Tag Archives: Wired

The Case of the Incredibly Long-Lived Mouse Cells

WIRED

In a bizarre experiment, scientists kept the rodents’ immune T cells active four times longer than mice can live—with huge implications for cancer, vaccination, and aging research.

DAVID MASOPUST HAS long imagined how to push immune systems to their limits—how to rally the most powerful army of protective cells. But one of the big mysteries of immunology is that so far, nobody knows what those limits are. So he hatched a project: to keep mouse immune cells battle-ready as long as possible. “The idea was, let’s keep doing this until the wheels fall off the bus,” says Masopust, a professor of immunology at the University of Minnesota.

But the wheels never fell off. He was able to keep those mouse cells alive longer than anyone thought possible—indeed, much longer than the mice themselves.

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The World’s Farms Are Hooked on Phosphorus. It’s a Problem

WIRED

Half of the globe’s crop productivity comes from a key fertilizer ingredient that’s non-renewable—and literally washing away.

DISRUPTING EARTH’S CHEMICAL cycles brings trouble. But planet-warming carbon dioxide isn’t the only element whose cycle we’ve turned wonky—we’ve got a phosphorus problem too. And it’s a big one, because we depend on this element to grow the world’s crops. “I don’t know if it would be possible to have a full world without any mineral phosphorus fertilizer,” says Joséphine Demay, a PhD student at INRAE, France’s National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

Since the 1800s, agriculturalists have known that elemental phosphorus is a crucial fertilizer. Nations quickly began mining caches of “phosphate rock,” minerals rich in the element. By the middle of the 20th century, companies had industrialized chemical processes to turn it into a form suitable for supercharging crops, hardening them against disease and making them able to support more people and livestock. That approach worked remarkably well: The post-World War II “Green Revolution” fed countless people thanks to fertilizers and pesticides. But sometimes there’s too much of a good thing.

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Florida Is Fighting to Feed Starving Manatees This Winter

WIRED

As the state’s residents step up to save the sea cows, advocacy organizations believe the solution is less about lettuce—and more about leaders.

FEW VIGNETTES SHOW how much human activity has affected wildlife more than the scene at Florida Power & Light’s plant in Cape Canaveral. Hundreds of manatees bask in an intake canal on its southeast edge, drawn by the warm waters. These manatees are hungry. Pollution has decimated their usual menu of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon. Many have starved: 1,101 died in Florida in 2021, and as of December, 2022’s official estimate was nearly 800 deaths. So along the canal, members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are tossing them lettuce.

“It’s just emblematic of how dire the situation is,” says Rachel Silverstein, the executive director of environmental nonprofit Miami Waterkeeper. “The point where we would need to artificially feed a wild animal because their ecosystem is so destroyed that they cannot find food for themselves is pretty extreme.”

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The Mystery of Nevada’s Ancient Reptilian Boneyard

WIRED

Whale-sized shonisaurs dominated the ocean 230 million years ago. A fossil cluster offers a fascinating glimpse at how they lived—based on where they died.

BERLIN, NEVADA, IS a treasure chest for paleontologists. Just down the road from now-abandoned gold and silver mines, a rockbound collection of bones hints at an even richer past. The Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is teeming with dozens of fossils of ancient marine reptiles. That bone bed is so abundant and weird that researchers have been scratching their heads over it for decades.

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How the UN’s ‘Sex Agency’ Uses Tech to Save Mothers’ Lives

WIRED

Big Data, drones, diagnostics—the United Nations and other groups hope to innovate the world out of a maternal and reproductive health crisis.

TOWARD THE END of 2020, on a work trip to Chocó, Colombia, Jaime Aguirre came across a girl—perhaps 11 or 12 years old—holding a newborn.

“Is this your baby?” Aguirre asked. Yes, she said. He was shocked. “Can I ask you—sorry—why did you get pregnant so young?”

“My boyfriend at the time told me that the first time that you have sex, you don’t get pregnant,” he says she replied.

Aguirre is the innovation coordinator for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Colombia, a human rights agency focused on reproductive health. It’s the UN’s “sex agency,” and Aguirre describes his job as bolstering health in his country by supporting new technologies. Making them accessible to young people is especially important, because pregnancy is the number one killer of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide, according to data from Save The Children and UNFPA.

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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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