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New Scientist 22/29-dec-18

New Scientist covers the latest developments in science and technology that will impact your world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields from all over the world. Our editorial team provide cutting-edge news, award-winning features and reports, written in concise and clear language that puts discoveries and advances in the context of everyday life today and in the future.

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earth rising

THIS has not been a year to fill the heart with hope. In the US, we have a president who lies apparently without consequence; in countries like Yemen, children are starving; in Europe, we have the omnishambles that is Brexit. And all these stories are stalked by the new horsemen of the climate apocalypse. Many of those involved in the science of climate change are gloomy in public, but even more gloomy when the microphones go off. All that said, there are good, data-driven reasons to be hopeful as we prepare to welcome in 2019. A robust reminder of this came earlier this year in Factfulness: Ten reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think, a brilliant book everyone should read. Its author, Hans Rosling…

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from the editor

If you have someone in your life who loves new ideas, and you are still stuck for what to buy them this Christmas, may we humbly suggest a subscription to New Scientist? You will not only be supporting our completely independent science journalism, but also gifting the lucky recipient with a guaranteed supply of awe-inspiring stories from the cutting edge of science and technology. Whether they are into space, genetics, animals, archaeology or renewable energy, what more could they possibly want? Use the code SANTA10 at newscientist.com/SANTA10 for a 10 per cent discount off our normal subscription rate. PS New Scientist would be nothing without its wonderful readers: here’s wishing you all a very happy holiday season.…

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rethinking the origins of primates

OUR distant primate ancestors are thought to have arisen in Asia, but new evidence challenges this assumption, suggesting primates may instead have evolved in Europe or North America. Primates include all lemurs, monkeys, apes and humans. The oldest confirmed primate fossils are about 56 million years old, so were formed 10 million years after the extinction that wiped out all dinosaurs except birds. This time is called the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum because the average global temperature rose by 5°C or more in a few thousand years. Many ocean species died out, but life on land flourished. Primates emerged, as did the first hoofed mammals. The established story has been that primates appeared at this time in Asia, says anthropologist Paul Morse. This is based on the discovery in China of several fossils…

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tracing our origins

Fossils have been crucial in understanding the history of primates. Here are four of the most important finds. Purgatorius These squirrel-like North American mammals suggest primates could have originated 66 million years ago, but many dispute whether they are true primates. Eosimias sinensis The “dawn monkey of China” lived a little over 40 million years ago. Some claim it was the first simian, the group that includes monkeys, apes and humans. Proconsul Living in Africa around 24 million years ago, this was one of the first apes. Over the next 10 million years, apes diversified and spread, turning Earth into a real planet of the apes. Sahelanthropus tchadensis The oldest hominin fossil yet identified is at least 6 million years old and was found in Chad.…

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new insight makes crispr easier to use

A STORM of criticism met claims last month that a Chinese scientist has created the world’s first genome-edited children. One reason is that the twin girls have unpredicted new mutations with unknown effects. It now appears there is an easy way to ensure the CRISPR genome editing technique makes far more precise, predictable genetic mutations. The term “CRISPR genome editing” is a bit of a misnomer. The method is most commonly used to disable genes by introducing mutations in a specific site – adding or removing one or more DNA letters. But exactly which mutations get introduced appeared to be random. Paola Scaffidi of the Francis Crick Institute in London suspected these mutations might not be fully random. To find out, her team used the CRISPR technique to mutate 1500 genome sites in…

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chip with a nose will tell you when you have bo

DO I smell? It is an embarrassing problem we have all had to deal with. A run for the bus or a hot meeting room can leave you trying to check your armpit without anyone noticing. Luckily, AI is here to help. UK chip-maker Arm, better known for developing the hardware that powers most smartphones, is working on a new generation of smart chips that embed artificial intelligence inside devices. One of these chips is being taught to smell. The idea is that the chips will be small and cheap enough to be built into clothing, allowing an AI to keep tabs on your BO throughout the day. Arm also wants to add the chips to food packaging to monitor freshness. The e-noses are part of a project called PlasticArmPit, in which Arm…