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Composite image of David walking with a trolley

David (shown in a composite image) is one of the three study participants who benefited from the treatment.Credit: EPFL Jamani Caillet

Breakthrough for some spinal injuries

Electrical stimulation has helped three people with spinal-cord injuries to regain control over their leg muscles, and has enabled one of them to go from using a wheelchair to walking with an assistive device. All three people had retained some residual motor function after their injury, and the technique used brain implants to boost the signals received from the remaining spinal-cord connections below the injury. Researchers caution that the technique is in its early stages and also involves many hours of physical therapy.

Nature | 6 min read

Reference: Nature paper

Read the accompanying Nature editorial: Paralysed people walk again after spinal-cord stimulation

Research often unpaid in sub-Saharan Africa

Eight-five per cent of scientists in sub-Saharan Africa have done stints of unpaid research, with one-third doing unpaid work lasting longer than a year. A survey of 412 academics from Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa revealed that a lack of funding and paid training opportunities were among the causes. Setting up national research-funding agencies could help scientists to get paid for their contributions, say experts. “In many cases, there is no payment for such work, because the organization itself has no funding for the work it does,” says public-health researcher Lem Ngongalah.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: bioRxiv preprint

Australia plans ‘national-interest’ test

Australia’s government is set to require researchers seeking money from the Australian Research Council to outline how their project will advance the country’s interests. The policy was announced just days after news emerged that a former education minister, Simon Birmingham, had quietly vetoed 11 humanities projects that had been selected by independent peer-review panels. Critics say that the new test will be a waste of time because grant assessments already demand a description of a project’s potential benefits.

Nature | 2 min read

“Whole-ocean thermometer” gives bad news

A new method of taking the temperature of the ocean reveals that it is warming at a rate consistent with worst-case estimates. Researchers used measurements of the oxygen and carbon dioxide released by the ocean to calculate its temperatures since 1991. The result implies we have a smaller carbon budget than we thought to avoid dangerous levels of global warming. “We thought that we got away with not a lot of warming in both the ocean and the atmosphere for the amount of CO2 that we emitted,” says geoscientist Laure Resplandy. “But we were wrong. The planet warmed more than we thought. It was hidden from us just because we didn’t sample it right. But it was there. It was in the ocean already.”

The Washington Post | 8 min read

Reference: Nature paper


Why we need wilderness

More than 77% of land (excluding Antarctica) and 87% of the ocean bear the fingerprints of human activity. The remaining wilderness areas are becoming increasingly important buffers against changing conditions in the Anthropocene. Yet they aren’t an explicit target in international-policy frameworks, note seven researchers who led an international team of scientists to map the world’s remaining wild places. They call for global policies that formally recognize the value of wilderness as carbon stores, cradles of biodiversity and homes to some of the most politically and economically marginalized Indigenous communities on Earth.

Nature | 11 min read

The top 5 countries alone contain more than 70% of the world’s wilderness.

The world’s strongest MRI machines

MRI scanners with 10.5-tesla magnets and beyond are pushing human imaging to new limits, revealing unprecedented detail about the brain. Researchers developing the machines are tackling big challenges, such as preventing tissue from overheating and compensating for the tiny involuntary movements of the brain inside the skull.

Nature | 13 min read

“A gifted and intensely curious outsider”

Christof Koch, president and chief scientist of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, pays tribute to Paul Allen, who died last month aged 65. Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, football-team owner, and philanthropist, was also drawn to the complex questions of biology. Koch explores how Allen’s “unique brand of mission-oriented, team-based science” was brought to bear on brains, cells and beyond.

Nature | 5 min read


“For my part, I have decided to donate $1 billion.”

Medical-device billionaire and public-park fan Hansjörg Wyss pledges US$1 billion over the next decade to conservation efforts, aiming to protect 30% of the planet’s surface by 2030. (The New York Times)