TED Science worth knowing newsletter

Image: Flickr / nmmacedo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Growing a mini-brain in a dish, with Neanderthal genes

Call them organoids, grown using Neanderthal genetics, and dubbed "Neanderoids." For the first time, scientists are growing a kind of mini-brain -- stem cells coaxed to form the cells of the cortex -- that is guided by Neanderthal genetics. It offers the first time since before the Stone Age that Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalis brain matter can be compared. In fact, the simple change of a single DNA letter is the difference between the Neanderthal gene for brain development and the modern human one. What's next? Researchers want to wire the organoids into robots, to see if the mini-brains can control the crab-like machines.

TED Talk: DNA clues to our inner neanderthal

Image: Flickr / NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (CC BY-SA 2.0)

'Oumuamua moving away fast

Our solar system had its first (detected) interstellar visitor last year -- and it turns out it is accelerating away from the solar system, according to new research. That probably doesn't make it an alien probe, but rather a comet that is being pushed away ever so slightly faster by its tail of gas. Still, 'Oumuamua has proven to be full of surprises.

TED Talk: The story of 'Oumuamua, the first visitor from another star system
natural gas flare

Image: Flickr / Tim Evanson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Leaking too much gas

The bounty of natural gas freed up by fracking has enabled the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas pollution by burning it instead of coal. But natural gas is mostly methane, and methane is also a potent greenhouse gas. And, unfortunately, it looks like the companies fracking to extract natural gas have a big leak problem -- losing as much as two percent of the natural gas produced. Plugging those leaks would make both economic and environmental sense.

Playlist: Why climate change is a human rights issue

Recently discovered

How on earth do you discover a brand-new blue pigment? By accident.
When the last blue pigment was discovered, Thomas Jefferson was in the White House. The recent creation of YInMn blue is a thrilling tale complete with expletives, accidents and invisible abilities. (

Japan's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft reaches cosmic 'diamond'
A Japanese spacecraft has arrived at its target: an asteroid shaped like a diamond or, according to some, a spinning top. Hayabusa 2 has been traveling toward the space rock Ryugu since launching from the Tanegashima spaceport in 2014. Using explosives to propel a projectile into Ryugu, it will dig out a fresh sample of rocks and soil from beneath the surface and deliver them back to earth. (BBC)

DARPA is literally reinventing the wheel
The advanced research arm of the United States Department of Defense, DARPA, wants to rethink how military vehicles are designed to protect the crews inside -- by making them faster and smarter. The program, called GXV-T, seeks to reduce combat vehicles’ size and weight while doubling their speed and making them capable of traveling across 95 percent of all imaginable road and off-road surfaces on earth. It involves several different technologies, including augmented reality and LIDAR but, perhaps most intriguingly, the GXV-T team is also developing entirely new types of wheels that will allow soldiers to escape dangerous situations faster. (Co.Design)

Tropical forests suffered near-record tree losses in 2017
The world’s tropical forests lost roughly 39 million acres of trees last year, an area roughly the size of Bangladesh, according to a report Wednesday by Global Forest Watch that used new satellite data from the University of Maryland. That made 2017 the second-worst year for tropical tree cover loss in the satellite record, just below the losses in 2016. (New York Times)

On this day in science

On this day, June 29 ... Apple released the very first iPhone back in 2007 and "Darwin's bulldog" -- Thomas Henry Huxley, a passionate defender of the idea of evolution by natural selection -- died in 1895.
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