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New Scientist

New Scientist

24-Jul-21

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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Country:
United Kingdom
Language:
English
Publisher:
New Scientist Ltd
Frequency:
Weekly
R 85,50
R 1 427,27
51 Issues

in this issue

3 min
‘borg’ dna assimilates genes

A STRANGE new genetic entity has been discovered in methane-eating microbes, and it could help fill a gap in our understanding of Earth’s climate. Named “Borgs” after Star Trek aliens that assimilate the biology of other creatures, these enigmatic stretches of DNA inhabit singlecelled organisms called archaea, where they appear to acquire and swap genes and potentially boost their hosts’ ability to consume methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. “These Borgs seemingly represent a new type of genetic element,” says Thijs Ettema at Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands, who wasn’t involved in the study. Scientists have long known about mobile genetic elements, pieces of genetic material that can either move around a host’s genome or sit alongside it and travel between cells. They include plasmids – circular bits of…

1 min
noise-cancelling genes stop bats losing their hearing

ECHOLOCATING bats have noise-cancelling genes that may help explain why they don’t go deaf despite emitting very loud ultrasonic sounds as they fly. Most bats produce intense, high-pitched sounds that bounce off objects, letting them navigate and find food in the dark. These sonar calls are beyond human hearing and are often louder than 100 decibels. A conversation between people is at about 60 decibels, but prolonged exposure to noise above 80 decibels can cause ear damage in most mammals, including us. Above 120 decibels, it becomes painful. Extreme noise can irreparably harm sensitive hair cells in a mammalian cochlea (a spiral-shaped cavity in the ear) that are required in hearing. Echolocating bats have a muscle in their ears that dampens incoming sounds, but the effect isn’t enough to explain how their hearing…

3 min
we may finally solve the mystery of how fast the universe is expanding

ONE of the most frustrating questions in modern cosmology may be getting closer to an answer. The different methods we use to measure the rate of expansion of the universe have been in disagreement for years, but a relatively new measurement technique seems to be a way to resolve the dispute. The universe is constantly expanding, and the rate at which that expansion accelerates is described by a number called the Hubble constant. There are two main ways that we determine this number: by examining the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is a relic of the first light to shine through the universe, and by observing nearby objects to see how fast they are moving away from us. The results of those two methods have always clashed. Now, Wendy Freedman at the…

1 min
really brief

Coal powers some bitcoin mining Levels of bitcoin mining in Kazakhstan increased from 1.4 per cent of the global market share to 8.2 per cent in recent months, following the introduction of government restrictions on bitcoin mining in China. Kazakhstan has a power grid fuelled largely by coal, so bitcoin mined there has a higher carbon footprint. Just 7 per cent of our DNA is unique to us Modern humans have evolved since appearing 350,000 years ago – but just 1.5 to 7 per cent of our DNA is unique. The rest we shared with Neanderthals and Denisovans. Some was inherited through our common ancestors, some gained via interbreeding (Science Advances, doi.org/gnzh). Drones to be used to fight crime in Dubai Dubai police will be able to respond to an incident anywhere in the United…

1 min
it’s a dog’s life

Dogs co-evolved with humans and would surely face some challenges without us. However, they would also gain a lot physically, psychologically and socially if people were to suddenly disappear. CONS: No regular meals or access to human food sources. Greater risk of disease, injury and predation by other animals. No veterinary care or drugs for pain or psychological distress. Loss of comfortable accommodation and human grooming. Loss of human companionship and mental stimulation. PROS: Full control over movement, reproduction and social life. No experimentation, dog fighting, overfeeding or abuse. No mutilation, tail docking, debarking or ear cropping. Greater and more dog-appropriate sensory stimulation. No selective breeding for debilitating, maladaptive traits.…

5 min
your letters

Editor’s pick On the latest thinking about consciousness 10 July, p 34 From Luce Gilmore, Cambridge, UK The suggestion that consciousness might be substrate-dependent – in other words, that protoplasmic brains can be conscious but silicon can’t – is an example of vitalism, the idea that living things have properties that are inexplicable by the rules of physics and chemistry. This concept has been in retreat since 1828, when Friedrich Wöhler made the bodily substance urea from inorganic ammonium cyanate. Given centuries of progress in genetics, biochemistry, neurology and so on, vitalism can only be deemed mysticism. The requirements of consciousness aren’t exotic: self-awareness, attention and memory are probably all that are necessary, though integrating these functions may call for ingenuity. Consciousness-generating hardware may already be feasible (maybe it is already being built). To save expense,…