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The coronavirus pandemic has had the world fixated on viruses like no time in living memory, but new evidence reveals humans never even notice the vast extent of viral existence – even when it's inside us.

A new database project compiled by scientists has identified over 140,000 viral species that dwell in the human gut – a giant catalogue that's all the more stunning given over half of these viruses were previously unknown to science.

If tens of thousands of newly discovered viruses sounds like an alarming development, that's completely understandable. But we shouldn't misinterpret what these viruses within us actually represent, researchers say.

"It's important to remember that not all viruses are harmful, but represent an integral component of the gut ecosystem," explains biochemist Alexandre Almeida from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory's Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

"These samples came mainly from healthy individuals who didn't share any specific diseases."

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Like the Universe's tiniest matryoshka dolls, atoms are typically modelled as particles within particles – a nuclei built of protons and neutrons, which in turn contain trios of fundamental particles called quarks.

As convenient as this simple metaphor might be, the quantum engine operating within these subatomic particles is an incomprehensible ledger of quantum economics: quarks and antiquarks adding up and cancelling out, but never balancing.

In the early 1990s, physicists smashed protons apart in order to put some numbers to this buzzing hive of quark activity, only to find the balance they expected was strangely askew.

Naturally, since the results left plenty of room for doubt, a double-check was in order.

Subsequent experiments at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in the US suggested something odd was going on when the momentum of the particles was cranked right up to the brink of what the detectors could measure.

So researchers set about a new experiment. Dubbed SeaQuest, its hodgepodge mix of old detectors and blinking scintillators was designed to get to the bottom of the quarks sloshing around inside protons with greater precision than ever.

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The long evolutionary journey that created modern humans began with a single step—or more accurately—with the ability to walk on two legs. One of our earliest-known ancestors, Sahelanthropus, began the slow transition from ape-like movement some six million years ago, but Homo sapiens wouldn’t show up for more than five million years. During that long interim, a menagerie of different human species lived, evolved and died out, intermingling and sometimes interbreeding along the way. As time went on, their bodies changed, as did their brains and their ability to think, as seen in their tools and technologies.

To understand how Homo sapiens eventually evolved from these older lineages of hominins, the group including modern humans and our closest extinct relatives and ancestors, scientists are unearthing ancient bones and stone tools, digging into our genes and recreating the changing environments that helped shape our ancestors’ world and guide their evolution.

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Where does the mind 'meet' the brain? While there's no shortage of research into the effects of psychedelics, drugs like LSD still have much to teach us about the way the brain operates – and can shine a light on the mysterious interface between consciousness and neural physiology, research suggests.

In a new study investigating the effects of LSD on volunteers, scientists found that the psychedelic enables the brain to function in a way beyond what anatomy usually dictates, by altering states of dynamic integration and segregation in the human brain.

"The psychedelic compound LSD induces a profoundly altered state of consciousness," explains first author and neuroscience researcher Andrea Luppi from the University of Cambridge.

"Combining pharmacological interventions with non-invasive brain imaging techniques such as functional MRI (fMRI) can provide insight into normal and abnormal brain function."

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