TED Science worth knowing newsletter

Image: Flickr / Oak Ridge National Laboratory (CC BY 2.0)

Scientists soup up photosynthesis

By improving one of the most abundant enzymes on earth, scientists have enabled tobacco plants to perform photosynthesis more effectively -- and boosted their mass by a whopping 40 percent. The enzyme RuBisCO helps plants capture carbon dioxide from the air, but in ordinary plants the protein has an unfortunate tendency to grab oxygen instead, which then gets made into toxic compounds that have to be expelled by the plant. By adding genes taken from pumpkins and algae, scientists improved tobacco's ability to turn sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into bigger leaves. Next step: other crops. This technique could be used to boost a plant's ability to produce food for people and/or help us combat climate change by sucking more carbon dioxide out of the air.

TED Talk: The tiny creature that secretly powers the planet
fake news

Illustration: Doug Chayka

Fake news on Facebook? Blame old people

Looking back at the 2016 U.S. election, researchers have pinpointed those most to blame for spreading false news stories on Facebook: people over the age of 65. More than 1,000 people shared their Facebook data with researchers, which they then correlated with a list of known fake news article from the election. The good news? Ninety percent of these folks did not share any fake news; less than nine percent did. Of that subset, seniors were the largest group, and nearly 20 percent of self-identified Republicans of any age shared fake news. Of course, the reason for that might have been the slant of most of this fake news: pro-Trump.

Playlist: How to navigate questionable information
Atlantic puffins

Image: Flickr / Alex Berger (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A genetic blueprint for monogamy

Monogamy might be in your genes. An analysis of gene activity in the brains of a variety of animals -- fish, frogs, rodents and birds like the Atlantic puffins pictured above -- has revealed that they all seem to have developed monogamous behavior by activating or disabling the same set of genes, a big surprise. In each of these groups, the researchers compared monogamous and non-monogamous variants of the animals (like voles: some species pair for life, while others are widely promiscuous), and found that the faithful critters across all these different species had the same set of genes involved with neural development, memory and other functions turned up or off. No word yet, however, on whether humans have similar genetics.

TED Talk: Are we designed to be sexual omnivores

Recently discovered

Rare blue pigment found in medieval woman's teeth rewrites history
The discovery of a rare, expensive blue pigment in the dental plaque of a medieval woman's skeleton is shedding light on a hidden chapter of history, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances. Researchers were studying a skeleton of a woman buried in a medieval cemetery connected with a women's monastery in Germany, where they believe a community existed as early as the 10th century. The skeleton had blue flecks embedded in her teeth which turned out to be ultramarine, a rare pigment made from crushed lapis lazuli stones. At the time, it was as expensive as gold and the ultimate luxury trade good, mined from a single region in Afghanistan. (CNN)

U.S. greenhouse gas emissions spiked in 2018
Carbon dioxide emissions in the United States rose an estimated 3.4 percent in 2018, according to new research -- a jarring increase that comes as scientists say the world needs to be aggressively cutting its emissions to avoid the most devastating effects of climate change. (Washington Post)

China's lunar rover begins its exploration of the dark side of the moon
China's Chang'e-4 rover was successfully deployed after humanity's first successful landing on the dark side of the moon. The rover is now programmed to roam across a barren vista toward a distinct crater, covering terrain never before traversed. Chinese scientists hailed the landing of the Chang'e-4 probe as evidence of the country's growing stature in space exploration. (New York Times)

Researchers develop a new houseplant that can clean your home’s air
Researchers at the University of Washington have genetically modified a common houseplant -- pothos ivy -- to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it. The modified plants express a protein, called 2E1, that transforms these compounds into molecules that the plants can then use to support their own growth. (University of Washington)

Gene editing could create spicy tomatoes
Spicy tomatoes could soon be on the menu thanks to the rise of genome-editing technology, say researchers. Using a gene-editing technology such as a variation of CRISPR-Cas9, it could be possible to switch on genes that produce capsaicinoids in tomatoes, adding a kick to the everyday fruit. (The Guardian)

On this day in science

On January 11 ... pioneering ecologist Aldo Leopold was born in 1887, the Grand Canyon was made into a national monument in 1911, and insulin was first used to treat diabetes in 1922.

Check out the TED Science Club on Facebook

Calling all science enthusiasts! Check out TED Science Club, a Facebook group where you can join TED's Science Curator, David Biello, and other science leaders in meaningful conversations about today's most critical ideas.

Join TED Science Club
Was this email forwarded to you? Subscribe now
Join TED Science Club on Facebook
View the "Science worth knowing" archive
You are receiving this email because you've subscribed to our mailing list.

Copyright © 2019 TED, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list