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Daily briefing: The five unmissable science books of 2018

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The burial remains from the first plague pandemic

Credit: Karl-Göran Sjögren, University of Gothenburg

Were Europe’s first farmers wiped out by plague?

Researchers have identified genomes of a 4,900-year-old strain of the plague in a Neolithic burial site in Sweden. The scientists say their discovery suggests that the disease spread through Europe earlier than was previously thought — possibly triggering the mysterious disappearance of large farming settlements.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Cell paper

The hunt for a mysterious polio-like disease

Researchers hunting for the cause of a mysterious illness that is paralysing children are combining machine learning with a new gene-sequencing technique. More than 130 cases of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) have been confirmed in the United States so far this year. Scientists have been unable to determine the exact cause of AFM, so they’re looking for clues in how people’s immune systems respond to the pathogen.

Nature | 5 min read

EPA proposes looser reins on coal emissions

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans to weaken the greenhouse-gas-emissions standard for new, modified or reconstructed power plants. The proposed changes would replace regulations that effectively require new coal-fired power plants to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions. Supporters of the change say that carbon-capture technology is “wishful thinking”, whereas opponents argue that rolling back standards will not revive the coal industry.

Nature | 2 min read

How chemo drugs cloud the mind

Research in mice suggests that microglial cells, which provide immune protection to the nervous system, might have a role in the cognitive impairment known as ‘chemobrain’ that can occur with cancer treatment. These cells destroy pathogens in the brain and secrete compounds that stimulate an immune response, but they also seem to affect the crucial insulation around neurons. The good news — in mice, at least — was that the effect of one chemotherapy was reversible.

Nature Research Highlights | 1 min read

Reference: Cell paper

Get more of Nature’s Research Highlights: short picks from the latest papers.


Global warming will happen faster than we think

Three trends will combine to make global warming happen faster than projected in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report, argue three climate scientists. Greenhouse-gas emissions are still rising. Governments are cleaning up air pollution — which is bad for people’s health, but acts as sunscreen for the planet — faster than the IPCC assumed. And there are signs that the planet might be entering a natural warm phase that could last for a couple of decades. It’s time for an emergency response based on shorter time frames, rapid adaptation and possibly risky geoengineering.

Nature | 9 min read

Sources: Ref. 1/GISTEMP/IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (2014)

Species named for the highest bidder

Discover a new species, and you win the right to name it whatever you want — but should the opportunity to dub the next Spongiforma squarepantsii be for sale? Critics chafe at the idea of brand names being slapped on the natural world, particularly when it’s Westerners applying them to developing countries’ biodiversity. Others argue that the money is worth the sacrifice. “The name itself doesn’t really matter,” says Paul Salaman, chief executive of a charity that is auctioning off the rights to name 12 newly discovered plant and animal species from South America. “The key is the funding to save the species.”

The New York Times | 8 min read

A step forward in xenotransplantation

Researchers have refined the process of transplanting a heart from a pig to a baboon, raising hopes for a future in which pig hearts could do the job for human patients. Researchers genetically modified the pig donors, applied bespoke immunosuppression protocols to the baboons and bathed the donor pig hearts in an oxygenated solution while the organs were outside the body, among other things. The transplanted pig hearts kept the recipient baboons alive for more than three times longer than has been achieved before. Also in this week’s Nature podcast, a newly discovered weapon in bacteria’s battle with bacteriophages, and the discovery that prehistoric humans feasted on caviar.

Nature Podcast | 24 min listen

Reference: Nature paper

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on iTunes or Google Podcasts.


Five great science books this week

Nature’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes big oil in the dock, the influenza trail, and insects as icons.

Nature | 2 min read

The best science books of 2018

It’s been a very good year for science books, says Barbara Kiser, Nature’s Books and Arts editor. She tells Five Books her picks for the five unmissable science books of 2018.

Five Books | 15 min read


A postdoc might not advance your career

Postdocs “have all the academic science skills you don’t need, and none of the organizational skills that you do”, said one employer who was interviewed for a study that revealed how postdocs aren’t always prepared for future careers.

Nature | 4 min read

Four supervisors who are doing it right

Four researchers at different career levels share stories of good supervisor relationships they have experienced, and what made those relationships so effective.

Nature | 8 min read


Small parts 3D printed from simulated lunar rock

Credit: G.Porter-ESA

These 3D-printed ceramic parts are made out of simulated regolith, the dust found on the lunar surface. The European Space Agency is sponsoring research into this technique as a way of obtaining parts for building, or doing repairs on, a possible future Moon base without having to carry everything from Earth.

See more of our picture editors’ picks for best science photos of the month.


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