It’s very common for an article that appears in The Conversation to stem directly from an editor’s curiosity and desire to learn more about a subject in the news. That’s the case as we strategized over how to cover the Nobel Prizes announced last week. When the Nobel in physiology or medicine went to the scientist who sequenced the DNA of ancient hominin fossils, our discussion led to the simple but perhaps underappreciated fact that our homo sapiens ancestors lived at the same time as other human species – not only Neanderthals but others as well.

This led to this fascinating overview of human evolution over tens of thousands of years by evolutionary biologist Joshua Akey, who explains how this field of study relates to health issues today. “Although there are still many unanswered questions, the picture emerging from analyses of ancient and modern DNA is that not only did multiple hominins overlap in time and space, but that matings were relatively common,” he writes.

A story on male contraception came out of a similar impulse to find a science angle on events in the news – in this case, the bombshell Supreme Court case that made federal protections for abortion unconstitutional. One of the leading researchers in the field, Christina Chung-Lun Wang of UCLA, explains the different approaches now under development and details some of the social and technical barriers to broad use.

Other times, our articles come from surveying the latest scientific literature, which is how this story on engineering living materials came about. Rice University synthetic biologist Sara Molinari describes her work genetically engineering microbes so that they can grow into usable materials. “Researchers can turn bacteria into sensors for environmental pollutants by modifying them to change color in the presence of certain molecules. Researchers have also used bacteria to create limestone particles, the chemical used to make Styrofoam and living photovoltaics, among others,” Molinari writes.

Also in this week’s science news:

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Martin La Monica

Director of Editorial Projects and Newsletters

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, our Homo sapiens ancestors shared the landscape with multiple other hominins. The Washington Post via Getty Images

Our Homo sapiens ancestors shared the world with Neanderthals, Denisovans and other types of humans whose DNA lives on in our genes

Joshua Akey, Princeton University

Ancient DNA helps reveal the tangled branches of the human family tree. Not only did our ancestors live alongside other human species, they mated with them, too.

Lack of pharmaceutical industry interest has stymied the development of new male contraception options. filo/DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images

Male birth control options are in development, but a number of barriers still stand in the way

Christina Chung-Lun Wang, University of California, Los Angeles

There hasn’t been a new form of male birth control since the 1980s. More contraception options for all partners could help reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies.

As a material, bacteria’s ability to rapidly multiply and adapt to different conditions is an asset. Gschmeissner/Science Photo Library via Getty Images

Genetically engineered bacteria make living materials for self-repairing walls and cleaning up pollution

Sara Molinari, Rice University

The walls of your house could someday be built with living bacteria. Synthetic biologists are engineering microbes into living materials that are cheap and sustainable.

NASA successfully shifted an asteroid’s orbit – DART spacecraft crashed into and moved Dimorphos

David Barnhart, University of Southern California

The Double Asteroid Redirection Test successfully showed that it is possible to crash a spacecraft into a small asteroid and change its orbit. This technique could save Earth from asteroids in the future.

Body piercings may be artistic, but they bring risks of infection, allergic reactions, scarring and urine leakage

Vijaya Daniel, UMass Chan Medical School

Millions of Americans wear jewelry that pierces the ear, nose, lips, tongue and genital areas. But adorning yourself with metal body art can be a health hazard.

Investing in indoor air quality improvements in schools will reduce COVID transmission and help students learn

Patricia Fabian, Boston University; Jonathan Levy, Boston University

A lot of federal money is now available for making school buildings healthier. Two environmental health experts explain how school districts can best use it.

New satellite mapping with AI can quickly pinpoint hurricane damage across an entire state to spot where people may be trapped

Zhe Zhu, University of Connecticut; Su Ye, University of Connecticut

Artificial intelligence can spot differences in images from before and after a storm over wide areas in almost real time. It showed Hurricane Ian’s vast damage in Florida.