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New Scientist 31-mar-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.

United Kingdom
New Scientist Ltd
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51 Issues


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fair’s fair

(SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES)WHEN the primatologist Frans de Waal wrote in 2010 that “Robin Hood had it right – humanity’s deepest wish is to spread the wealth”, he captured a prevalent mood after the great financial crash of 2008.This also reflected results emerging from the laboratories of neuroeconomists, which found that humans are egalitarian to a fault. And so our prevailing assumption was that income inequality is a recent aberration: that we are at heart noble, benevolent beings with an altruistic aversion to inequality.Humans are also gullible to a fault, and we like hearing what we want to hear. More recent research shows there is no such thing as inequality aversion; we actually quite like inequality, even when we lose out (page 28). What we want is fairness – the harder-to-measure…

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hype becomes reality

BILL CLINTON and Tony Blair announced the first draft of the human genome sequence in 2000. This was “the first great technological triumph of the 21st century”, said Blair.Maybe so, but since that early fanfare, the impact on our lives has been negligible. Rather than laying bare the blueprint of our bodies, that draft human genome sequence was merely a first step. Deeper understanding – and new medical treatments – requires many more sequenced genomes, as well as cheaper and faster sequencing methods.Now, 18 years on, we are getting a glimpse of what genetically tailored medicine might look like. The time – and money – it takes to sequence a person’s entire genome has fallen sufficiently for doctors to use it to diagnose rare conditions in very sick children (page…

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genomics saves lives

Very ill children often have an unidentified genetic problem (SEBASTIAN ROSE/GETTY)SUPERFAST DNA sequencing is saving children’s lives. The technique has helped doctors in London quickly diagnose rare disorders in 10 critically ill children, enabling clinicians to give better treatment and protect some from life-threatening complications.It took over a decade and around $2.7 billion to fully sequence the first human genome, but recent advances in technology have sped up the process and led to a fall in price. A team at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children has now used rapid whole-genome sequencing to diagnose children with unknown illnesses in intensive care, as these children often have rare genetic conditions.“These kids are so incredibly ill,” says Hywel Williams at University College London, who worked with the doctors. “They may have…

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quest for diagnosis

“They call it a diagnostic odyssey,” says Louise, whose 8-year-old son Scott has an unknown condition that causes epilepsy and learning disabilities.The search for a diagnosis can dominate the lives of children with unknown conditions. Scott has had his brain activity monitored many times – a process that requires him to stop taking his epilepsy medication. This leads to more seizures, and can result in a week’s stay in hospital. Biopsies can require general anaesthetic. “It’s awful for such a young child to have to go into hospital yet again, and to have the pain when they come round afterwards,” says Louise.When Scott was 4, his family decided not to have any further invasive tests. “We needed to live some form of normality,” says Louise.The family has now agreed to…

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us is seeking smart killer drones

Drones with human overseers are frequently used in combat (SENIOR AIRMAN CORY PAYNE/USAF/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK)THE US Army wants to develop small drones to automatically spot, identify and target vehicles and people. It may allow faster responses to threats, but it could also be a step towards autonomous drones that attack targets without human oversight.The project will use machine-learning algorithms, such as neural networks, to equip drones as small as consumer quadcopters with artificial intelligence. Current military drones have little onboard intelligence, sending raw video back to analysts who pick out and identify targets.At the moment, you can have dozens of people monitoring the video feed from military drones, who then decide what action to take, says Paul Scharre at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington DC.The…

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calorie drop gets you ready for hibernation

DRAMATICALLY cutting the calories you consume may extend your life, and now we have an idea why. After more than a year on a calorie-restricted diet, resting metabolism seems to change.Calorie restriction has been shown to extend the lifespan of flies, mice and even monkeys. Such findings have prompted some people to choose to eat between about 15 and 18 per cent fewer calories than the daily recommended limit, in the hope they will live longer. There is some evidence that such people have better blood cholesterol and glucose levels.Leanne Redman of Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana and her colleagues assigned normal or calorie-restricted diets to 53 adults. For two years, 34 of these people ate 15 per cent fewer calories than usual, while the others ate as much…