News This 1348 painting shows how plague devastated European cities like Florence

Black rats are also implicated in both outbreaks, which took place 800 years apart

Breakthrough offers hope in breast cancer fight

A naturally occurring molecule in bacteria can block the development of breast cancer, scientists have discovered, paving the way for the design of more potent and selective drugs.

Oldest known fossils prove life began more than 3.4bn years ago

The fossilised remains of the oldest known lifeforms on Earth have been discovered in samples of rock collected near a remote watering hole in the middle of the Australian Outback.

And you thought it was just fluff? New bacteria found in belly-buttons

Scientists have found 1,400 strains of bacteria lurking in human belly buttons. The discovery was made during a study in which 95 volunteers allowed a team of microbiologists to gaze at their navels and take swabs from inside their belly buttons.

Germany: Sprouts did cause deadly E. coli outbreak

German vegetable sprouts caused the E. coli outbreak that has killed 31 people and sickened more than 3,000, investigators announced Friday after tracking the bacteria from patients in hospital beds to restaurants and then farm fields.

Bacteria link to Parkinson's

A stomach bug that causes ulcers may help to trigger Parkinson's disease, research suggests.

Antibiotics that reduce gut bacteria linked to obesity

Scientists believe that the widespread use of antibiotics may be playing a significant role in exacerbating the obesity epidemic.

'Lyme disease nearly made me come indoors,' says Ray Mears

Survival guru highlights tick-borne diseases

The conker canker: disease fells avenue of horse chestnuts

A sad milestone in the spread of a disease mortally affecting Britain's horse chestnut trees was passed this week when one of the country's noblest horse chestnut avenues was finally cut down.

It's life, but not as the scientists of Nasa know it

It was one of Nasa's most intriguing messages: an invitation to a briefing where it would "discuss an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for extraterrestrial life". The event held on 2 December at Nasa's headquarters in Washington led to headlines around the world, including The Independent's "Science grapples with the concept that alien life may be among us".

New superbug strain affects youing and healthy

A new strain of the superbug MRSA has been detected on the Isle of Man, said health bosses.

Statins may ward off serious infections

Cholesterol-lowering drugs have a useful side effect - killing bacteria, scientists have discovered.

Cholera may have arrived on island 'years ago' from Asia

Medical briefing

Hard times cause hard feelings over office etiquette

Longer hours and job insecurity are blurring the boundaries between home and office – and not everyone approves

Errors & Omissions: We can't escape 'The Hobbit', but we can at least get the details right

Yesterday's Arts & Books section carried an interview with the Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro, who resigned from the Hobbit project some months ago when it looked as if the money men would never give the films the green light.

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There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
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File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
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Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
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Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'