Daily briefing: Meet the neurologist who became “Dr Rapp”

A stroke that gave a doctor flow, mysterious stretches of non-coding DNA could help cells survive starvation and women who win prizes get less money and prestige.

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A farmer shows an example of forest coffee production in coffee nursery in Ethiopia.

A forest nursery for coffee plants in Ethiopia.Credit: Emily Garthwaite

Most types of coffee are at risk of extinction

Sixty per cent of all wild coffee species are at high risk of extinction. A 20-year study of the world’s wild coffee plants reveals they are vulnerable to increasing droughts, shrinking forests and the spread of deadly pests. To make matters worse, losing these wild species is a potential threat to the multibillion-dollar coffee industry that’s dominated by just two varieties — arabica (Coffea arabica) and robusta (Coffea canephora).

Nature | 4 min read

Cryptic DNA might help cells survive

Stretches of non-coding DNA in genes called ‘introns’ could have an important function: helping cells to survive starvation. Two studies — both using yeast — suggest that introns help to control the rate at which cells grow, conserving energy when food becomes scarce.

Nature | 4 min read

Severe wildfires spark microbe boom

Bigger, hotter wildfires are influencing which bacteria and fungi survive and thrive. Evidence from Canada indicates that some microbes are more abundant after a fire — but that’s not necessarily a good thing. A study in Florida showed that microbes get caught up and transported in wildfire smoke, which means that plant pathogens — like the one responsible for sudden oak death — could spread to healthy trees.

Nature | 4 min read

Protests bring down Albania’s science minister

Albania’s education and science minister, mathematician Lindita Nikolla, has resigned amid nationwide protests by thousands of students. The government says that it would meet many of the students’ requests for cheaper and better-quality higher education, but it has stopped short of repealing a controversial 2015 law that protesters say is the source of many of the problems plaguing Albanian academia. The law aimed to improve education by allowing more private money and spreading funding around, but critics say that it has ultimately undermined quality by treating universities as businesses.

Nature | 5 min read

A diet to save the planet

Most people in rich countries should eat way less red meat — and people with very low incomes would be better off eating a little more. That’s one recommendations in a report from more than 30 leading scientists examining food’s impact on health and the environment. The report suggests a healthy diet might include a tiny portion of red meat — say a steak as a once-a-week treat — with the majority of your plate dedicated to whole grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts. The report also emphasized the need to reduce food waste and overhaul agriculture to focus on producing nutritious food in a sustainable way.

The New York Times | 5 min read

Watch a 280-million-year-old fossil take a stroll

Scientists have created a robot that mimics an ancient crocodile-like creature called Orobates pabsti. Orobates lived before the dinosaurs and is an early offshoot of the lineage that led to birds, reptiles and mammals.

Nature | 4 min video


Female prizewinners get less money and prestige

Female scientists are winning more of the top biomedical awards, but they get less prize money and win fewer of the most prestigious prizes, such as a Nobel. A study of 628 awards from from 1968 to 2017 found that female winners received an average of 64.4 cents of the prize money for every dollar a man received. Women were highly represented among non-research prizes — such as those given for public service and teaching — and that trend is increasing, say four researchers who studied the phenomenon.

Nature | 7 min read Reference: PNAS paper

Sources: Wikipedia/Wikidata; Am. Assoc. Cancer Res.; Am. Soc. Clin. Oncol.; Soc. for Neurosci.; Am. Heart Assoc.; Endocrine Society. Data analysis: Y. Ma, D. F. M. Oliveira, T. K. Woodruff & B. Uzzi.

The neurologist who became “Dr Rapp”

Neurologist Sherman Hershfield had a stroke that awoke in him a love of poetry, an urge to speak in rhyme — and a late-in-life blossoming as a rapper. The Atlantic profiles the physician, his experience of brain injury and his time at “the Harvard of rap” on the streets of Los Angeles.

The Atlantic | 21 min read


"For most of us, it's a great time to be a physicist."

Physicist Chad Orzel says there’s no crisis in the field (unless you’re a particle theorist) and shares the areas he’s most excited about for 2019. (Forbes)

Here’s a treat for those of us looking to go for a spin outside the lab — biologist Aaron Pomerantz and colleagues share plans for the thrifty 3D-printed hand-powered centrifuge they used to do DNA sequencing in the Amazon rainforest.

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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