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Motivated by pictures of how the Islamist terrorist group ISIS had damaged the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra with explosives and bulldozers, geomorphologist Lisa Mol launched an initiative to quantify and catalogue the impacts of bullets in rock at a heritage site in the Middle East. The eventual goal is to inform efforts to conserve or repair such sites.
Google’s DeepMind programme has shown success in tackling the fiendishly difficult problem of protein folding. The artificial-intelligence project came top of a competition to accurately predict the structures of proteins from the amino acids that make it up. “The ability to predict the shape that any protein will fold in to is a big deal,” says fellow competitor Liam McGuffin. “It has major implications for solving many 21st-century problems, impacting on health, ecology, the environment and basically fixing anything that involves living systems.”
Climate change is the definition of “a matter of life and death” — that’s the headline message from delegates to the UN climate summit that began yesterday in Poland. “If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon,” said naturalist David Attenborough at the opening ceremony. Dozens of world leaders have gathered to sort out how the Paris climate agreement, ratified in 2016, will be implemented in time for when it comes into force in 2020.
FEATURES & OPINION
Increasing the carbon content of the world’s soils by just a small amount would remove a huge amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and also boost soil health, say soil scientist Cornelia Rumpel and her colleagues. They describe eight steps to make soils more resilient to drought, produce more food and store emissions.
Science communication and public engagement are not enough any more, argue political scientists Shanto Iyengar and sociologist Douglas Massey. Scientists must also learn to fight the lies that are intentionally spread about their work.
Retired sawmill worker Alfred Larson has spent four decades as a volunteer naturalist, building hundreds of nest boxes for western and mountain bluebirds and gathering long-term data about their inhabitants. His work has helped the birds to bounce back from habitat loss and the pesticide DDT. Now 96, Larson is taking another challenge: helping his beloved birds to survive climate change.
Neurologist Daniel Colòn-Ramos fought against racism in the lab — but that doesn’t mean he’s immune to bias himself, he says. He shares two “embarrassing” instances that caused him to reflect on the importance of not getting complacent about your own unconscious bias. “In Spanish, the English verb ‘be’, like ‘being biased’ can be one of two different verbs,” he says. “‘Ser’ is a largely immutable state, is a defining property of the individual. ‘Estar’ is used for mutable, changeable states. I think we approach ‘to be biased’ in science with the Spanish verb ‘ser’, when we should approach it with the verb ‘estar’”.
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