Inside the US Supreme Court’s war on science

A new ultraconservative supermajority on the United States’ top court is undermining science’s role in informing public policy. Scholars fear the results could be disastrous for public health, justice and democracy itself.

Jeff Tollefson

Nature | September 14, 2022

Illustration by Sébastien Thibault

In late June, the US Supreme Court issued a trio of landmark decisions that repealed the right to abortion, loosened gun restrictions and curtailed climate regulations. Although the decisions differed in rationale, they share a distinct trait: all three dismissed substantial evidence about how the court’s rulings would affect public health and safety. It is a troubling trend that many scientists fear could undermine the role of scientific evidence in shaping public policy. Now, as the court prepares to consider a landmark case on electoral policies, many worry about the future of American democracy itself.
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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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Climate change is turning more of Central Asia into desert

The rapid expansion will have significant impacts on ecosystems and the people and animals who rely on them.

Giorgia Guglielmi

Nature | June 16, 2022

The spread of deserts in Uzbekistan and neighbouring countries will alter the composition of ecosystems.Credit: Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock

As global temperatures rise, desert climates have spread north by up to 100 kilometres in parts of Central Asia since the 1980s, a climate assessment reveals1.

The study, published on 27 May in Geophysical Research Letters, also found that over the past 35 years, temperatures have increased across all of Central Asia, which includes parts of China, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. In the same period, mountain regions have become hotter and wetter — which might have accelerated the retreat of some major glaciers.

Such changes threaten ecosystems and those who rely on them, says Jeffrey Dukes, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, California. The findings are a “great first step” towards informing mitigation and adaptation policies, he says.

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Guardians of the brain: how a special immune system protects our grey matter

The nervous and immune systems are tightly intertwined. Deciphering their chatter might help address many brain disorders and diseases.

Diana Kwon

Nature | June 01, 2022

The brain’s immune system includes a network of transport vessels (blue) and its own immune cells made in the bone marrow (green). Credit: Siling Du, Kipnis lab, Washington University in St. Louis

The brain is the body’s sovereign, and receives protection in keeping with its high status. Its cells are long-lived and shelter inside a fearsome fortification called the blood–brain barrier. For a long time, scientists thought that the brain was completely cut off from the chaos of the rest of the body — especially its eager defence system, a mass of immune cells that battle infections and whose actions could threaten a ruler caught in the crossfire.

In the past decade, however, scientists have discovered that the job of protecting the brain isn’t as straightforward as they thought. They’ve learnt that its fortifications have gateways and gaps, and that its borders are bustling with active immune cells.

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Stockholm+50: Is science for just solutions

If science-policy interfaces are to deliver just and effective solutions to climate change, they must involve indigenous peoples and local communities

Pia M Kohler

Down To Earth | June 04, 2022

When presenting my research on global institutions established to guide policymaking on environmental challenges, my (mostly North American and European) audiences will often wonder at the need to scrutinise these science-policy interfaces. Isn’t the only thing that matters, someone will inevitably ask, is that we have asked the best scientists on the planet to guide us?

This is typically when I draw from Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain’s seminal 1991 piece, ‘Global warming in an unequal world’. Agarwal and Narain called out the environmental colonialism evident in a 1990 report by the US-based World Resources Institute purporting to measure a country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

I invite my interlocutors to consider the distinction Agarwal and Narain draw between “luxury” and “survival” emissions. We then consider what gets erased when we take up the now commonplace unit: the metric tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) or of CO2 equivalent.

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China, Cuba Present Jointly-Produced ‘Pan-Corona Vaccine’

teleSUR | June 03, 2022

Cuba and China present the first patent for the Pancorona vaccine, result of the collaboration between both countries in the biotechnological field. | Photo: Twitter @EmbacubaChina

Cuba managed to develop five COVID-19 vaccines and inoculated 95% of its population against the COVID-19 virus, despite the burden of the U.S. blockade. China, likewise, produced a massive amount of two different vaccines for its 1.4 billion-strong population and much of the Third World.


Cuba and the People’s Republic of China jointly filed the first patent for a vaccine against  COVID-19 and its many variants, which could also be effective against several related viruses, the Cuban daily Granma reported on Thursday.

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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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Metal-lifespan analysis shows scale of waste

Mining metals has a rising environmental cost. But high losses and low recycling rates mean that many last only a short time.

Freda Kreier

Nature | May 26, 2022

Metals can be lost at any stage of their commercial lifespan — including during smelting. Credit: He Huawen/VCG via Getty

Metals might be the foundation of the modern economy, but that doesn’t mean they stick around.

A study looking at the economic lifetimes of 61 commercially used metals finds that more than half have a lifespan of less than 10 years. The research, published on 19 May in Nature Sustainability1, also shows that most of these metals end up being disposed of or lost in large quantities, rather than being recycled or reused.

Billions of tonnes of metal are mined each year, and metal production accounts for around 8% of all global greenhouse-gas emissions. So, recycling more metal could help to lower its environmental impacts, says co-author Christoph Helbig, an industrial ecologist at the University of Bayreuth in Germany.

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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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