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Daily briefing: The big questions about genetically modified babies

Go deep into human germline modification, discover a near-room-temperature superconductor and visit the farthest world ever explored

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Lanthanum sample in glass vial

A lanthanum-based compound seems to act as a superconductor at near-room temperature.Credit: SPL

First hint of near-room-temperature superconductor

Physicists think they have achieved one of the most coveted goals of their discipline: creating a superconducting material that works at near-room temperature. If confirmed, the feat would be the first example of superconductivity above 0˚C. So far, the synthesized lanthanum material, LaH10, has been made only under enormous pressures of about 2 million atmospheres.

Nature | 4 min read

Ancient DNA points to home for Aboriginal remains

Ancient-DNA sequencing tools can match the genomes of ancient Aboriginal Australian remains with those of contemporary people. The research could enable the repatriation of thousands of poorly documented remains to their communities of origin — a homecoming that is vital to many Aboriginal groups and part of Australian government policy.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Science Advances paper

Big blow for next major particle collider

An influential report by scientists in Japan has recommended against building the next big particle accelerator in the country. The report says that the discoveries predicted to come out of the International Linear Collider (ILC) would not fully warrant its nearly US$7-billion cost, especially because as much of half of that would be borne by its host country. “This is very bad news, as this makes it very unlikely that the #ILC will be build in Japan — and probably at all,” said theoretical physicist Axel Maas on Twitter.

Nature | 4 min read

Happy new year at the most distant world ever

On 1 January, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will zip past the farthest, and oldest, object ever explored: a small, dark, icy space rock 6.5 billion kilometres from Earth named 2014 MU69. Nicknamed Ultima Thule, its appearance could tell scientists more about the disk of gas and dust from which the Solar System coalesced more than 4.5 billion years ago. Like Pluto, which New Horizons imaged in spectacular detail in 2015, Ultima Thule is in the Kuiper belt, but it is so faint and distant that ground-based telescopes see it as only a pixel or two.

Nature | 5 min read

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

FEATURES & OPINION

Good vaccines might go to waste

Billions of dollars have been ploughed into developing potential vaccines for diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and pneumonia, which predominantly affect people in low- and middle-income countries. But much of this promising pipeline could go to waste, argue six researchers, because the cost of rolling them out is too high for the private sector. Funders, governments and drug companies must come together to get the most promising treatments to the people who need them.

Nature | 10 min read

Genetically modified babies: the big questions

The Hastings Center bioethics research institute has awarded a journalism prize to Amber Dance for a 2017 Nature Biotechnology feature that has only become more timely, with the recent claim of the first gene-edited babies in China. Go deep into the outstanding questions swirling around human germline modification: the long-term psychological and physiological impacts for offspring and their families, the outstanding technical challenges and the wider ethical and philosophical implications.

Nature Biotechnology | 24 min read

The most fascinating neuroscience of 2018

Neuroscience blog The Spike takes us on a jaunty tour of the year’s biggest brain science breakthroughs, including evidence of chimps’ surprising mastery of mind, a shake-up of our understanding of how neurons communicate and the “slightly worrying idea that infant amnesia is not the erasure of memory, but the hiding of memory”.

The Spike | 13 min read

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“Pleasure has probably been the main goal all along.”

Legendary computer scientist Donald Knuth discusses work, enjoyment and his multi-volume opus-in-progress, The Art of Computer Programming. (The New York Times)

Share the work that’s bringing you joy this holiday season — and any other feedback — with briefing@nature.com

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

Nature Briefing

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