Category Archives: News

Scientists Reexamine Why Zebra Stripes Mysteriously Repel Flies

WIRED

While biologists still aren’t exactly sure how it works, a new study closes in on why the insects that pester Savannah animals zig when anything zags.

ABOUT 30 MILES north of the equator, in central Kenya, Kaia Tombak and her colleagues stood beside a plexiglass box. Tombak, who studies the evolution of animals’ social behavior, was dressed for the power of the Savannah sun in a light, long-sleeved shirt and pants. A gang of flies buzzed nearby, and Tombak wondered whether she’d be better off wearing stripes.

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The Sci-Fi Dream of a ‘Molecular Computer’ Is Getting More Real

WIRED

Chemists have long conceptualized tiny machines that could fabricate drugs, plastics, and other polymers that are hard to build with bigger tools.

DAVID LEIGH DREAMS of building a small machine. Really small. Something minuscule. Or more like … molecule. “Chemists like me have been working on trying to turn molecules into machines for about 25 years now,” says Leigh, an organic chemist from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. “And of course, it’s all baby steps. You’re building on all those that went before you.”

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Sorry, Prey. Black Widows Have Surprisingly Good Memory

WIRED

Despite having tiny arthropod brains, spiders in a new experiment showed some complex cognitive calculations.

BLACK WIDOWS MUST despise Clint Sergi. While working on his PhD in biology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Sergi spent his time designing little challenges for spiders—which often involved rewarding them with tasty dead crickets, or confounding them by stealing the crickets away. “The big question that motivated the work was just wanting to know what is going on inside the minds of animals,” he says.

Biologists already know spider brains aren’t like human brains. Their sensory world is geared for life in webs and dark corners. “Humans are very visual animals,” says Sergi. “These web-building spiders have almost no vision. They have eyes, but they’re mostly good for sensing light and motion.” Instead, he says, a black widow’s perception comes mainly from vibrations, kind of like hearing. “Their legs are sort of like ears that pick up the vibrations through the web.”

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Neuroscientists Unravel the Mystery of Why You Can’t Tickle Yourself

WIRED

Playfulness and tickling aren’t always considered “serious” subjects, but a new study shows how they can address key questions about the brain.

INSIDE A BERLIN neuroscience lab one day last year, Subject 1 sat on a chair with their arms up and their bare toes pointed down. Hiding behind them, with full access to the soles of their feet, was Subject 2, waiting with fingers curled. At a moment of their choosing, Subject 2 was instructed to take the open shot: Tickle the hell out of their partner.

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Patricia Hidalgo-Gonzalez Wants to Strengthen the Grid

WIRED

The UC San Diego researcher spoke at RE:WIRED Green about ways to use advanced control theory and machine learning to maximize sustainable energy sources.

THE UNITED STATES’ power grid is in trouble. Much of the country’s energy comes from nonrenewable resources that contribute to climate change. And as the resulting climate crisis brings more frequent heat waves, wildfires, and freezes, demand on the grid becomes greater and more erratic. The strain is heavy, but Patricia Hidalgo-Gonzalez has ideas for how to relieve the burden on the grid.

Hidalgo-Gonzalez directs the Renewable Energy and Advanced Mathematics (REAM) lab at UC San Diego. Her work focuses on finding new ways to incorporate more sustainable power into the grid, the kind of research that could create solutions for the blackouts that hit places like California and Texas during extreme temperature changes. “Unfortunately, we are expecting this almost every summer now,” Hidalgo-Gonzalez told attendees at the RE:WIRED Green conference on Wednesday.

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The Sustainable Future of Food Must Bring Everyone to the Table

WIRED

At this year’s RE:WIRED Green event, food scientists and environmental justice activists mapped out how we can end world hunger and preserve our planet.

HOW CAN WE feed the world sustainably? Right now, 325 million people are acutely hungry. 35 million Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. The world’s food systems are uneven, fragile, and only becoming more fragile with the climate crisis.

“When we talk about from farm-to-fork, we need to transform the food system in a way that, yes, it supports our environment, yes, it supports our health, but also that it provides the economic return to all of the stakeholders across the food system,” says Ertharin Cousin. Cousin is the CEO and managing director of Food Systems for the Future, a nutrition impact investment fund she founded. She has worked on resolving global food insecurity and hunger for two decades.

She spoke at RE:WIRED Green on Wednesday about her work, the need for more innovation, and the opportunity to lift up historically marginalized food entrepreneurs.

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At Some Colleges, the Fall of Roe Will Weaken Student Health Care

WIRED

As students return to school, many will find restricted campus access to abortion services and information—and perhaps reproductive care in general.

ON JUNE 24, an independent women’s health center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, received cease-and-desist orders from the state’s attorney general for its abortion services. The order came immediately after the US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, overturning Roe v. Wade. The clinic’s operations manager told local news that her team spent that day canceling more than 100 appointments. The clinic sits right across the road from the University of Alabama and was one of only three providers in the state.

As a new school year begins on college campuses across the country, many students will move to states that promise them fewer rights now than when they applied to school last winter, or when they accepted enrollment offers this spring. On some of those campuses, health centers—fearing legal consequences for their staffers—will likely roll back what they can offer students, both in terms of care and information about how to access abortion services or pills elsewhere. Some health advocates worry that the chilling effect may even spread to conveying general information about birth control and sexual health.

“It’s going to have devastating effects,” says Gillian Sealy, chief of staff with the nonprofit Power to Decide, which advocates for reproductive rights. “In many instances, this is the place that a young person might go to get their health needs met.” Unplanned pregnancies diminish the likelihood that a student will continue their education. So having the power to choose is paramount, she says.

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Can Disgusting Images Motivate Good Public Health Behavior?

WIRED

Graphic images have long been tools of campaigns against smoking and STDs. Researchers want to know if they can work for infectious diseases like Covid.

EVERY NOW AND then, I remember the Slideshow. This presentation about sexually transmitted infections was infamous among my fellow South Florida seventh graders. If you got your middle school sex ed elsewhere, it might be hard to imagine just how graphic its slides were. But being gross was the point: If kids saw the symptoms of untreated gonorrhea, the reasoning went, then disgust would sway them from reckless decisions.

Down in the basic wiring of our brains, disgust motivates avoidance. You’re less likely to go on a second date with a first date who smells bad. If a pigeon picks at your sandwich, you might opt to go hungry. Public health data backs this up: When cigarette packaging shows graphic pictures of smokers’ diseased organs, attempts to quit smoking double. “A vivid image is much more powerful than just abstract numbers,” says Woo-kyoung Ahn, a professor of psychology at Yale University. “Disgust is a powerful emotion rooted as an evolutionary adaptation that helps us expel and avoid harmful substances.”

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How Abortion Clinics Are Racing to Prepare for a Post-Roe America

WIRED

Access to reproductive care depends on more than red states vs. blue states—but that will matter. Here’s how the future could vary across the country.

BY THE END of June, abortion may no longer be a federally protected right. With its Dobbs ruling, the Supreme Court may empower individual states to ban abortion outright if they so choose. As a result, policy experts expect 26 states to enact some form of a ban. In 22 states, laws or amendments are already written—13 are “trigger bans” set to kick in the moment of an official SCOTUS ruling, and the other half will come in the days, weeks, or months that follow.

This will be a minefield for people with unwanted pregnancies. Its contours will feel familiar: Red states (according to electoral maps) tend to limit access; blue states tend to preserve it. Across the country, clinics in blue states like Illinois and Colorado are staffing up to prepare for an influx of patients from nearby red ones. Some are expanding their call center staffing, online services, or financial aid to patients. State governments are even considering new legislation to protect—and finance—abortion access. “It’s literally a line item in the budget,” says Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization for reproductive rights. “They want to help support people who have to travel. States are also understanding that their own residents are impacted by the need to pay for abortions.”

“All of us in blue states are expecting to see more people,” agrees Sue Dunlap, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. “And, frankly, we’re already seeing more people.”

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These Nanobots Can Swim Around a Wound and Kill Bacteria

WIRED

Researchers have created autonomous particles covered with patches of protein “motors.” They hope these bots will tote lifesaving drugs through bodily fluids.

THERE’S ALWAYS BEEN something seductive about a nanobot. Comic books and movies implore you to imagine these things, thousands of times thinner than a human hair and able to cruise around a body and repair a bone or heal an illness. (Or, if they’re more nefarious, simply explode.) Their scale is unfathomably finite. Their possibilities, sci-fi will have you believe, wildly infinite. While that incongruity makes it perfect for the denizens of a writers’ room figuring out how to kill James Bond, it’s also a sort of curse. Surely we can’t take tech like this seriously. Can we?

It turns out, the nanobots are among us.

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