2018’s top breakthrough, our solar system’s most distant dweller, and pushback on USDA relocation plans

2018 Breakthrough of the year: development cell by cell

Biologists have long been transfixed by the mystery of how a single cell develops into an adult animal with multiple organs and billions of cells. Now, a combination of technologies is revealing when genes in individual cells switch on during development, cueing the cells to play their specialized parts. The result is the ability to track the development of organisms and organs in stunning detail, cell-by-cell and through time.

This may be the most distant object in our solar system

Astronomers announced this week the discovery of the solar system’s most distant resident, a tiny dwarf planet located at a distance 120 times farther than Earth is from the sun. The planet, nicknamed “Farout” by its discovery team, is pinkish in hue, reflecting an icy composition, and is likely some 500 kilometers in diameter.

House Democrats gear up to block planned move of USDA research agencies

A group of influential Democratic legislators has signaled their desire to overturn Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s plan to relocate and realign two research agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA’s primary source of competitive grants for academic research, and the Economic Research Service, its major in-house research and statistical office.

Discovery of recent Antarctic ice sheet collapse raises fears of a new global flood

Glaciologists are worried about the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet—a formidable ice mass that flooded Earth during the last brief warm period between ice ages, some 125,000 years ago. Scientists have now found evidence that the ice sheet disappeared in the recent geological past under climate conditions similar to today’s. The study suggests recent melting of the ice sheet is the start of a similar collapse, rather than a short-term variation.

Ancient bird fossils have ‘the weirdest feathers I have ever seen’

Paleontologists have discovered fossilized feathers belonging to the strange birds that filled the sky 100 million years ago. The long, streamerlike feathers were preserved in exquisite detail in 31 pieces of Cretaceous amber from Myanmar. The rare 3D preservation reveals the feathers’ structure is completely different from that of modern feathers—and hints that they may have been defensive decoys to foil predators.

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