New Scientist

New Scientist 25-Jan-20

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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New Scientist Ltd


common cause

THIS year alone, one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health condition. That includes everything from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia and phobias. Meanwhile, surveys suggest that our ability to cope with these issues is getting worse. The personal costs of all this are huge, as are those to society. And our treatment options are limited: some conditions defy treatment, even proven interventions don’t always work and many people get no treatment at all. At the same time, those who experience one condition often experience others. But now new research into the possible causes of mental illness offers fresh hope for a better way forward (see page 34). Hundreds of distinct psychiatric conditions are currently recognised by mental health professionals, but new DNA sequencing techniques reveal that many…

wuhan virus spreads

AT LEAST six people are reported to have died after being infected with a new virus spreading in China. The coronavirus can spread person to person, the country’s health ministry has confirmed. The two latest reported deaths in China were that of a 66-year-old man and a 48-year-old woman in Wuhan, according to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission. Sixty new cases were reported in the region on 20 January. Among them are 15 healthcare workers, according to news site China Daily. Zhong Nanshan, head of the Chinese national health commission team that is investigating the outbreak, has now confirmed that two cases of infection had been caused by human-to-human transmission. “It is now clear that there is person-to-person transmission, which is a worrying development,” says Rosalind Eggo at the London School of Hygiene…

our ghost lineage

DNA evidence from four ancient skeletons uncovered in western Cameroon has revealed a long-lost mystery branch of early modern humans, suggesting we may need to rethink our species’ family tree. The skeletons all belonged to children who were buried at a rock shelter at a site called Shum Laka. Two of the skeletons are 8000 years old, and the other two are about 3000 years old. Despite living 5000 years apart, genetic analysis by David Reich at Harvard Medical School and his colleagues suggests that they were from the same population of modern humans. The team was interested in the skeletons because linguistic studies have suggested that the Bantu languages, which are spoken today by around 30 per cent of people in Africa, originated in this region. However, the genetic signature of…

cell injections may restore fertility lost through cancer treatment

IT MAY be possible to rejuvenate ovaries after chemotherapy without the need for surgery, after the fertility of female mice was successfully restored following injections of donor cells. The approach involves injecting either stored or donated follicles – the cells in ovaries that contain and eventually release egg cells – into the ovaries. The technique is “able to rejuvenate the potential of the ovary using donated follicles” and could “prolong the fertility of women”, says Michael Dahan at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who wasn’t involved in the work. Some cancer treatments can affect the supply of eggs, and may make it more difficult to conceive after treatment. People undergoing these treatments may have pieces of their ovary removed and frozen beforehand, in order to preserve their fertility. These tissues can then…

crispr-edited chickens made resistant to virus

CRISPR genome editing has been used to make chickens resistant to a common virus. The approach could boost egg and meat production worldwide while improving welfare. The altered chickens showed no signs of disease even when exposed to high doses of the avian leukosis virus (ALV). The virus is a problem for poultry farmers around the world, says Jiri Hejnar at the Czech Academy of Sciences. Infected birds become ill, emaciated and depressed, and often develop tumours. The virus gets into cells by binding to a protein known as chNHE-1. Hejnar’s team has previously shown that deleting three DNA letters from the chNHE-1 gene that makes this protein prevents ALV from infecting chicken cells. The challenge was to make this change in entire animals rather than just in a few cells. No strains…

deforestation for rubber

TYRE giant Michelin and green group WWF have been criticised by researchers over a rubber plantation in Indonesia that was billed as protecting the environment, but which villagers say has caused deforestation, destroyed elephant habitat and resulted in land grabs. In 2015, Michelin began work on the 66,000 hectare plantation on the island of Sumatra, partnering with WWF as an adviser, to source rubber from an area that Michelin had said had been ravaged by fires and logging. The French company, one of the world’s biggest buyers of rubber, promised the plantation would be “deforestation-free”, “protect flora and fauna” by creating a buffer zone for wildlife and generate 16,000 jobs. But a visit by German researchers to the nearby village of Muara Sekalo in the province of Jambi has unearthed a very…