The Loom

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Antisocial Medicine

One of the biggest surprises to come out of microbiology in recent years is that bacteria have a social life. Rather than existing as lonely, autonomous creatures, bacteria live in communities, in which they cooperate, compete, and communicate. In the January issue of Scientific American, I have a feature about how some scientists are trying to translate their […]…

Wi-Fi Brain Implants For Robot Arms

For many paralyzed people, their problem is a communication gap. They can generate the signals in their brain require to control their muscles–to walk, to wash dishes, to weed a garden. But damage to their nervous system prevents those signals from reaching their destination. Last year, in a feature I wrote for National Geographic about the brain, […]…

The Caterpillar Defense

Let’s say you’re a baby bird. In particular, you’re a chick belonging to the species Laniocera hypopyrra, which also goes by the elegant common name of the cinereous mourner. You hatch out of your egg and find yourself in a nest up in tree in a rain forest in Peru. You can’t fly. You can […]…

Masters of Electricity (The Video Version)

This week I wrote my New York Times column about one of those remarkable studies that makes you realize how little we understand about the natural world. Ken Catania, a biologist at Vanderbilt University, performed some elegantly simple experiments that revealed that electric eels use electricity as a taser and as a remote control for […]…

Your Inner Feather

Feathers are like eyes or or hands. They’re so complex, so impressive in their adaptations, so good at getting a job done, that it can be hard at first to believe they evolved. Feathers today are only found on birds, which use them to do things like fly, control their body temperature, and show off […]…

The Good Viruses?

When I talk about my book A Planet of Viruses, people often ask me if there are any viruses that are actually good for you. In an Ebola-obsessed age, it may be hard to imagine how the answer could be yes. But–yes! Or, at least, possibly yes. In my New York Times column this week, […]…

The “Natural” Of Family Life

Family life is fascinating–whether the family involved is made up of humans, monkeys, or hippos. Recently I’ve been exploring the complexities of mammal family life, and I’ve been thinking about what this research can and cannot tell us about our own experiences in families. Last week in the New York Times, I wrote my column about […]…

Norovirus: The Perfect Pathogen Emerges From the Shadows

As the year comes to a close, people are starting to puke. The notorious stomach bug known as norovirus is starting its annual rampage,, which will last from late fall through winter. A couple years ago, in the midst of another norovirus season, I wrote about the virus’s spectacular biology on the Loom. Noroviruses (unlike the Ebola […]…

For Your Halloween Viewing Pleasure: Two Mindsucker Movies

Last night at the National Geographic Society in Washington, I gave a talk with photographer Anand Varma about how parasites manipulate their hosts–the subject of my cover story in the November issue of National Geographic and Varma’s aesthetic obsession for the past couple years. Along with his gorgeous photos, Varma also showed off some lovely/creepy […]…

Flu and Ebola: How Viruses Get Around

A couple viruses are waving hello to the United States right now. Flu season is about to kick off, while people have been diagnosed with Ebola not just in Texas, but in New York. But there are some important differences between the two viruses that I explore in an article in today’s New York Times. Most […]…

Translation: A New Episode of Radiolab

The good folks at Radiolab have a new episode out. It’s on the many different senses of the word translation. The show ranges from vision-sensing tongue vibrators to high-level diplomatic misunderstandings. At the end of the show, I talk to Jad Abumrad about the most fundamental translation of all: the process by which our cells turn information […]…

Ebola’s Past and Future

I have a story in the news section of today’s New York Times on the past and future of Ebola. There is so much anxiety and curiosity about the virus that it seemed like an opportune time to check in with a bunch of evolutionary biologists who study Ebola–as well as other viruses. In my […]…

On Superiority

I’m writing this at my house in central Connecticut. Twenty thousand years ago, this spot was buried under a mile of ice. About thirteen thousand years ago, after the ice thinned and retreated, plants swept over the bare land. They came from the southern United States, and they established the same kinds of forests and […]…

The Central Park Zoo Hidden From View

In 2003, an army of 350 scientists and volunteers swept out across Central Park. Their mission, called a BioBlitz, was to find as many species as possible over the course of 24 hours. At the end of the day, they had compiled a catalog of 836 species of plants and animals. It’s impressive that Central […]…