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Daily briefing: When you infect people on purpose

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Blastocyst embryo

A Chinese scientist claims that twin girls have been born whose genomes were edited at the embryo stage.Credit: Pascal Goetgheluck/Science Photo Library

Genome-edited baby claim provokes outcry

A researcher in China has claimed that he used CRISPR gene editing on an embryo that developed into healthy twin babies. If true, it is the first time that gene editing has been done on a embryo that was intended to progress through a successful pregnancy. In a series of online videos released to promote the work, genomics researcher He Jiankui says that he edited the children’s DNA “when they were just a single cell” to disable the genetic pathway that allows a cell to be infected with HIV.

The claim has prompted an outcry from scientists, who are concerned that He leap-frogged international discussions on the ethics of such interventions and has put the children at risk of unknown long-term health effects. “This experiment exposes healthy normal children to risks of gene editing for no real necessary benefit,” says bioethicist Julian Savulescu.

Nature | 5 min read

Warming is hurting the United States now

“The impacts of climate change are already being felt in communities across the country,” finds an assessment produced by 13 US federal agencies. Despite its chilling content, the report comes as a relief to some who feared that US President Donald Trump’s administration might censor or even block a document that contradicts its position on climate change. The worry now, is what happens next: efforts to slow or adapt to climate change do not "currently approach the scales needed to avoid substantial damages to the U.S. economy, environment, and human health”, warns the report.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: National Climate Assessment report

Life sentence lifted for British academic

A British PhD student who was given a life sentence for spying in the United Arab Emirates has been pardoned and freed. Matthew Hedges, who specializes in Middle Eastern affairs and security and defence policies, was arrested in May after a two-week research stint in the country. Several Western universities protested against Hedges’ conviction.

BBC | 6 min read

Physicists who travel have more impact

Researchers who move around the world gain up to 17% more citations compared with non-mobile scientists, according to an analysis of 26,170 physicists. Exposure to a diversity of places, people and ideas is “oxygen for the creative mind”, says complex-systems researcher Alexander Petersen. It even benefits those left behind, because scientists cut stagnant collaborations and circulate new perspectives.

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: Journal of the Royal Society Interface paper


Seven steps to a happy lab

“The key to running a healthy and productive lab can be summarized in a single word: happiness,” argues ecologist Fernando Maestre. He draws on 13 years as a principal investigator to devise seven key principles for a nurturing work environment, from appreciating everyone’s value to working moderate hours.

Nature | 4 min read

Theoretical physics has not gone to the dogs

When a non-scientist informed theoretical physicist Nicole Yunger Halpern that her field “has lost its way in symmetry and beauty and math”, it inspired her to write a rebuttal. While the rest of us are getting tied up in knots about string theory, theoretical physics is piling up successes, she argues, and reports of its death are greatly exaggerated.

Quantum Frontiers blog | 7 min read

When you infect people on purpose

Human infection studies — in which volunteers are intentionally exposed to a disease to test treatments and vaccines — are, unsurprisingly, an ethical minefield. When Western researchers do studies in low- and middle-income countries, the minefield expands into extra dimensions of inequality and colonialism. Ethicists and scientists are exploring how to ensure the thorny questions of consent and compensation don’t hinder medical advances in the developing world.

Undark | 9 min read


“Everybody's brain knows how to run a tail.”

In virtual reality, you can attach a tail to someone and they immediately know how to control it, says VR pioneer Jaron Lanier. (Logic)


Today we’re landing on Mars! Keep your fingers crossed for InSight — you can follow the nail-biting descent live starting at 19:00 UTC.

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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