Tuesday briefing: Hope and scepticism greets giant ocean cleaner

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Hello Nature readers,

Today we hear that the Broad Institute has won a pivotal CRISPR patent battle, explore the promise of a giant ocean trash collector and discover how to handle a fieldwork failure.

Aerial view of a snow covered Saunders Island and Wolstenholme Fjord with Kap Atholl in the background

NASA's latest satellite will monitor ice in areas such as Saunders Island off the coast of Greenland.Credit: Michael Studinger/NASA

Most advanced global ice-monitoring satellite ever

This weekend, NASA is set to launch a satellite that can measure changes in the thickness of polar ice to within half a centimetre. The instrument on the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) measures elevation by bouncing rapid-fire laser pulses off of Earth’s surface from space. At a resolution of less than 1 metre, the resulting ice map will help to reveal exactly how Earth is changing.

Nature | 4 min read

Broad Institute wins CRISPR patent battle

A US appeals court has awarded the intellectual property rights to CRISPR–Cas9 gene editing to the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The decision spells defeat for a team of inventors at the University of California, led by molecular biologist Jennifer Doudna. The dispute centred on the rights to commercialize products developed by using the CRISPR–Cas9 system to make targeted changes to the genomes of eukaryotes — a group of organisms that includes plant and animals.

Nature | 3 min read

Hope and scepticism greets giant ocean cleaner

A multi-million-dollar project is making its first foray into collecting a pile of accumulated plastic trash known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Launched last weekend from the California coast, the initial system consists of a 600-metre-long curved boom that floats on the surface of the water, gathering debris in its arms. The plan is for a ship to remove the collected plastic every few months — up to 68,000 kilograms in the first year. Critics say that the device itself could end up endangering marine wildlife — or that it could be destroyed by storms, becoming itself another piece of ocean pollution.

National Geographic | 9 min read


Helmholtz, the last polymath

Hermann von Helmholtz, the nineteenth century physician, inventor, experimentalist, physicist and philosopher, also happened to be a skilled networker and salesperson of all things scientific. A monumental new biography successfully grapples with “a legacy so rich it is difficult to grasp,” writes reviewer Henning Schmidgen.

Nature | 5 min read

Post-crash economics: have we learnt nothing?

Undergraduate economics teaching trundles on as if the 2008 crash never happened, argues Maeve Cohen, director of a student-led campaign to improve economics education. For a decade experts have been calling for mainstream economic theory to be supplemented with feminist and ecological schools of thought, among others — and for students to be taught to practice humility, scepticism and caution from the start.

Nature | 5 min read

Science’s struggle to stop sexual harassment

In the wake of a US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report in June that spotlighted the high prevalence of harassment of women in science, institutions in the United States are making halting progress to deal with the issue. Science writer Laurel Oldach examines how the academy is responding, from the protections offered by Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, to updated policies at the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. In an accompanying Twitter thread, Oldach also highlights actions that grad students or postdocs can take to help change the system.

American Society For Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Today | 28 min read

Reference: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report

How to recover from a fieldwork flop

Bad weather, political unrest and vandalism are just a few of the things that can disrupt data collection out in the real world. Researchers who have faced failure offer advice about how to survive an unplugged freezer or a careless customs agent. They recommend keeping communications open with locals, being frank with funders and always having a plan B.

Nature | 11 min read


“A good science fiction movie could be worth not one, but a hundred articles in Science or Nature, or even a hundred articles in the New York Times.”

Yuval Noah Harari, author of the non-fiction books Sapiens and Homo Deus, says science fiction is the most important artistic genre today because it shapes the understanding of the public on issues such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology. (Wired)

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Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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