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Roberta Kwok

Roberta Kwok's Articles

  • DNA hints at ancient cousins

    In the West African country of Cameroon, unusually short people called Pygmies live in the forests. On the other side of the continent, groups of people named Hadza and Sandawe speak languages that include many clicking sounds.

  • Weird weather

    People living in Texas experienced a miserably hot summer in 2011. In fact, it was the hottest the state had ever recorded. Earlier that spring, much of East Africa was so dry that farmers had trouble growing their crops. With little to eat, many people went hungry.

  • Tomatoes’ tasteless green gene

    The tomatoes your great-grandparents ate probably tasted little like the ones you eat today. The fruit used to have more flavor. A lot more flavor. In fact, tomatoes “were once so flavorful that you could take one in your hand and eat it straight away just like we regularly eat apples or peaches,” according to plant scientist Alan Bennett. He belongs to a team of international scientists who now think they know one reason why the fruit has lost so much flavor. Although some unripe tomatoes have a dark green patch near the stem, farmers prefer that their unripe tomatoes are the same shade of green all over. The consistent coloring makes it easier for them to know when the fruit should be picked.
  • Cool Jobs: Studying what you love

    This is one in a series on careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics made possible by support from the Northrop Grumman Foundation.

    Wayne Maddison was 13 years old when he fell in love. Standing on the shore of Lake Ontario in Canada, he noticed a mat of grass float by. On top of the mat was a spider about the size of a dime, with metallic green jaws. “She looked up at me,” recalls Maddison. “So of course I looked down at her and I thought, Wow!” Intrigued by her looks, Maddison wanted to know more about this colorful species.

  • Venting volcanoes

    When volcanoes erupt, they can release ash, chunks of rock and torrents of lava. Now scientists have found that eruptions also can spew massive amounts of a chemical called bromine. This gas helps destroy the ozone layer, a segment of the upper atmosphere that protects life on Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

    The researchers made this discovery by studying rocks left over from ancient volcanic eruptions in Central America. The eruptions released enough bromine to leave the ozone layer partly damaged for several years afterward, the scientists estimate.

  • Paralyzed rats walk again

    With the right treatment and training, paralyzed rats with damaged spinal cords could walk again, a new study shows. The animals even regained the ability to climb stairs and move around obstacles.

    Many people lose the ability to move parts of the body after suffering a serious spinal cord injury. For example, actor Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in the movies, was paralyzed after damaging his spinal cord in a horseback-riding accident.

  • Jelly babies

    Some animals never grow up. Scientists have discovered that a population of tiny marine creatures near northern Europe contains only larvae, the immature form of the animal. That’s like finding an entire town of kids — and no adults.

  • Caecilians: The other amphibian

    John Measey flew to Venezuela in 1997 in search of peculiar amphibians that looked like snakes or worms and lived underground. Measey’s team trekked through the rainforest, flipping over logs and digging into soil. After a few weeks, they still hadn’t found a single one.

  • Stony bacteria

    Scientists have discovered a new type of bacterium with a very unusual surprise inside. Within each single-celled microbe are little, hard lumps similar to the bones inside our bodies. These tiny stones make the microbes heavier, perhaps so that the bacteria can sink to the lake floor communities in which they like to live.

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