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Daily briefing: Biggest-ever synthetic genome recodes E. coli without redundant bits

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Yutu-2, China's lunar rover, at preset location A on the surface of the far side of the moon.

China's lunar rover, Yutu-2, on the far side of the Moon.Credit: CNSA/Xinhua/ZUMA

Hello from the other side

China’s Chang’e-4 mission to the far side of the Moon has detected minerals thought to have been stirred up from deep beneath the lunar surface by an ancient asteroid. The first mission to land on the side of the Moon hidden from Earth has found samples unlike any returned by previous probes. The findings lend weight to the theory that the Moon’s surface was once molten and separated into layers as it solidified, leaving largely lighter minerals in the surface crust and burying denser ones in the mantle.

Nature | 2 min read

Shorter E. coli genome built from scratch

Researchers have completely rewritten the DNA of the bacterium Escherichia coli. The entirely synthetic genome is four million base pairs long, four times bigger than any previously created. Molecular biologist Jason Chin and his team cut the number of codons in E. coli’s genome to 61 — down from the 64 that appear in all natural genomes — to explore why life seems to contain so much genetic redundancy. “The bacteria grow more slowly than regular E. coli and develop longer, rod-shaped cells,” reports The New York Times. “But they are very much alive.”

The New York Times | 6 min read

Jason Chin tells the Nature Podcast about his research (23 min listen)

Reference: Nature paper

Australia’s climate-change election

Australia’s national election on Saturday will decide whether the country leads the world on global-warming action — or lags behind. The current Liberal–National Coalition government promises to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in line with the country’s commitment under the 2015 Paris agreement — but not enough to actually meet the Paris goal of limiting warming to 2 °C. The main opposition party, Labor, proposes much deeper cuts. Extreme weather, coral bleaching and an economy dependent on coal have fuelled voters’ climate-change worries and played a part in the downfall of the past five prime ministers.

Nature | 5 min read

Drone versus tornado

Atmospheric scientists are sending fleets of drones to probe the supercell thunderstorms that trigger some of the United States’ most devastating tornadoes. The project will send as many as four drones into the rotating storms that pummel the central United States with lightning, tennis ball-sized hail and damaging winds every spring and summer. Researchers hope to learn which storms will spawn tornadoes ― information that could save lives.

Nature | 4 min read


Increase access to vaccines for poor children in relatively rich countries

More and more of the world’s unvaccinated children are living in middle-income countries such as Indonesia, Iraq and South Africa. Income inequality, struggling health systems and an increasing number of displaced people are among the interlocking reasons why. All this demands a rethink of global health policy, argues Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Nature | 4 min read

A legacy of learning and memory

Nobel-prizewinning neurobiologist Paul Greengard worked tirelessly to understand the chemical signalling of the brain — important in diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia — right up to his death last month at the age of 93. He also left a legacy by using his share of his Nobel-prize money to found (with his wife, sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard) an annual prize for outstanding female biomedical scientists. The Pearl Meister Greengard Prize is named after Greengard’s mother, who died in childbirth and whose history was kept from him until he was an adult.

Nature | 5 min read


“In answer to the question of how they go on, the scientists all say the same thing: because of the students.”

Paralysed by climate despair, Australian National University science writer Tabitha Carvan asked scientists how they keep going in the face of existential dread. They said the global student climate strikes give them hope for change. (ANU News)


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