Daily briefing: Huge study finds no evidence of a ‘depression gene’

“How on Earth could we have spent 20 years and hundreds of millions of dollars studying pure noise?” Plus: China set to regulate against another CRISPR baby and how to build your own lab equipment.

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Tweezers are used to squeeze the venom of a Jararacussu snake from its teeth

Snake venom is passed through large animals like horses to make antidotes.Credit: Werner Rudhart/VISUM/eyevine

Cash injection to salve snakebite crisis

The Wellcome Trust will front £80-million (US$103-million) to improve the treatment of snakebites in poor countries. Around 100,000 people die from snakebites each year, partly because they are treated with archaic antivenoms that often work only for one species. Wellcome — together with medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders) and local partners — plans to establish a pan-African network of clinical trials to test multi-snake antivenoms that are easier to store and distribute.

Nature | 3 min read

China to regulate against another CRISPR baby

China is poised to introduce new laws on gene editing in humans. A draft of the country’s revised civil code lists human genes and embryos in a section on personality rights to be protected. Lawyers say the regulation would mean that anyone who manipulates genes in humans is responsible for what happens to a person. The last-minute addition was prompted by uproar over the claim made by biophysicist He Jiankui that he had used CRISPR to edit the DNA of two embryos that developed into healthy baby girls. Although the scientific community condemned He’s experiments, and he was censured by Chinese authorities, it was not clear whether he broke any laws.

Nature | 3 min read

‘Depression gene’ research built on sand

A large study that found no evidence of a ‘depression gene’ is bolstering long-running doubts about the foundation of thousands of psychiatric-genetics papers. Using huge data sets, researchers analysed 18 candidate genes that have been most commonly linked to depression, and found no evidence that any of the genes influenced depression risk. “This should be a real cautionary tale,” says psychiatric geneticist Matthew Keller. “How on Earth could we have spent 20 years and hundreds of millions of dollars studying pure noise?”

The Atlantic | 8 min read

Reference: The American Journal of Psychiatry paper

Source: H. Piwowar, using Unpaywall, Crossref, Microsoft Academic Search and GRID.

A preliminary analysis of journal articles recorded in Crossref finds that countries in southeast Asia, Africa and South America are leading the way in open access. Indonesia might be the world’s open-access leader: the study found that 81% of around 20,000 journal articles published in 2017 with an Indonesia-affiliated author are available to read for free somewhere online. (Nature | 4 min read)


Mescaline: the first psychedelic

Mescaline has been a ritualistic mainstay of Indigenous Americans, an erstwhile hippie drug of choice and a ‘truth serum’ deployed by Nazi scientists and the CIA. Science writer Mike Jay’s new cultural and scientific history of the drugrevisits the realms of this powerful hallucinogen.

Nature | 5 min read

How to build your own lab equipment

Do-it-yourself projects give researchers the equipment they need at bargain prices. But making your own technology requires commitment and time, and it is rarely easy. Nature meets some lab hackers who have made it work.

Nature | 6 min read

Nuclear is not our climate saviour

Nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive to do the necessary work of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, argues physicist Gregory Jaczko, a former chair of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster in Japan offers evidence that we shouldn’t make a deal with the nuclear devil to save ourselves from the climate crisis. “It turns out that relying on nuclear energy is actually a bad strategy for combating climate change: One accident wiped out Japan’s carbon gains,” says Jaczko. “Only a turn to renewables and conservation brought the country back on target.”

The Washington Post | 8 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)

Happy World Metrology Day! As of today, four basic units of measurement — the ampere, the kilogram, the kelvin and the mole — will be defined on the basis of fundamental constants of nature, rather than physical objects or arbitrary references. One thing that won’t change: my unwavering enthusiasm for your feedback about this newsletter at

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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