Daily briefing: “Suspicion, anxiety and paranoia” in the world of ancient DNA

Grab the popcorn. Plus: signs of why humans and primates think differently and a call for robots to move and gesture more like us.

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Epilepsy diagnosis

People with epilepsy undergoing certain treatments often also participate in neuroscience studies.Credit: BSIP/UIG via Getty

‘Software’ differences between humans and monkeys

Researchers have tracked the activity of single neurons to discover differences in the brain signals of humans and monkeys. They found that the signals in primate brains are more synchronized, making them less ambiguous and error-prone. Human brain signals are more efficient, which makes us smarter — but could lead to the cognitive errors that make us vulnerable to psychiatric disorders.

Nature | 6 min read

US astronomers’ wish list for the next decade

The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has just launched astronomy’s ‘decadal survey’, the highly influential process of prioritizing which telescopes and space missions Congress and government science agencies should support. The list aims to avoid mistakes of the past by offering detailed cost estimates for each project, as well as guidance for what managers can do if money gets tight. Neither of the large space missions recommended in the 2001 and 2010 decadal surveys — the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), respectively — has yet launched.

Nature | 5 min read

Hundreds of trees moved to help save butterflies

To save dwindling populations of Eastern monarch butterflies, researchers in Mexico are trying something controversial: moving hundreds of oyamel fir trees 400 metres up a mountain. Their goal is to help the trees, which are the winter habitat for the migratory butterflies, to escape the hotter temperatures brought on by climate change. Critics worry that such ‘assisted migration’ could disrupt the habitats of other organisms.

Nature | 4 min read

Lifeline for NASA postdocs hit by shutdown

The contractor that operates NASA’s postdoctoral programme will loan researchers roughly US$500,000 to cover their pay cheques for January. The programme ran out of money to pay people on 17 January owing to the ongoing US government shutdown. For the many NASA fellows who are foreign citizens on J-1 visas, the problem goes beyond paying their bills: they would have to leave the United States within 30 days if they are deemed to have lost their jobs.

Nature | 4 min read


Why we should teach robots to dance

The robots, prosthetics and other devices that increasingly populate our world must do more than move efficiently, argues dancer and roboticist Amy LaViers. Depending on their purpose, they might also need to be pleasant, comforting or delightful. To achieve that, roboticists should look to the marvelous messiness of human movement.

Nature | 10 min read

“Suspicion, anxiety and paranoia” in the world of ancient DNA

A New York Times Magazine exploration of the uneasy relationship between archaeology and ancient genomics (put aside an hour to read it, or catch the highlights in this 6-minute round-up) digs into how two fields in the middle of a technological revolution are struggling to reconcile their views of the past. The piece calls the work of geneticist David Reich “essentially indistinguishable from the racialized notions of the swashbuckling imperial era”, prompting Reich to respond that the “critiques are based on incomplete facts and largely anonymous sources whose motivations are impossible to assess”.

The New York Times Magazine | 53 min read

Read Nature’s deep dive into the subject from 2018 (a mere 15 min read)


“There’s a saying here in Madagascar: better to know the judge than the law, because the judge can be bribed.”

Biogeographer Lucienne Wilmé expresses anxiety over how newly elected President Andry Rajoelina will tackle corruption and environmental degradation in the country. (Nature)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-00239-1

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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