’s 10 Most Popular Stories in 2017

Maverick scientists, a blissful free diver, and (of course) sex and drugs lit up our top articles of the year.

1) The Plot Thickens in the Gnarly Story of IQ and Genetics

An image from “A Child is Born,” photographer Lennart Nilsson’s 1965 book about fetal development.

By poring over the genomes over hundreds of thousands of people, researchers are finally pinpointing the genes that influence whether a person will become smart or dull. It’s probably just a matter of time before some parents are selecting embryos that appear to have the best chance of becoming intelligent children. But there’s going to be a catch. Genes implicated in intelligence are “mixed up in a lot of other stuff, too. Start to tinker with them, and who knows what strings you’ll unravel.”

2) Millennials’ Sobriety Isn’t What It Seems

Illustration by Gwendal Le Bec

People born between 1983 and 2002 are getting wasted less often than previous generations. Is that really true? And even it is, “could it be for reasons that are actually unhealthy?”

3) Decoding the Diver (three-part series)

William Trubridge diving in the Bahamas. (Still from a video by Blue Eye FX Productions)’s debut story explores the beguilingly beautiful sport of free diving and the secrets lurking in the genome of William Trubridge, the first person to plunge 100 meters underwater unassisted. Start with part one and see Trubridge in action in this video.

4) I Hope I Get Old Before I Die

Illustration by Kelsey Wroten

Activist Ashton Applewhite struck a nerve with her lament about the quest for “anti-aging” technologies. “Even in Silicon Valley, tied with Hollywood as the most ageist place on the planet, people know that tans and Teslas aren’t what make us happy. What does? Aging itself.”

Photograph by Damien Maloney

5) If Your Doctors Can’t Cure Your Cancer, Maybe You Can (ongoing series)

Onno Faber embodies the spirit of the Neobiological Revolution. There’s no cure for the rare cancer that is wrecking his hearing and could take away his eyesight and mobility. So he’s using genomic data and other new tools to hack his way to a treatment for himself and thousands like him. As a bioinformatics adviser puts it: “What we’re talking about really is speeding up the time scales of science.” Onno’s journey begins in this story; part two is here. Look for part three in January.

6) When a Double-Chocolate Brownie is Better for You Than Quinoa

Knitted food by Jessica Dance

The microbiome is amazing. The unique collection of bacteria in your stomach and intestines help determine your mood, your blood pressure, your response to infection, and countless other aspects of your health. So why not test your microbiome to figure out what foods you really ought to eat?

7) Masturbation as Medicine

Illustration by Matt Panuska

“Right now there is a lot of technology in sex, but not a lot of innovation.” So says Nicole Prause in an interview about “sexual biotechnology,” the neuroscience of desire, and other research that freaked out her bosses at UCLA.

8) 6 Amazing Things to Watch in Synthetic Biology

Making things from scratch out of biological components will be the technological trend of the century. And we’re just getting started.

9) China Doubles Down on the Double Helix

Illustration by Veronyka Jelinek

When George Church went to Shanghai to inaugurate a crucial new chapter in the Personal Genome Project, was there. Genomics research and personalized medicine is gaining steam in the U.S., but it might pale in comparison to what’s happening in China.

10) The Life Extension Death Match

Elysium Health has helped to popularize a dietary supplement known as NR, which increases levels of a molecule known as NAD in your body. Because NAD is involved in basic functions in your cells, such as energy production and DNA repair, Elysium has tantalized customers by suggesting that NR pills can help them live healthier for longer. But even as the science to support that idea is still developing, Elysium is fighting for its own corporate life.

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