment is part of our coverage of the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting.
Also on this week’s show, Katharina Schmack, a research associate at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, joins producer Joel Goldberg to talk about giving mice a quiz that makes them hallucinate. Observing the mice in this state helps researchers make connections between dopamine, hallucinations, and mental illness.
Bees, termites, and ants can teach us a lot about cooperation, communication, and the skills that keep societies together. But these so-called social insects may also hold secrets that could reshape our understanding of human aging. Many social insects exhibit surprising aging characteristics that cause their life spans to shift depending on their roles.
Following the death of a queen Indian jumping ant, for example, workers fight for the right to transform into an egg-laying ant. Much is at stake: the life expectancy of an egg-layer is five times longer than that of a worker’s. Though fruit flies, mice, and nematodes currently dominate aging research, some scientists say social insects’ aging behaviors could help dissect aging mechanisms in humans. This video will take you deep into the catacombs—er, honeycombs—of insect aging.
Read the story ($): https://scim.ag/3cFO0k0
Most research on aging has been done on model organisms with limited life spans, such as flies and worms. Host Meagan Cantwell talks to science writer Yao-Hua Law about how long-living social insects—some of which survive for up to 30 years—can provide new insights into aging.
Also in this episode, host Sarah Crespi talks with Noshir Contractor, the Jane S. & William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, about his AAAS session on keeping humans in harmony during long space missions and how mock missions on Earth are being applied to plans for a crewed mission to Mars.