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Pacific ocean fog fills the coastal valleys on Big Sur, California

The cooling effects of cloud banks could evaporate under high levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.Credit: Mathew Lodge/Alamy

Cooling cloud banks could vanish in a warmer world

Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere could disperse some of the planet’s most effective cooling systems: cloud banks. New climate simulations reveal a previously unknown interaction between clouds and greenhouse gases. If we fail to cut emissions, the effect could occur in about a century and contribute to 8 ºC of warming on top of what’s already expected. “If we do not reduce emissions, very large and difficult-to-reverse climate changes are possible,” says climate dynamicist Tapio Schneider.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Nature Geoscience paper

Plan to test Alzheimer’s gene therapy

Researchers in the United States plan to launch a clinical trial to target a gene variant that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. The therapy will treat people who have two copies of the highest-risk version of the apolipoprotein E (ApoE) gene and who already show signs of the disease. Physicians will infuse patients’ spinal cords with billions of viruses carrying a less-risky variant of ApoE, in the hope that it will “bathe the brain” with healthier proteins. “It seems like a long shot to go into human clinical trials, but there’s a desperate need for any treatment,” says genomic-medicine researcher Kiran Musunuru.

MIT Technology Review | 7 min read

Read more: Alzheimer's disease: The forgetting gene (Nature, from 2014)


Why were scientists silent about gene-edited babies?

The claim of the births of the first gene-edited babies was a shock to many, but apparently several scientists were already in the know. Their silence is a symptom of a divide between the values ingrained in scientists and those they must embrace, argues molecular biologist and bioethicist Natalie Kofler. To achieve science’s mission to advance society, we need more than independence, ambition and objectivity, she says — we need compassion, humility and altruism.

Nature | 5 min read

Read more: The CRISPR-baby scandal: what’s next for human gene-editing (Nature)

Chernobyl: data wars and disaster politics

Nuclear researcher and historian Sonja Schmid extols two new books on the aftermath of the nuclear catastrophe, from medical impacts to radioactive blueberries. Both suggest that remembering the fears, doubts, errors — and improvised decisions, creative ideas and small successes — of the people involved in Chernobyl would serve us well in bracing for the next disaster.

Nature | 6 min read

Funder tells scientists to share their failures

A funder is taking the unusual step of spreading US$15 million across multiple teams, which must share their protocols, successes and failures. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation aims to generate tools for studying single-celled microorganisms called marine protists, which have a huge influence on ocean carbon cycles and offer a wildly varied genetic makeup. To vouchsafe this high-risk, high-reward research, grant recipients were exposed to “a model for free sharing and engagement that most of us have not experienced in our research careers”, says cell biologist Ross Waller.

Nature Index | 9 min read

“He spoke truth to power”

Epidemiologist Bill Jenkins, who tried to stop the Tuskegee syphilis study and fought for health care for its victims, has died at age 73. From 1932 to 1972, hundreds of African American men were enrolled in the government-run experiment without their informed consent, were not told that they had the disease and were left untreated, some of whom passed it on to their families. Jenkins spent a lifetime advocating for civil rights in the United States and fighting racism in health care, including overseeing a programme that gave free lifetime medical care to the men of the Tuskegee study and their families.

The New York Times | 6 min read


“If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world.”

Environmental journalist Jonathan Watts investigates concrete: the most widely used substance on the planet other than water, and the most destructive. (The Guardian)