Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here.

Workers on the Borexino experiment at Gran Sasso National Laboratories

Workers inside Borexino, a detector in Italy that detects neutrinos as they interact with a hydrocarbon liquid. Credit: Roberto Caccuri/Contrasto/eyevine

Gran Sasso physicists face trial over safety

Three officials from Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) will face trial for allegedly overlooking environmental-safety regulations at the institute’s Gran Sasso National Laboratories, the world’s largest underground physics facility. The indictments are the culmination of a long history of cocerns from local communities and authorities about the labs' safety, kicked off by a toxic spill in 2002. Antonio Zoccoli, INFN’s vice-president, responded on behalf of the institute, saying that if any risk at the facility exists, it is not the current management’s fault.

Nature | 6 min read

Deadly tsunami cracked using social media

A super-fast tsunami that ravaged an Indonesian island last year, killing thousands, was almost certainly triggered by underwater landslides. That’s the conclusion of a detailed reconstruction of the disaster that scientists have made using surveillance-camera and video footage harvested from posts on YouTube and other social networks. The findings suggest that tsunami warning systems should be upgraded in coastal regions where there is a risk of landslide-triggered events, which can arrive much more quickly than other tsunamis.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Geophysical Research Letters paper

Singapore passes controversial ‘fake news’ law

Singapore has introduced a controversial law that prohibits the spreading online of statements deemed false by authorities. Individuals who break the law face 10 years in jail, and companies can be fined up to 1 million Singapore dollars (US$730,000). Human-rights groups and researchers oppose the regulation, saying it will stifle academic debate. “Interpretations of even generally agreed upon ‘facts’ may vary greatly, a contention that is the lifeblood of scholarly pursuit,” according to an open letter signed by 125 academics who oppose the law.

Nature | 2 min read

Why eating junk food packs on weight

The first randomized controlled trial on the health effects of processed foods shows that people offered such a diet eat more quickly, ingest more calories and gain more weight than they do when presented with more-wholesome meals. Participants were offered ultra-processed foods, such as white bread, bacon and hash browns, for two weeks. Then, the same people spent two weeks eatingbeing served meals with the same number of calories, fibre, macronutrients, fat and sugar but made up of unprocessed foods, such as fish and fresh vegetables. People ate more quickly, took in an average of 500 more calories per day and gained roughly 1 kilogram during the trial’s junk-food phase.

Nature Research Highlights | 2 min read

Reference: Cell Metabolism paper

Get more of Nature’s Research Highlights: short picks from the latest papers.


Caster Semenya ruling flouts ethics rules

If the latest outcome of legal tussles stands, South African Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya will not be allowed to compete in the races in which she excels unless she undergoes medical interventions — pills, injections or surgery — to lower her natural levels of testosterone, notes Roger Pielke, Jr, an expert witness in the athlete’s case. “The Helsinki declaration states that unproven interventions are acceptable only to save life, re-establish health or alleviate suffering,” argues Pielke. “The interventions required by the IAAF fall under none of these categories, and turn otherwise healthy individuals into patients.”

Nature | 6 min read

How to build a shorter genome from scratch

Molecular biologist Jason Chin tells the Nature Podcast how he created an entirely synthetic E. coli genome that cuts the number of codons to 61, down from the 64 that appear in all natural genomes. His goal? To explore why life seems to contain so much genetic redundancy. “Instead of having a cell that uses all 64 codons to encode protein synthesis, if some of those codons were removed from the genome … could you then actually re-use some of those codons for encoding new man-made building blocks?” asks Chin.

Nature Podcast | 24 min listen

Reference: Nature paper

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on iTunes or Google Podcasts.


Neurons in culture, with the nuclei stained blue and the proteins stained green.

Neurons grown from the reprogrammed skin cells of science writer Philip Ball.Credit: Christopher Lovejoy/Charlie Arber/Selina Wray, University College London

What it means to be human

The latest book from prolific science writer (and former Nature editor) Philip Ball should probably come with a warning, says reviewer Natalie Kofler: you might never look at the life sciences in quite the same way again. Faced with technologies that cheat death and circumvent reproduction, Ball forces us to reassess what being human actually means.

Nature | 6 min read

Wingspan is wonderful

In March, I told you about Wingspan, a sold-out board game in which you battle to attract birds (and their powers) to your network of wildlife preserves. Our reviewer, evolutionary biologist Stuart West, tested the game with a team of academics, graduate students, a biodiversity analyst and older children. He says that the game is beautiful, packed with science and lots of fun — even for the players who lose.

Nature | 4 min read


Sources: Irradiation map: Solargis (2016); Dam data: Mekong River Commission (2014); River network: R.J.P.S. et al.; Country borders: Natural Earth

A surge of dam development across the tropics threatens to interrupt the planet’s last free-flowing rivers — including the Mekong, Congo, Amazon and Irrawaddy. Spreading a variety of renewable-energy sources strategically across river basins could produce power reliably and cheaply while protecting these crucial rivers and their local communities, argue four energy and environmental researchers. (Nature | 10 min read)


Collaborate with industry to boost your career

Neuroscientist Blaine Roberts explains how partnering with companies, or a consortium of companies, can bring significant benefits to researchers — from funding and training to expanding professional networks.

Nature | 7 min read

How to give an effective seminar

To give a great presentation, grab your audience’s attention by using slides as a roadmap and focusing on your role as a presenter, recommends microbiologist Ananya Sen.

Nature | 6 min read


Satellite image of the Red Sea showing grazing halos around coral reef

Credit: CNES/Airbus; DigitalGlobe

Seen from space, these ‘haloes’ of bare sand surrounding coral reefs in the Red Sea are a result of coral-dwelling fishes eating plants and invertebrates from the sea floor. They are more numerous in marine reserves, which ban fishing, than elsewhere — and could be a useful indicator of the health of the reef ecosystem.

See more of the most spectacular images of the month, as selected by Nature’s photo team.