Biology


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Photo by Karen Kasmauski

Essay/
Biology
The obesity era

As the American people got fatter, so did marmosets, vervet monkeys and mice. The problem may be bigger than any of us

David Berreby

Illustration by Claire Scully

Essay/
Biology
Does life have a purpose?

Nobody expects atoms and molecules to have purposes, so why do we still think of living things in this way?

Michael Ruse

Touchy, feely. Photo by Gerard Soury/Getty

Essay/
Biology
Keep smiling

Is there any reason to think dolphins and humans have a special relationship? Sure, but it might not be a friendly one

Justin Gregg

Grasshopper (Acrididae), Barbilla National Park, Costa Rica. Photo by Piotr Naskrecki/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Essay/
Biology
Die, selfish gene, die

For decades, the selfish gene metaphor let us view evolution with new clarity. Is it now blinding us?

David Dobbs

Photo by Takashi Hososhima/Flickr

Essay/
Biology
Life is quantum

Weird quantum effects are so delicate it seems they could only happen in a lab. How on Earth can life depend on them?

Johnjoe McFadden

Lion cubs in the Maasai Mara. Photo by Paul Souders/Corbis

Essay/
Biology
The kindness of beasts

Dogs rescue their friends and elephants care for injured kin – humans have no monopoly on moral behaviour

Mark Rowlands

Photo by Vincenzo Penteriani

Essay/
Astronomy
Moonstruck

The lunar phases influence all sorts of creatures from corals to eagle owls. Does the Moon tug on human behaviour too?

Cameron Walker

Iberian Wolves are proliferating in the Sierra de la Culebra, Spain after an absence of a century. Photo by Steven Ruiter/NiS/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Essay/
Biology
Rethinking extinction

The idea that we are edging up to a mass extinction is not just wrong – it’s a recipe for panic and paralysis

Stewart Brand

Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Caltech

Essay/
Astronomy
Life in the dark

In the dark corners of our galaxy, there are billions of rogue planets roaming around, starless – can they support life?

Sean Raymond

Close cousins: a gorilla family in Rwanda. Photo by Charles L Harris/Gallery Stock

Essay/
Biology
Animal spirits

The more we learn about the emotions shared by all mammals, the more we must rethink our own human intelligence

Stephen T Asma

A woman holds her parrot as it receives blessings from a priest, Mexico. Photo by Henry Romero/Reuters

Essay/
Biology
Not just a pretty boy

Intelligent, devoted, alien – parrots are unlike any other pet. But what does the complex human-avian bond say about us?

Ilan Greenberg

An autistic child swims with a dolphin. ‘The dolphin smile is nature’s greatest deception,’ said Ric O’Barry, who trained the dolphins in the TV series Flipper. Photo by Andrew Bosch/MCT/Getty

Essay/
Biology
Dolphins are not healers

Dolphins are smart, sociable predators. They don’t belong in captivity and they shouldn’t be used to ‘cure’ the ill

Lori Marino

Fast learner; Mimosa Pudica, the touch-me-not. Photo Suppasak Inganinanda/EyeEm/Getty

Essay/
Biology
The minds of plants

From the memories of flowers to the sociability of trees, the cognitive capacities of our vegetal cousins are all around us

Laura Ruggles

The RoboRoach. Photo courtesy of Backyard Brains

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Automation and robotics
I, cockroach

Do insects feel pain? Are they conscious? A science kit for at-home cyborg cockroaches provokes the hard questions

Brandon Keim

A murmuration of starlings in southern Israel. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

Essay/
Biology
A closed loop

The DNA helix gave 20th-century biology its symbol. But the more we learn, the more life circles back to an older image

Jamie Davies

Photo by Cultura/Gallery Stock

Essay/
Biology
Where do minds belong?

Intelligence could have been moving back and forth between biological beings and machine receptacles for aeons

Caleb Scharf

Photo by Elliott Erwitt/Magnum

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Animals and humans
Canine exceptionalism

Trainers working with dogs every day have documented extraordinary talents and skills. Will science ever catch up?

Jessica Hekman

A colorized transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli bacteria. Photo courtesy Elizabthe H White/CDC

Essay/
Biology
Coincidental killers

We assume that microbes evolved to attack humans when actually we are just civilian casualties in a much older war

Ed Yong

Tyrannosaurus Rex - a feathered beast. Illustration by Richard Wilkinson

Essay/
Biology
Paradigms lost

Science is not a ‘body of knowledge’ – it’s a dynamic, ongoing reconfiguration of knowledge and must be free to change

David P Barash

At the Baltic Sea, 1933. Photo by Herbert List/Magnum

Essay/
Neuroscience
Touched

We ride a stream of naked neurons, stripped of their sheaths, to the most blissful moments and deepest intimacies of life

Steven M Phelps

A photograph of light generated by spontaneous parametric down-conversion. The camera is looking towards the crystal and the special nature of the light is that it is created two photons at a time and therefore unlike any other source you would typically encounter. Courtesy Alan Migdall/NIST

Essay/
Physics
Seeing the quantum

The human eye is a surprisingly good photon detector. What can it spy of the line between the quantum and classical worlds?

Rebecca Holmes

Photo by Schellhorn/ullstein bild via Getty

Essay/
Biology
Local links run the world

Networks regulate everything from ant colonies and middle schools to epidemics and the internet. Here’s how they work

Deborah M Gordon