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THE SPIDER WORE BLACK

The top new species of 2016 include purple parasites and tumbleweeds

@Douglas_Main

HUMANS HAVE made their way to the moon, landed rovers on Mars and sent spacecraft to the outer reaches of the solar system. But the Earth remains a little-known planet. That becomes clear when naturalists look for creatures closer to home and find unknown gems. Here are our favorite new species of 2016.

UNKNOWN TUMBLER

ILLACME TOBINI

Tumbleweeds are synonymous with the American West. At some point, two of them interbred to form a new species, Salsola ryanii, which is about 5 feet in height and nearly as wide. Usually, such hybrids are sterile, but in this case, the plant underwent an unusual genetic event that led to a duplication of its entire genome. That allowed it to reproduce and also made it incompatible with either of its parents. It has been found at 15 sites throughout California. “It’s extremely rare to catch a new species in the act of appearing and expanding,” says Norm Ellstrand, a professor of genetics at the University of California, Riverside, “and very exciting.”

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Scientists in Britain are using revolutionary gene-editing technology to alter the future of humanity.
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