Is autism caused by environmental or genetic factors?

When it comes to lifelong conditions like autism spectrum disorder, we tend to be biased in a way that obscures reality.

Ritesh Uttamchandani/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
  • Judging from their headlines, two recent studies seem to produce contradictory findings in regard to whether autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is mostly due to the environment or mostly due to genetics.
  • Digging deeper, however, it's clear that they do not contradict; taken together, they paint a clearer picture of the nature of ASD than we had before.
  • This potential misunderstanding serves to highlight what can happen when we focus too much on a science news headline and not on the context of scientific results.
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Surprising Science

This bacteria can withstand 1,000X as much radiation as would kill a human

Meet Deinococcus radioduranst, the world's toughest bacteria.

Flickr user EMSL
  • The bacteria is so resilient that it's been found on the walls of nuclear reactors.
  • It's unique properties have fascinated scientists, who have proposed all kinds of applications for the bacteria that range from the practical to the whimsical.
  • How does this supertough bacteria withstand radiation that would kill anything else, though?
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Surprising Science

A man-made embryo shows how a stem cell finds its role

A unique 3D model allows researchers to explore embryonic development.

Image source: Mijo Simunovic/Rockefeller University
  • Researchers observe the beginning of embryonic stem cells dividing into upper and lower body sections.
  • An interdisciplinary team invents an impressively accurate 10-day-old "embryoid."
  • The team's model may be important to other future research on pregnancy.
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Technology & Innovation

Deer antlers are a 'controlled' form of bone cancer growth

Future cancer research may come from studying antler growth.

Photo credit: Markus Bürkle from Pexels
  • Antlers in ruminants (deer, moose, elk and reindeer) can grow up to half a meter in one month.
  • Researchers studying their genomes have found how they do it.
  • Genes that both activate and turn off cancer are important to this process.
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Surprising Science

Evolution just got turned upside down. Sorry sponges.

Stems cells have always been pretty amazing.

Image source: Piotr Kuczek/Lotus_studio/Shutterstock/Big Think
  • New research indicates animals' oldest ancestor was not sponges' single-celled choanocyte bacteria as previously thought.
  • It appears our earliest predecessors were something like modern stem cells.
  • Our lineage just lost its founding member. The search for our true first predecessor is on!
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Surprising Science