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Frontier research

08 February 2021

To confront climate change, we need to understand the environmental footprint of global supply chains

In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic upended international trade. Countries shut their borders, breaking the webs of supply chains that crisscross the globe. These systems of people, organisations and companies work to supply consumers with products, such as mobile phones, or services, like transportation. While some supply chains have since returned to a semblance of normality, understanding their extent – and how they interact – may be vital if humanity wants to confront its other great challenge: climate change.
02 February 2021

Why gut bacteria are becoming key suspects in autoimmune diseases

The human immune system is powerful and complex. It must be on guard at all times and be able to distinguish friend from foe. Unfortunately, it does not always get it right and sometimes attacks the body’s own cells, causing hundreds of ‘autoimmune’ diseases, from multiple sclerosis (MS) to rheumatoid arthritis.
26 January 2021

Triggering original fear memories could treat phobias and PTSD

In a lab in Amsterdam, arachnophobes have volunteered to encounter their eight-legged nemeses to help researchers hoping to conjure and obliterate fear memories. These studies, as well as new understanding of overlooked brain regions, are revealing how fears linked to PTSD or phobias work, and how they may be treated.
20 January 2021

Unravelling the when, where and how of volcanic eruptions

There are about 1,500 potentially active volcanoes worldwide and about 50 eruptions occur each year. But it’s still difficult to predict when and how these eruptions will happen or how they’ll unfold. Now, new insight into the physical processes inside volcanoes are giving scientists a better understanding of their behaviour, which could help protect the 1 billion people who live close to volcanoes.
18 January 2021

Q&A: Why cultural nuance matters in the fight against online extreme speech

Artificial intelligence (AI) used by governments and the corporate sector to detect and extinguish online extreme speech often misses important cultural nuance, but bringing in independent factcheckers as intermediaries could help step up the fight against online vitriol, according to Sahana Udupa, professor of media anthropology at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany.
15 December 2020

Q&A: How Covid-19 hijacks human cells

The virus that causes Covid-19 hijacks human cells by exploiting a ‘doorway’ that is potentially also used by other deadly viruses such as HIV, dengue and Ebola, according to recent research that may help to explain why the coronavirus is so highly infectious to a wide range of organs in the body.  Dr Yohei Yamauchi, a viral cell biologist at the University of Bristol, UK, who led the research, believes that the finding could not only lead to new drugs against Covid-19, but other anti-viral treatments that could be used to save patients’ lives in future pandemics. 
14 December 2020

Galactic archaeology: astronomers are using stars as fossils to study the Milky Way

Our Milky Way is thought to be home to as many as 400 billion stars, one of which is, of course, our own sun. But how and when did these stars form, and where did they come from? 
09 December 2020

Neighbourhood watch: What the mission to map the Milky Way is revealing about satellite galaxies

Our Milky Way is not alone in the universe. Surrounding us are numerous satellite galaxies, taking part in a continuous grand dance. But how do these neighbouring galaxies behave, how do they interact with our galaxy, and what does the future hold for them?
07 December 2020

Q&A: Why some people’s wellbeing has improved during the pandemic

As the social isolation compelled by the pandemic swept many of us into a flurry of panic, grief and mental funk, a section of people actually reported improved levels of wellbeing, found biological psychologist Meike Bartels, a professor of genetics and wellbeing at VU Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
03 December 2020

Q&A: It’s time to rethink the Milky Way

The Milky Way might be right on our cosmic doorstep, but a group of astronomers suspect that the way we currently study it is stunting our understanding. Professor Ralf Klessen at Heidelberg University in Germany is one of four researchers who have recently begun a six-year project, ECOGAL, to try something new: imagine our home galaxy as one huge galactic ecosystem. Prof. Klessen believes that using this lens could answer fundamental questions about how stars and planets form, and how they shape the Milky Way’s future.