Geneticist who unmasked lives of ancient humans wins medicine Nobel

Ewen Callaway & Heidi Ledford

Nature | October 03, 2022

Svante Pääbo has been awarded a Nobel prize for discoveries about the genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution.Credit: Alamy

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded for pioneering studies of human evolution that harnessed precious snippets of DNA found in fossils that are tens of thousands of years old.

The work of Svante Pääbo, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) in Leipzig, Germany, led to the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome and the discovery of a new group of hominins called the Denisovans, and also spawned the fiercely competitive field of palaeogenomics.

By tracing how genes flowed between ancient hominin populations, researchers have been able to trace these groups’ migrations, as well as the origins of some aspects of modern human physiology, including features of the immune system and mechanisms of adaptation to life at high altitudes.

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‘Spooky’ quantum-entanglement experiments win physics Nobel

Davide Castelvecchi & Elizabeth Gibney

Nature | October 04, 2022

John Clauser (left), Anton Zeilinger and Alain Aspect have won this year’s Nobel physics prize for their research on quantum entanglement.Credit: J. Clauser (CC BY-SA 4.0), Matthias Röder/dpa/Alamy, The Royal Society (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Three quantum physicists have won the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics for their experiments with entangled photons, in which particles of light become inextricably linked. Such experiments have laid the foundations for an abundance of quantum technologies, including quantum computers and communications.

Alain Aspect, John Clauser and Anton Zeilinger will each share one-third of the 10-million-kronor (US$915,000) prize.

“I was actually very surprised to get the call,” said Zeilinger, a physicist at the University of Vienna, at the press conference announcing the award. “This prize would not be possible without the work of more than 100 young people over the years.”

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Chemists who invented revolutionary ‘click’ reactions win Nobel

Researchers honoured for game-changing methods to couple molecules, including reactions that can be run in living cells.

Davide Castelvecchi & Heidi Ledford

Nature | October 05, 2022

Carolyn Bertozzi, Morten Meldal and Barry Sharpless (left to right) developed ways of joining molecules quickly and without unwanted by-products.Credit: James Tensuan/The New York Times/Redux/eyevine; University of Copenhagen; K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune via ZUMA/Alamy

Three chemists who pioneered a useful technique called click chemistry to join molecules together efficiently have won this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Barry Sharpless at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, and Morten Meldal at the University of Copenhagen laid the foundation for click chemistry, and both independently discovered a pivotal reaction that could link two molecules — an azide and an alkyne — with relative ease1,2,3. This reaction has been used to develop a host of molecules, including plastics and potential pharmaceuticals.

The third winner, Carolyn Bertozzi at Stanford University in California, used click chemistry to map the complex sugar-based polymers called glycans on the surface of living cells without disturbing cell function4. To do this, she developed processes called bioorthogonal reactions, which are now being used to aid the development of cancer drugs.

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Mouse embryos grown without eggs or sperm: why and what’s next?

Two research teams grew synthetic embryos using stem cells, long enough to see some organs develop.

Cassandra Willyard

Nature | August 25, 2022

Natural and synthetic mouse embryos grown by developmental biologist Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz’s research group.Credit: Gianluca Amadei, Charlotte Handford

The recipe for mammalian life is simple: take an egg, add sperm and wait. But two new papers demonstrate that there’s another way. Under the right conditions, stem cells can divide and self-organize into an embryo on their own. In studies published in Cell1 and Nature2 this month, two groups report that they have grown synthetic mouse embryos for longer than ever before. The embryos grew for 8.5 days, long enough for them to develop distinct organs — a beating heart, a gut tube and even neural folds.

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‘Unsustainable’: how satellite swarms pose a rising threat to astronomy

SpaceX and other companies are still struggling to make their satellites darker in the night sky.

Alexandra Witze

Nature | May 26, 2022

Starlink satellites streak (vertically) across a time-lapse photo of the night sky near Carson National Forest, New Mexico.Credit: M. Lewinsky (CC BY 2.0)

It’s been three years since SpaceX, an aerospace company in Hawthorne, California, launched its first batch of Starlink Internet-communication satellites, sparking concern among astronomers about the streaks the satellites leave in photographs of the night sky. Since then, many other Starlinks have launched: more than 2,300 of them now orbit Earth, comprising nearly half of all operational satellites.

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The countries maintaining research ties with Russia despite Ukraine

Many Western nations are severing scientific links — but it’s a different story in China, India and South Africa.

Smriti Mallapaty , T. V. Padma , Emiliano Rodríguez Mega , Richard Van Noorden & Ehsan Masood

A research reactor at Russia’s Konstantinov Institute of Nuclear Physics near St Petersburg.Credit: Peter Kovalev/ITAR-TASS/Alamy

Is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine redrawing the map of international scientific cooperation? Whereas Europe and the United States are swiftly moving to cut long-standing ties, the governments of China, India, South Africa are maintaining links.

They are members of the BRICS, a group of five countries — including Brazil and Russia — that work together to promote trade and economic development, and have an active programme of scientific cooperation. Last year, researchers from the 5 nations organized some 100 meetings under the BRICS umbrella in a spectrum of fields including astronomy, climate and energy, health and medicine.

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Global, regional, and national consumption of animal-source foods between 1990 and 2018: findings from the Global Dietary Database

Victoria Miller, PhD; Julia Reedy, MS; Frederick Cudhea, PhD; Jianyi Zhang, PhD; Peilin Shi, PhD; Josh Erndt-Marino, PhD; Jennifer Coates, PhD; Renata Micha, PhD; Prof Patrick Webb, PhD; Prof Dariush Mozaffarian, MD; on behalf of the Global Dietary Database

The Lancet | Open Access | Published: March, 2022 | DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00352-1

Summary
Background
Diet is a major modifiable risk factor for human health and overall consumption patterns affect planetary health. We aimed to quantify global, regional, and national consumption levels of animal-source foods (ASF) to inform intervention, surveillance, and policy priorities.

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Your brain expands and shrinks over time — these charts show how

Based on more than 120,000 brain scans, the charts are still preliminary. But researchers hope they could one day be used as a routine clinical tool by physicians.

Max Kozlov

Nature | April 06, 2022

Researchers have created brain growth charts that cover the human lifespan by aggregating more than 120,000 scans.Credit: Zephyr/SPL

When neuroscientist Jakob Seidlitz took his 15-month-old son to the paediatrician for a check-up last week, he left feeling unsatisfied. There wasn’t anything wrong with his son — the youngster seemed to be developing at a typical pace, according to the height and weight charts the physician used. What Seidlitz felt was missing was an equivalent metric to gauge how his son’s brain was growing. “It is shocking how little biological information doctors have about this critical organ,” says Seidlitz, who is based at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

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Particle’s surprise mass threatens to upend the standard model

Data from an old experiment finds that the mass of the W boson is higher than theory predicts, hinting at future breakthroughs.

Davide Castelvecchi and Elizabeth Gibney

Nature | April 07, 2022

The Tevatron particle collider at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, was once the world’s most powerful accelerator.Credit: Granger/Alamy

From its resting place outside Chicago, Illinois, a long-defunct experiment is threatening to throw the field of elementary particles off balance. Physicists have toiled for ten years to squeeze a crucial new measurement out of the experiment’s old data, and the results are now in. The team has found that the W boson — a fundamental particle that carries the weak nuclear force — is significantly heavier than theory predicts.

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Stars may form 10 times faster than thought

Weak magnetic fields detected by China’s FAST telescope could upend theory of star formation

Ling Xin

SCIENCE | January 05, 2022

Herschel’s view of the Taurus Molecular Cloud
Dust in the Taurus Molecular Cloud, seen as pink hues in far-infrared light, traces dense regions of gas where stars form. A study of one of the cloud’s stellar embryos suggests the process is fast.ESA/HERSCHEL/NASA/JPL-CALTECH; R. HURT/JPL-CALTECH/CC-BY-SA

Astronomers have long thought it takes millions of years for the seeds of stars like the Sun to come together. Clouds of mostly hydrogen gas coalesce under gravity into prestellar cores dense enough to collapse and spark nuclear fusion, while magnetic forces hold matter in place and slow down the process. But observations using the world’s largest radio telescope are casting doubt on this long gestational period. Researchers have zoomed in on a prestellar core in a giant gas cloud—a nursery for hundreds of baby stars—and found the tiny embryo may be forming 10 times faster than thought, thanks to weak magnetic fields.

“If this is proven to be the case in other gas clouds, it will be revolutionary for the star formation community,” says Paola Caselli from the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, who was not involved with the research.

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