Daily briefing: The gene mutations that cause a woman to feel no pain or fear

She also heals quickly (and is forgetful). Plus: A rare collaboration for North Korean physicists and how cellular censuses can guide cancer care.

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Students walk across Kim Il-sung Square with Pyongyang city in the background.

Students from North Korea can’t be trained in “advanced physics” by foreign researchers.Credit: AYAKA/Gamma-Rapho via Getty

Italy to train North Korean neuroscientists

A rare collaboration will allow North Korean physicists to train in computational neuroscience at an Italian university. International sanctions ban other countries from teaching North Korean researchers in topics including the nebulous field of “advanced physics”. Under the new deal, two or three students each year are expected to travel from Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang to the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste.

Nature | 4 min read

Mutation leads to no pain and no fear

After she faced two painful surgeries with nothing more than a couple of paracetamol, doctors spotted that retired teacher Jo Cameron feels almost no pain. Now, researchers say the effect results from gene mutations that cause her body to be flooded with a natural cannabinoid. Cameron also heals quickly, feels less anxious and fearful than most and experiences forgetfulness. “I knew that I was happy-go-lucky, but it didn’t dawn on me that I was different,” she says. “I thought it was just me. I didn’t know anything strange was going on until I was 65.”

The Guardian | 9 min read

Reference: British Journal of Anaesthesia paper

Mini by name, mini by nature

Scientists have described three new species of frog from Madagascar that are small enough to share a seat on your thumbnail. Herpetologist Mark Scherz named the new genus Mini, and the three species Mini mum, Mini scule and Mini ature. “People who know me personally know that wordplay is about 70% of my personality,” says Scherz.

National Geographic | 9 min read

Reference: PLOS One paper


Cellular censuses to guide cancer care

In the age of immunotherapy, cancer biologists are relying on a new generation of tools to learn how the interplay between tumours and immune cells shapes the course of disease. They are building a ‘big picture’ view of cellular ecosystems using tumour-mapping technologies and techniques that can generate detailed censuses of vast numbers of individual cells on the basis of gene expression or protein content.

Nature | 12 min read

The bird that brought me here

A “spark bird” is what birders call the species that caused their interest to first take flight. Jason Ward, host of the YouTube show Birds of North America, describes how his spark bird — a peregrine falcon — came to him while he was living in a homeless shelter in New York City’s south Bronx, and led to his entry into “the best club on Earth”.

Audubon | 5 min read


Two Nature stories from 2018 have won top awards for excellence in health-care journalism.

• Amy Maxmen’s stunning infographic-packed featurelooks at how scientists are racing to stamp out drug-resistant strains of malaria in southeast Asia.

Nature | 16 min read

• Heidi Ledford explored how social media and patient-advisory groups have given clinical-trial participants unprecedented power in how experiments are run — sometimes threatening the integrity of the research.

Nature | 17 min read


“It’s a sign of strength to have got this far in academia while facing extra obstacles.”

Clinical neuroscientist Isobel Williams, who co-founded a support network for academics with long-term health conditions, says that she’d like people to feel comfortable with their disability. (Nature)

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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