The concept of being able to predict the sex of a baby during early pregnancy or even influence it by eating or doing certain things when trying to conceive has been the subject of public fascination and debate for many centuries. But surely the sex of a fetus is exclusively determined by the father’s sperm, carrying an X chromosome for girls and a Y chromosome for boys?
It turns out this is not the full story. Since the 17th century, it has been recognized that slightly more boys are born than girls. This is strange – if the sex were determined solely by chromosomes, the probability of either should be 50 percent and not variable. This must mean that, although the same number of boys and girls are conceived initially, more female fetuses than male ones are lost during the pregnancy. Read More
No one wants to catch the flu, and the best line of defense is the seasonal influenza vaccine. But producing an effective annual flu shot relies on accurately predicting which flu strains are most likely to infect the population in any given season. It requires the coordination of multiple health centers around the globe as the virus travels from region to region. Once epidemiologists settle on target flu strains, vaccine production shifts into high gear; it takes approximately six months to generate the more than 150 million injectable doses necessary for the American population. Read More
Earlier this week, a story begging to go viral fell onto writers’ laps: We have a new organ called the mesentery, which is a broad, fan-shaped fold that lines the guts. Here at Discover we pounced on the story, and so did CNN, the Washington Post, LiveScience, Smithsonian, Vice News Tonight, Jimmy Kimmel and many, many more.
We got it all wrong, and it’s time for us to spill our guts.
In our reporting, one burning question we wanted answered was who, or what, determines when a hunk of tissue “officially” becomes an organ. So we posed the question to J. Calvin Coffey, the Limerick University Hospital researcher who presented evidence in The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology to “justify designation of the mesentery as an organ.”
“That’s a fascinating question. I actually don’t know who the final arbiter of that is,” he told us. Read More
You know it’s been tough times when a Dumpster fire is the meme of the year. Indeed, 2016 has been rough: pop culture icons died, police and activists squared off in major cities, we survived a cutthroat presidential election, Syria burned, terrorists attacked around the globe.
And, like today, most people were eager to tack a new calendar on the wall by the time Bill Anders, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell launched for the moon on December 21, 1968 — the unofficial worst year ever in the U.S. Read More
The train ride from Nagasaki to the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Japan takes about two hours. Along the way, I pass rice paddies and sleepy towns; this is not the place you’d expect to find the country’s first hotel staffed by robots.
When I arrive at the Huis Ten Bosch station, I’m surrounded by iconic Dutch architecture and buildings. The theme park was designed to give people in Japan a taste of Europe.
I take a shuttle bus to robot hotel Henn-na, located minutes from the theme park gates. Beside the hotel entrance, stands a Transformers-like robot, twice my size, which doesn’t seem to have any practical purpose whatsoever. Read More
When in possession of a priceless dinosaur skeleton, it’s always a good idea to fire a super-charged photon beam at it.
That’s Thomas G. Kaye’s philosophy: if you can fossilize it, you can fire a laser at it. Kaye, of the Foundation of Scientific Advancement, Sierra Vista, developed a laser-scanning technique that reveals stunning new details buried within dinosaur fossils — so meta. Now he’s traveling the world placing new specimens in his crosshairs.
Kaye is joined by Mike Pittman, who’s already infamous at Discover for spotting fossils while taking a whiz in the Gobi Desert. Together, they’re trekking around the world armed with nothing more than their portable laser and an inquisitive eye. Read More
In the decrepit ruins of a Cold War-era Kazakhstani hangar, buried beneath decades of detritus, there’s a spaceship that was once the last hope of the Soviet space empire.
And you’d be forgiven for confusing the Buran shuttles (Russian for “snowstorm”) with say, America’s iconic Space Shuttle Enterprise, which is proudly displayed in a Manhattan museum. Their shapes, sizes and technology are almost identical, apart from the sickle and hammer. Read More
Most women experience some type of morning sickness during pregnancy, but some women develop a far more serious condition.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), which causes severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, affects as many as 3 percent of pregnancies, leading to over 167,000 emergency department visits each year in the U.S.
And yet, the disease is neither well-understood nor well-known, even with the flurry of headlines when it was announced that the Duchess of Cambridge during her pregnancies suffered from the condition. Read More
Advances in reproductive technology may radically change the options we have for starting a family. We’re not too far from fundamentally redefining what it means to start a family.
Do you want to have children, but don’t have a partner? Do you want children with your partner, but it’s a same-sex relationship? Or perhaps you’re a woman who wants children without the burden of a 9-month pregnancy. You might opt for ectogenesis, or moving gestation to an artificial womb.
Here’s a glimpse of this brave new world of baby-making. Read More
Time. Astronomers, philosophers, physicists, anthropologists, politicians, geographers, and theologians have all pondered the nature and meaning of time. Is it linear or cyclical? Is it reversible? (Put another way, can we go back in time?) Is time absolute and measurable, as it seemed to be to Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei, or is it relative, as Albert Einstein theorized? Cynically, is it “what keeps everything from happening at once,” as science fiction author Ray Cummings wrote so memorably in 1923? Is time a cultural construct? Or is it a corollary to the second law of thermodynamics, under which disorder always increases? Why does time seem to go so much faster the older we get? Read More