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Daily briefing: San Francisco bans facial-recognition technology

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Child with Flu.

Credit: iStock/Getty

The lasting impact of baby’s first flu

The first large-scale, long-term studies of how babies’ first exposures to influenza shape their immune systems have won grants in the United States. Researchers will explore the effectiveness of the flu vaccine and whether a child is better protected if their first encounter is with a wild virus. The studies will also feed into efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine that could offer lifelong protection against most seasonal strains.

Nature | 5 min read

Russia embraces gene-edited crops

Russia has pledged to create ten new varieties of gene-edited crops and animals by 2020 — and another 20 by 2027. Barley, sugar beet, wheat and potatoes will be the top priorities of the 111-billion-rouble (US$1.7-billion) programme. Critics have expressed doubts that the goals can be met on time, and worry that the initiative does not address the other issues that scientists in Russia face, such as excessive bureaucracy.

Nature | 5 min read

Meet the ERC’s new president

Nanobiologist Mauro Ferrari will become president of the European Research Council (ERC), the European Union’s premier funder of basic research. Ferrari is an EU outsider: an Italian citizen who has spent his working life in the United States, most recently as president and chief executive of the Houston Methodist Research Institute in Texas. Ferrari’s appointment comes as the agency faces challenges to its budget, which cannot currently cover all of the grants that evaluators deem fundable.

Nature | 4 min read

Researchers lose out by ghostwriting reviews

Half of graduate students and postdocs who responded to a survey said that they had ghostwritten a peer review for a higher-up without receiving any professional credit. And they weren’t happy about it: 80% of those who had done it said that they felt the practice was unethical. The survey took pains to distinguish ghostwriting from co-reviewing, a well-established form of training in which an invited reviewer shares a manuscript — and the credit — with junior researchers to solicit their assessment of the paper’s quality. Journal editors and ethicists called ghostwriting “totally unethical” and even potentially “a form of plagiarism”.

Nature | 6 min read

San Francisco bans facial recognition tech

San Francisco, California, is the first major US city to ban the use of facial-recognition technology by its city police and other local agencies. Issues of crime, privacy and accuracy — especially for women and people with darker skin — have fuelled the debate in a city known for both anti-authoritarian counterculture and technological innovation. The new rules demonstrate a willingness to confront the companies that dominate the city’s landscape. “We have an outsize responsibility to regulate the excesses of technology precisely because they are headquartered here,” says Aaron Peskin, the city supervisor who sponsored the bill.

The New York Times | 8 min read


Illustration by Fabio Buonocore

Trickster microbes tweaking the tree of life

Mysterious microbes named after the trickster god Loki and other Norse myths are rewriting a fundamental story about life’s early roots. These unruly single-celled organisms belong to a category of life called archaea, which resemble bacteria under a microscope but are as distinct from them in some respects as humans are. Discovered by sequencing DNA from sea-floor muck collected near Greenland, the Lokiarchaeota and their kin are prodding biologists to reconsider one of the greatest events in the history of life on Earth — the appearance of eukaryotes, the group of organisms that includes all plants, animals, fungi and more.

Nature | 12 min read

Leave no one behind on climate-change goals

Poor people face a double burden of inequality — from uneven development and climate change. As nations draw up their climate-adaptation strategies through the framework of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, geographers Mark Pelling and Matthias Garschagen call on leaders to put the needs of the most vulnerable first.

Nature | 10 min read

Chinese investments fuels African science

Africa has emerged as a major partner in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and that is paying dividends for science. So far, 39 African countries and the African Union Commission have signed BRI cooperation agreements, with others expected to follow. In the final instalment of our five-part special on how the BRI is remaking the world, explore how China is fuelling science in Africa.

Nature | 8 min read


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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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