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Daily briefing: Deepest dive ever finds plastic bag at the bottom of the Mariana Trench

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Children play in a fountain in Battery Park, New York City

Children in New York City are exposed to a wide range of environmental pollutants.Credit: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

EPA cuts funding for kids’ health studies

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is cutting its funding for 13 children’s health research centres — leaving the fate of more than a dozen decades-long studies in doubt. Many environmental-health researchers see the move as part of a push by President Donald Trump’s administration to undermine science at the agency, which is responsible for the safety of US air and water. “It works out perfectly for industry,” says Tracey Woodruff, who runs a children’s centre at the University of California, San Francisco. When weighing the harms of a chemical against its benefits, she says, “if EPA doesn’t know, it counts for zero”.

Nature | 7 min read

Source: NIEHS

AI is selecting grant reviewers in China

An algorithm is being trialled by the National Natural Science Foundation in China to select researchers who can review project proposals. The tool is designed to make reviewer selection more efficient, faster and fairer. The system is still under development and will use semantic analysis to match grant applications with potential referees. But some researchers warn that such an AI system could replicate human biases, rather than avoid them.

Nature | 5 min read

Deepest-ever sub dive finds plastic bag

A record-breaking dive into the Mariana Trench found a plastic bag and food wrappers at the deepest spot in the ocean. Self-funded explorer Victor Vescovo reached a depth of 10,927 metres, besting the previous record of abyss-loving filmmaker James Cameron by 11 metres. Vescovo spent four hours solo exploring the bottom of the trench in his submarine, the DSV Limiting Factor.

BBC | 5 min read

FEATURES & OPINION

How to win at data sharing

Open science can lead to greater collaboration, increased confidence in findings and goodwill between researchers — but it also means entering a thicket of thorny issues, from privacy concerns to getting scooped. Nature explores the positives and pitfalls of data sharing, and recommends some online tools and training to get you started.

Nature | 12 min read

Rush to copy blockbuster biologics

The race is on to copy some of the world’s most complicated — and lucrative — drugs. The patents on blockbuster biologic treatments such as the anti-inflammatory Humira (adalimumab) and the breast-cancer medication Herceptin (trastuzumab) are about to run out, giving drug developers the opportunity to make generic versions. Making an exact copy of the large, complex biological molecules that make up these drugs is almost impossible — enter ‘biosimilars’: copycat versions that can mimic the behaviour of the original.

Nature | 3 min read (This article is editorially independent and produced with financial support from Henlius.)

In 8 and 24D, one solution packs every box

A dazzling mathematical proof that solved a centuries-old sphere-packing problem for two higher dimensions is causing “fireworks” by going universal. The issue will be familiar to anyone trying to ship a multi-dimensional box of tennis balls: which arrangement fits the spheres together in the densest possible way? Mathematician Maryna Viazovska and her colleagues have now shown that her answer to that question in 8 and 24 dimensions also solves an infinite number of other arrangement problems in those dimensions. For example, swap your spherical tennis balls, which lean only on their nearest neighbours, for a collection of electrons in which every particle is avoiding every other one, no matter how far away. “Eight and 24 now join dimension one as the only dimensions known to have universally optimal configurations,” reports Quanta.

Quanta | 9 min read

Reference: arXiv preprint

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"You’re not children any more. I didn’t mind explaining photosynthesis to you when you were 12. But you’re adults now, and this is an actual crisis, got it?"

Bow-tied science communicator Bill Nye, best known for his children’s programme ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’, lit a globe on fire and swore (a lot) to explain carbon taxes on late-night television. (Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on US-only YouTube and plenty of other places.)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-019-01546-3

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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