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How Jane Goodall became Jane Goodall

Enlarge (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Jane Goodall is an astonishing figure in many ways. Starting with no formal training and using controversial methods, she made astonishing breakthroughs in understanding the social behavior of chimpanzees and thus understanding ourselves. She managed to become an extremely rare species: a scientist who was also a media darling. And, after dedicating many years of her life to her research (at significant personal sacrifice), she left it behind to become a global spokesperson for sustainable development and conservation.

How did that happen? That's the subject of a new National Geographic documentary Jane. The movie is primarily based on recently rediscovered footage filmed by noted wildlife filmmaker Hugo van Lawick, who was assigned by National Geographic to film Goodall's field work. van Lawick was there to capture a key transition in Goodall's research and drove one in her personal life: the two would end up marrying and having a son.

While it was a pivotal time and the original footage is stunning, it provides a limited window into Goodall's history. Other pivotal events pass by in a flash or are skipped entirely. Whether that bothers you is probably a key determinant of how much you'll enjoy Jane.

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Evolution experiment has now followed 68,000 generations of bacteria

Enlarge / Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli (E. coli), grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip. (credit: NIAID / Flickr)

On February 24, 1988, Richard Lenski seeded 12 flasks with E. coli and set them up to shake overnight at 37ºC. But he seeded them with only enough nutrients to grow until early the next morning. Every single afternoon since then, he (or someone in his lab) has taken 100 microliters of each bacterial solution, put them into a new flask with fresh growth media, and put the new flask in the shaker overnight. Every 75 days—about 500 bacterial generations—some of the culture goes into the freezer.

The starvation conditions are a strong pressure for evolution. And the experiment includes its own time machine to track that evolution.

The pivotal piece of technology enabling this experiment is the -80ºC freezer. It acts essentially, Lenski says, as a time machine. The freezer holds the bacterial cultures in a state of suspended animation; when they are thawed, they are completely viable and their fitness can be compared to that of their more highly evolved descendants shaking in their flasks. As an analogy, imagine if we could challenge a hominin from 50,000 years ago to a hackathon. (Which she would probably win, because the paleo diet.)

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Your dog knows exactly what it’s doing when it gives you that look

puppy dog eyes

If you're a dog owner, you've probably long suspected that your pup has learned exactly how to push your buttons, but new research out of the University of Portsmouth proves that not only do dogs know how to get what they want from you, but from humans in general. The study, which was conducted by the university's Dog Cognition Centre, provides evidence that canines are masters of facial expression, and they're not shy about using it on humans.

Animals, and more specifically mammals, use facial expressions for communication just like they do with vocalizations, there's a difference between a fearful stare or excited eye movement and the kind of emotional manipulation that humans are able to pull off based on knowing who is looking at them. Now, the data shows that dogs have the same skill, and will not just express emotion based on their own feelings, but also take into account who it is that is looking at them.

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CO₂ benefits of regrowing forests nothing to shake a stick at

Enlarge (credit: Patrick Shepherd/CIFOR)

It’s a common suggestion that we should just plant trees to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, but this isn’t quite the solution it may seem. Reforestation would roughly make up for the carbon added to the atmosphere by past deforestation, but our burning of fossil fuels is another matter.

Still, that’s no argument to ignore reforestation. There is no silver bullet solution to climate change, and many things like reforestation add up to make meaningful contributions. And reforestation has a host of other benefits, including improving air quality and providing species with habitats.

So how much of a difference could efforts to save and regrow forests—together with conservation of other ecosystems—really do? That’s the question asked by a group led by Bronson Griscom, an ecologist at The Nature Conservancy. By including a broad set of possible reforestation actions, Griscom and his colleagues found a larger opportunity than we'd previously estimated.

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How to watch this weekend’s incredible Orionid meteor shower

Orionid Meteor Shower 2017: How to watch

This weekend will be one of the best in 2017 for kicking back and watching the stars. The annual Orionid meteor shower is forecast to hit its peak in the early hours of Sunday morning; here's everything you need to know to make the most of it.

The meteor shower is caused by particles that are dispersed by Comet 1P/Halley, better known as Halley's Comet. The comet visits Earth every 75 years or so, and on its way around the sun leaves behind particulate matter. During the fall, the Earth's orbit around the sun matches up with the debris left behind by the comet, which burns up in the Earth's atmosphere, causing the visible meteors that you can see.

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