Peter Arkle

It’s one thing to be able to tell whether your spouse is happy, anxious, or annoyed — it’s another to know how long he or she is going to stay that way. Research by assistant psychology professor Diana Tamir and postdoctoral researcher Mark Thornton, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May, shows that humans are adept at PREDICTING EMOTIONAL STATES and can foresee how another’s emotions will change over time, up to two transitions into the future.

While stem cells hold promise for treatment of some diseases, they also have a dark side: Stem cells that stay active in adult tissues can drive cancer tumor formation. Associate research scholar Toni Celià-Terrassa and molecular biology professor Yibin Kang have discovered that tiny RNA MOLECULES in breast tissue, dubbed “microRNA,” exacerbate this process. Inhibiting their function may help improve breast-cancer treatment, they wrote in Nature Cell Biology in June.

YELLOW FEVER infects 200,000 people each year in Africa and South America, killing 30,000. Though a vaccine using an attenuated form of the virus has been effective at curbing the mosquito-borne disease, scientists were unclear on exactly how it works. Research by molecular biology assistant professor Alexander Ploss and postdoctoral research associate Floria Douam provides insight by examining the function of interferons, protein molecules that respond to infection. Published in August in mBio, their research could help in development of effective vaccines for other diseases. 

The Supreme Court is supposed to apply the law without regard to public opinion. Court rulings, however, can affect public opinion, according to research by psychology and public affairs professor Elizabeth Levy Paluck and RAND Corp. social scientist Margaret Tankard. Surveying more than 1,000 people before and after the 2015 decision to legalize gay marriage, they found an increase in participants’ perception of others’ SUPPORT FOR GAY MARRIAGE, even if their own beliefs remained unchanged. The findings, published in Psychology Science in July, are the first experimental evidence of institutional decisions affecting societal norms. 

Often predictions of the negative effects of climate change focus on flooding from sea-level rise. But a team led by researcher Venkatramani Balaji of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory predicts a new threat for the country’s waterways: INCREASED POLLUTION. Published in Science in July, their study shows that higher rainfall due to climate change will increase the runoff from nitrogen in fertilizers, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast. That, in turn, could choke rivers with harmful plant species and deplete oxygen in coastal estuaries, leading to “dead zones” devoid of marine-plant and animal life.