Category Archives: Evolution

Arms and the virus

LETTING the virus that causes Covid-19 circulate more-or-less freely is dangerous not only because it risks overwhelming hospitals and so endangering lives unnecessarily, but also because it could delay the evolution of the virus to a more benign form and potentially even make it more lethal…

Roadblock

This article first appeared in The Guardian on 19 November 2020. To continue reading, click here.

Body consciousness

PARTS of Ann Arbor bring The Truman Show to mind, with their wood-frame houses and white picket fences. Home to the University of Michigan, the city oozes middle-class prosperity and security. So, while doing research there a decade ago, Sarah Garfinkel was shocked to discover that young veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan felt terrified even in Ann Arbor. “It broke my heart,” she says. And it changed the course of her career…

Charles Babbage’s brain (in a vat)

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 27 June 2020. To continue reading, click here.

Europe’s first farmers

EIGHT thousand years ago small bands of seminomadic hunter-gatherers were the only human beings roaming Europe’s lush, green forests. Archaeological digs in caves and elsewhere have turned up evidence of their Mesolithic technology: flint-tipped tools with which they fished, hunted deer and aurochs (a now extinct species of ox), and gathered wild plants. Many had dark hair and blue eyes, recent genetic studies suggest, and the few skeletons unearthed so far indicate that they were quite tall and muscular. Their languages remain mysterious to this day…

First farmer of the Linear Pottery Culture in Neolithic Central Europe. Illustration: Karol Schauer, State Museum of Prehistory in Halle (Saale), Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American. To continue reading, click here.

Food, globalisation and pandemics

ONCE a dangerous new pathogen is out, as we are seeing, it can be difficult if not impossible to prevent it going global. One as contagious as SARS-CoV-2 has the potential to infect the whole of humanity. Eighty per cent of cases may be benign, but with such a large pool of susceptible hosts, the numbers who experience severe illness and die can still be shockingly high. So the only sensible answer to the question, how do we stop this from happening again, is: by doing all we can to prevent such pathogens infecting humans in the first place. And that means taking a long, hard look at our relationship with the natural world, and particularly with the animals that sustain us…

This article first appeared in Time on 13 April 2020. To continue reading, click here.