A small aquatic salamander known as the axolotl has long fascinated scientists because of its ability to regenerate brain cells. In a study published last week, researchers built an atlas of part of the axolotl brain to help compare it with other species and gain insight into treating brain diseases in people. “Examining the genes and cell types that allow axolotls to accomplish nearly perfect regeneration may be the key to improve treatments for severe injuries and unlock regeneration potential in humans,” writes researcher Ashley Maynard.

These days we’re all taught to be very careful not to get too much sun exposure, but our prehistoric ancestors were well-adapted to spending all day in the sun and didn’t need to concern themselves with skin protection, writes Penn State biological anthropologist Nina Jablonski. Her research into the evolution of skin pigmentation shows that people’s “skin adapted to subtle, seasonal changes in sunlight and UV conditions.” The article also traces the development of methods to protect skin with the advent of farming and food storage as people spent more time inside.

With an upcoming work trip for the first time in over two years, my first order of business this week was getting the latest COVID-19 booster, which was recently authorized for use. Immunologists Prakash Nagarkatti and Mitzi Nagarkatti from the University of South Carolina provide some insight into how these bivalent vaccines – meaning, they’re designed to protect against both the original coronavirus and the omicron variant – were developed, and what these new vaccines show about the flexibility and speed of mRNA vaccine technology.

Also in this week’s science news:

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Axolotls are a model organism researchers use to study a variety of topics in biology. Ruben Undheim/Flickr

Axolotls can regenerate their brains – these adorable salamanders are helping unlock the mysteries of brain evolution and regeneration

Ashley Maynard, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich

Axolotls are amphibians known for their ability to regrow their organs, including their brains. New research clarifies their regeneration process.

The sun’s rays often feel good on your skin, but can cause serious damage. Maksim Chernyshev/EyeEm via Getty Images

Human skin stood up better to the sun before there were sunscreens and parasols – an anthropologist explains why

Nina G. Jablonski, Penn State

Our ancient ancestors didn’t have clothes or houses – but that constant exposure to the sun helped their skin protect itself from the worst sun damage.

In a matter of days, eligible people will be lining up to receive the newly formulated booster shot. filadendron/E+ via Getty Images

Will omicron-specific booster shots be more effective at combating COVID-19? 5 questions answered

Prakash Nagarkatti, University of South Carolina; Mitzi Nagarkatti, University of South Carolina

The CDC’s endorsement of the reformulated COVID-19 booster shots represents a major step in the effort to get more Americans boosted.