Latest therapies control the inflammatory disease for many but not all. Scientists are investigating the roots of the variability and what to do about it

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Image: Science Photo Library/Getty Images

By Ricki Rusting

Rheumatoid arthritis leaves a visible mark on the bones of its sufferers as it gnarls and swells knuckles and other joints. It also has invisible systemic effects. Scientists have made enormous advances in understanding its causes and how to treat it, but much about its origins remains murky. It seems to result from a difficult-to-pin-down cascade of genetic and environmental hits that result in autoimmunity and chronic inflammation. And it may not even be a single disease.

Various drugs slow or halt the inflammatory process, which involves excessive activity by immune cells. Scientists now know that limiting…


Can we use the tools of psychology to understand how colonies of social insects make decisions?

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Photo: Parvana Praveen/Unsplash

By Bob Holmes

Colonies of social insects, such as honeybees and ants, are often regarded as “superorganisms”: They have specialized parts — the individual workers — that act together for the common good. Insects in a colony work in concert to reproduce, migrate and sense their environment, and even make collective decisions about what to do next.


A newfound peace has spurred the hunt for disease-resistant wild cacao within the nation’s borders. What scientists find could help the country expand its role in the global trade

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Photo: Lindzi Wessel

By Lindzi Wessel

With a machete, Gildardo Ramirez lops twelve pods off one of his cacao trees, letting them fall to its base. The long, brown pods look like twisted and deflated footballs. Each cacao pod usually encases about 40 beans — the source of cocoa powder and chocolate. The beans are the main commodity that Ramirez produces on his farm in San Francisco, Colombia, some 70 miles southeast of the city of Medellín. On Ramirez’s land, cacao’s red and green leaves fill the sloping hillside, overlooked by lush green mountains. But these twelve pods will never make chocolate. The…


Global warming and agricultural runoff have driven the loss of oxygen in oceans around the world, with looming ecological consequences

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Brilliant shades of blue and green explode across the Barents Sea in this natural-colour image showing a massive bloom of phytoplankton that are common in the area each August. Photo: Jeff Schmaltz/NASA Earth Observatory via Wikimedia Commons

By Ramin Skibba

A multitude of marine species, from bottom-dwellers to fish and octopuses, are gasping for air. In swaths of ocean the world over, creatures are being increasingly deprived of oxygen. It’s a hidden consequence of climate change, less obvious than rising seas and mass coral-bleaching events — yet no less dangerous to marine life.

Oxygen levels vary in oceans around the world, but signs of global warming–driven declines have begun to emerge beyond those natural fluctuations, and conditions in coastal areas exposed to agricultural runoff, such as the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast’s Chesapeake Bay, are…


Medications can control HIV, but not eliminate it. Scientists hope to one day vanquish it completely

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Illustration of a dendritic cell. Dendritic cells are a component of the body’s immune system. Image: Juan Gaertner/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

By Amber Dance

Although HIV infection is no longer the death sentence it once was, it remains a major health concern. Before the disease was even understood, its deadly nature was apparent. Between 1979 and 1983, the CDC recorded 3,064 cases in the United States alone, and 1,292 deaths — a 42 percent fatality rate. By 1994, AIDS was the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44. That’s changed in recent decades, thanks to antiretroviral therapies. These drugs prevent the virus from copying itself and have transformed HIV into a largely manageable chronic condition. …


Fossilized remains of children have a lot to tell us about their short lives—a Q&A with evolutionary anthropologist Tanya Smith

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Photo: Choi Won-Suk/AFP/Getty Images

By Tim Vernimmen

Compared to those of other primates, our reproductive lives are really rather odd. Human pregnancies last relatively long, yet our babies are completely helpless when they are born. And while our children stop suckling very early, it takes them nearly two decades to grow up.

To understand how we have evolved to be like this, and how that may have set our species on its most unusual path, what we have are fossil remains — some skulls, bones and piles of teeth. Fortunately, those teeth can reveal a lot about the way that ancient hominins grew up…


The mass die-offs of Earth’s past may hold clues to our future

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Ammonite fossils embedded in rock. Photo: Rixipix/iStock/Getty Images Plus

By Lindzi Wessel

I n the summer of 2012, geochemist Jessica Whiteside was waiting for the delivery of a precious sample through an unusual route: a 22-foot-wide hole in the bottom of a ship floating in the northwest Atlantic. Three miles below, a drill bit the diameter of a dinner plate was churning into the ocean floor, capturing a column of ancient mud and rock. Each 30-foot-long tube of sediments that the ship’s crew hauled from the deep held clues to the planet’s past. Most would emerge after sophisticated tests. …


Trendy office layouts. Performance reviews that crush morale. There’s plenty of evidence on how to get the best out of workers, but businesses often ignore it.

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Credit: Anna_Isaeva/iStock/Getty Images Plus

By Eryn Brown

Alan Colquitt is a student of the ways people act in the workplace. In a corporate career that spanned more than 30 years, the industrial-organizational psychologist advised senior managers and human resources departments about how to manage talent — always striving to “fight the good fight,” he says, and applying scientific rigor to his job.

Should executives ask employees for hiring referrals? Colquitt would consult the research to see if that would bring in better candidates. How to get more women into senior management? …


Could cleaning up neighborhoods make cities safer? Researchers are looking at novel, inexpensive solutions to crime that everyone can agree on

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Photo: DenisTangneyJr/iStock/Getty Images Plus

By Ramin Skibba

Violence dramatically affects the people directly involved — but it doesn’t stop there: The repercussions, especially of gun violence, ripple out across entire communities.

People become frightened, stressed and less engaged in neighborhood life. Their physical and mental health suffer. Those who are financially better off move away, and housing prices decline, setting in motion a downward community spiral — one that engenders still more violence.

“Violence is not just these little isolated instances of one individual doing a bad thing to another person,” says Michelle Kondo, a social scientist at the US Forest Service Northern Research…


The strain of life — from everyday conflicts to major losses — can stretch our well-being to the breaking point. Here’s what scientists know, and still don’t know, about the stress-illness connection

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Illustration: Malte Mueller/Getty Images

By Tom Siegfried

It’s no secret that stress is bad for your health.

Everybody knows that “life stress events” — things like loss of a job, death of a loved one and getting divorced (or married) raise the risk of getting sick.

All sorts of other life events also generate stress, with possible negative health effects ranging from catching a cold to major depression to a fatal heart attack.

Of course, knowing about the link between stress and sickness just gives you something else to worry about, adding even more stress. …

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