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.
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.
Ants are social insects which form small to large colonies. A typical colony contains an egg-laying queen and many adult workers together with their brood (eggs, larvae and pupae). Workers are by far the most numerous individuals in the nest. They are responsible for nest construction and maintenance, foraging, tending the brood and queen, and nest defence.
While all workers are female, they are sterile and do not lay eggs. Winged queens and males are present in the nest for only a short period. Soon after emerging they leave the nest to mate and establish new nests. Queens are generally similar to the workers, differing primarily in having larger bodies. In some species, fully winged queens are lacking and egg-laying is undertaken either by typical workers or by individuals which are morphologically intermediate between typical queens and workers (these are called ergatoid queens). Males are generally about the same size as the workers or smaller, and have smaller heads with large ocelli, very short scapes and small mandibles. In many cases males look more like wasps than ants.
As countries like the United States and United Kingdom inoculate their residents with never-before used vaccine technology, others, including Russia, China, and India, are investing in more traditional approaches, like inactivated coronavirus vaccines. But no matter the technique, together they have the potential to create multiple lines of defense against SARS-CoV-2. Science senior correspondent Jon Cohen explains how each of these vaccines can protect us from severe illness—and what understanding the details of our immune responses could mean for the future of human trials.
In 1972, Frank Wilczek and his thesis adviser, David Gross, discovered the basic theory of the strong force — the final pillar of the Standard Model of particle physics. Their work revealed the strange alchemy at work inside the nucleus of an atom. It also turned out to underpin almost all subsequent research into the early universe. Wilczek and Gross went on to share the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics for the work. At the time it was done, Wilczek was just 21 years old. His influence in the decades since has been profound. He predicted the existence of a hypothetical particle called the axion, which today is a leading candidate for dark matter. He published groundbreaking papers on the nature of the early universe. And just last year, his prediction of the “anyon” — a strange type of particle that only shows up in two-dimensional systems — was experimentally confirmed.
This year, two teams of physicists made profound progress on ideas that could bring about the next revolution in physics. Another still has identified the source of a long-standing cosmic mystery.
1. Here’s an extremely brief version of the black hole information paradox: Stuff falls into a black hole. Over time — a long, long time — the black hole “evaporates.” What happened to the stuff? According to the rules of gravity, it’s gone, its information lost forever. But according to the rules of quantum mechanics, information can never be lost. Therefore, paradox. This year, a series of tour de force calculations has shown that information must somehow escape — even if how it does so remains a mystery.
2. Levitating trains, lossless power transmission, perfect energy storage: The promise of room-temperature superconductivity has fed many a utopian dream. A team based at the University of Rochester in New York reported that they had created a material based on a lattice of hydrogen atoms that showed evidence of superconductivity at up to about 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit) — about the temperature of a chilly room. The only catch: Superconductivity at this temperature only works if the material is crushed inside a diamond anvil to pressures approaching those of Earth’s core. Utopia will have to wait.
3. A dazzling cosmic strobe has ended an enduring astronomical mystery. Fast radio bursts — blips of distant radio waves that last for mere milliseconds — have eluded explanation since they were first discovered in 2007. Or rather, astronomers had come up with far too many theories to explain what are, for the brief time they’re alight, the most powerful radio sources in the universe. But on a quiet morning in April, a burst “lit up our telescope like a Christmas tree,” said one astronomer. This allowed researchers to trace its source back to a part of the sky where an object had been shooting out X-rays. Astronomers concluded that a highly magnetized neutron star called a magnetar was behind the phenomenon.
Each year, editors and writers choose a top research achievement as Science’s Breakthrough of the Year. This year, that honor goes to the multiple COVID-19 vaccines that have succeeded in large human trials—and are now being deployed around the world. But there are a lot of other advances to talk about, from figuring out the origin of Fast Radio Bursts to the discovery of the earliest known figurative art. Check out a few of the runners-up candidates—and this year’s Breakthrough of the Year—in this video rundown. Read the stories here: https://scim.ag/37v20ds
Beetles are virtually crash resistant. Their wings fold up when they collide with objects, and then quickly spring back into place. That helps the insects stay on course and fly straight, rather than spiral to the ground, while exerting little energy. Researchers have now built a winged robot that mimics this capability.
The “beetlebot” keeps flying, even after it crashes into poles, researchers report this month in Science. The energy-efficient robot could even navigate narrow environments, such as collapsed buildings, to aid rescue missions, the team says.