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[In Depth] Sequencing all life captivates biologists

At a biogenomics meeting in Washington, D.C., last week, researchers publicly unveiled the Earth BioGenome Project (EBP). The audacious goal of the still-unfunded effort is to decipher the genomes of every species, starting with the 1.5 million named eukaryotes—the group of organisms that includes all plants, animals, and single-celled organisms such as amoebas. Researchers drew parallels to the Human Genome Project, which also began as an ambitious, controversial, and technically daunting proposal. The EBP would focus on the natural world, providing a better understanding of biodiversity by first sequencing in…

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[In Depth] Test blasts simulate a nuclear attack on a port

At a time when a nuclear bomb smuggled by terrorists is as big a concern as one from a foreign power, delivered by missile or airplane, an attack at a port is likely scenario. But nuclear forensic specialists, who rely largely on nuclear test data collected years ago in western deserts, lack a clear picture of how energy from a detonation would propagate in the highly saturated geology of many U.S. port cities. To remedy that, the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency last October quietly staged Humming Terrapin: a 2-week…

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[In Depth] Critics assail India’s attempt to ‘validate’ folk remedy

According to Hindu tradition, Indian cows are not only sacred—they are the source of a cure-all for everything from schizophrenia and autism to diabetes and cancer. That elixir is panchagavya, a drink made of cow urine, dung, milk, yogurt, and clarified butter prescribed by practitioners of Ayurveda, or traditional Indian medicine, and spread on fields as well to boost crop yields. Now, India’s science ministry is about to launch a program that aims to "validate" the efficacy of the millennia-old concoction. The program has influential backers. But some prominent researchers…

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[In Depth] Raising the drawbridge

President Donald Trump’s executive order banning U.S. entry of citizens from seven nations is on hold, but perhaps not for long. The travel ban, meant to last for 90 days as visa vetting procedures were overhauled, roiled students and researchers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A court last month overturned it, but Trump has vowed to issue a streamlined order. Just how many scientists from each country might be hit? Iran, with its large academic community, seemed likely to top the list, an impression borne out…

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[In Depth] Global telescope gears up to image black holes

Last year researchers "heard" black holes for the first time, when they detected the gravitational waves unleashed as two of them crashed together and merged. Now, they want to see a black hole, or at least its silhouette. Next month, astronomers will harness radio telescopes across the globe to create the equivalent of a single Earth-spanning dish—an instrument powerful enough, they hope, to image black holes backlit by the incandescent gas swirling around them. Their targets are the supermassive black hole at the heart of our Milky Way galaxy, known…

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[In Depth] Close relative of Neandertals unearthed in China

Ever since their discovery in 2010, the extinct ice age humans called Denisovans have been known only from bits of DNA, taken from a sliver of bone in the Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia. Now, two partial skulls from eastern China are emerging as prime candidates for showing what these shadowy people may have looked like. In a paper published on p. 969 of this issue, a Chinese-U.S. team presents 105,000- to 125,000-year-old fossils they call "archaic Homo." They note that the bones could be a new type of human or an…

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