Prized dinosaur fossil will finally be returned to Brazil

Following theft accusations, a German museum is set to hand over a one-of-a-kind dinosaur specimen with feather-like structures.

Meghie Rodrigues

Nature | May 12, 2023

The Ubirajara jubatus fossil is a holotype — a species-defining model Felipe L. Pinheiro

After more than two years of negotiations, a controversial fossil is on its way home. The specimen — representing the first non-avian dinosaur with feather-like structures found in South America — will return to Brazil in June, according to the Guimarães Rosa Institute in Brasília, an agency housed in Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs that is focused on cultural and educational diplomacy.

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First UK children born using three-person IVF: what scientists want to know

British fertility regulator reveals that at least one child has been born using mitochondrial replacement therapy, but details are scant.

Ewen Callaway

Mitochondrial replacement therapy is an in vitro fertilization technique that involves the DNA of three people.Credit: Zephyr/Science Photo Library

Eight years after the United Kingdom became the first country to regulate the reproductive technique known as mitochondrial replacement, news has emerged that children have been born using the procedure.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK fertility regulator, confirmed that fewer than five UK children had been born using the procedure as of April 2023. The confirmation came in response to a freedom of information request by the Guardian newspaper. The HFEA provided no further information about the procedure or the children.

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Wheat disease’s global spread concerns researchers

Ewen Callaway

Nature | April 11, 2023

A head of wheat infected by the wheat blast fungus (left) and a healthy head (right).Credit: Nature and Science/Alamy

Could the next pandemic hit global food supplies? Scientists warn that a fungal pathogen that threatens wheat production in South America is poised to go global.

Outbreaks of the ‘wheat blast’ pathogen Magnaporthe oryzae in parts of Africa and Asia originated from a single family of the fungus that was imported from South America, researchers report on 11 April in PLoS Biology1. Scientists warn that this lineage could strike elsewhere, or develop worrying traits such as resistance to fungicides and the ability to affect other important food crops.

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How Stephen Hawking flip-flopped on whether the Universe has a beginning

Robert P. Crease

Nature | April 10, 2023

Thomas Hertog collaborated with Stephen Hawking on his final theory.Credit: Thomas Hertog and Jonathan Wood

On the Origin of Time: Stephen Hawking’s Final Theory Thomas Hertog Torva/Bantam (2023)

Stephen Hawking died five years ago, but his brand lives on. A Brief History of Time (1988) was the first of more than a dozen bestsellers by the iconic theoretical physicist. The new book On the Origin of Time — by Thomas Hertog, Hawking’s last collaborator — concerns his final theory. I can’t resist saying that it’s about time.

Hertog’s book is a fascinating tour of cosmology, the science of the Universe’s origins. The first blossoming of modern cosmology came in the 1930s, after observations led astronomers to realize that the Universe is expanding. Two explanations duelled for primacy: the ‘steady-state’ theory, which holds that the Universe is eternal, with new bits of it constantly being created to drive the expansion; and the ‘Big Bang’ theory, which says that the cosmos is stretching out from a starting point of infinitesimal size.

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Death threats, trolling and sexist abuse: climate scientists report online attacks

Nature | April 06, 2023

Roughly 40% of climate researchers have experienced online harassment or abuse related to their research, according to a survey by international non-governmental organization Global Witness. One-third of the female climate scientists who experienced abuse said they had received attacks specifically relating to their gender. Online attacks could discourage researchers from pursuing climate research or sharing their findings, says Henry Peck, who works for Global Witness. (Nature | 4 min read)



Conquering Alzheimer’s: a look at the therapies of the future

Researchers are looking to drug combinations, vaccines and gene therapy as they forge the next generation of treatments for the condition.

Alison Abbott

Nature | April 04, 2023

A brain scan reveals the extent of damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. Credit: Zephyr/Science Photo Library

When neurologist Reisa Sperling stepped up to receive her lifetime achievement award at an international Alzheimer’s conference last December, she was more excited about the future than about celebrating the past.

What thrilled Sperling, who won the award for her work on clinical trials of Alzheimer’s treatments, was a sense of hope, which has been conspicuously missing from research into the disease for many years. Most other attendees felt the same.

Just a few months before the meeting, researchers had announced that an antibody drug called lecanemab clearly lowered the amount of amyloid protein plaques — a tell-tale sign of the disease — in the brains of participants in a clinical trial, and slowed their cognitive decline.

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Habit-linked brain circuits light up in people with eating disorders

Parts of the brain associated with habit formation seem unusually active in people with eating disorders.

Bianca Nogrady

Nature | April 04, 2023

The putamen (highlighted green) has been associated with habit formation, following brain scans of women with binge-eating disorder or bulimia.Credit: Kateryna Kon/SPL

Brain scans of people with binge-eating disorder or bulimia show altered activity in areas linked to habit formation and hint at new possibilities for eating-disorder treatments1.

A habitual behaviour is automatically triggered by external cues — for example, reaching for the seat belt as soon as you get into the car. Scientists have identified two areas in a part of the brain called the striatum that are active in laboratory rats when they perform habitual behaviours. Although the human brain is somewhat similar to the rat brain, neuroscientists weren’t sure what the analogous structures in the human brain were — or whether such structures even existed.

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Mars rocks await a ride to Earth — can NASA deliver?

The stakes are high as the agency contemplates the technological and financial hurdles ahead for its sample-return mission.

Alexandra Witze

Nature | April 03, 2023

NASA’s Perseverance rover took a selfie on 22 January as it deposited one of a number of sample tubes (visible at the rover’s base) on a flat area of Jezero Crater.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

For decades, scientists who study Mars have watched in envy as spacecraft brought pieces of the Moon, chunks of asteroids and even samples of the solar wind to Earth to be studied. Now some of those researchers might finally be on track to receive rocks from the red planet — but only if NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) can pull off a complex and daring mission.

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What the Silicon Valley Bank collapse means for science start-ups

Bailouts mean customers’ deposits are safe, but the bank’s demise has sparked concern about future investment in small tech companies.

Katharine Sanderson

Nature | March 14, 2023

Customers queued to withdraw money from Silicon Valley Bank when the collapse was announced.Credit: Xinhua/Shutterstock

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) late on 10 March sent science and technology start-up companies into chaos, and has left many questioning where investment will come from in future.

Regulators closed the bank after several days of turmoil following an announcement that it needed to raise US$2 billion to cover debts due to rising interest rates. This led to a run on the bank as several large venture-capital firms advised their clients to withdraw funds.

SVB was known for funding technology start-ups. Its location in Silicon Valley, a region in the San Francisco Bay Area of northern California, meant that many of these were green-energy or biotech companies.

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Volcanoes on Venus? ‘Striking’ finding hints at modern-day activity

Discovery highlights need for future missions after NASA puts one on hold.

Myriam Vidal Valero

Nature | March 15, 2023

This computer-generated image, based on data from NASA’s Magellan spacecraft, shows Maat Mons, a large volcano (8 kilometres high) on Venus.Credit: NASA/JPL

Scientists have found some of the strongest evidence yet that there is volcanic activity on Venus. Because the planet is a close neighbour to Earth and originally had water on its surface, one big question has been why its landscape is now hellish while Earth’s is habitable. Learning more about its volcanic activity could help explain its evolution — and Earth’s.

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