Daily briefing: Are carbon offsets failing us?

A guilt-free pass for polluters is not enough, billion-year-old fossil rewrites history of fungi and ozone-destroying emissions traced to China.

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Cup fungus growing on decaying wood in the Costa Rican rainforest

This fungus in Costa Rica may ultimately have evolved from a species that emerged one billion years ago.Credit: Alex Hyde/Nature Picture Library/Science Photo Library

Billion-year-old fossils set back evolution of earliest fungi

Microscopic fungi pulled from a billion-year-old rock could push back the first known appearance of fungi by more than 500 million years. The intricate, filament-like fossils were discovered in an area in the Canadian Arctic where the rock formed without exposure to high temperatures and pressures, leaving the fossils within them remarkably preserved. However, not everyone is yet convinced that the finding is truly a fungus.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Nature paper

Rogue ozone killer comes from China

A year after scientists detected a mysterious rise in the ozone-destroying chemical CFC-11, one source has been traced to the Shandong and Hebei provinces of northeast China. Researchers suspect that rogue factories might be producing foam insulation, which is bad news because the foam will continue to leak CFC-11 over time. China says that it has already cracked down on some illegal CFC-11 production, which was nearly eliminated following the 1987 Montreal Protocol introduced to save the ozone layer.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Nature paper

Hong Kong prize rewards three pioneers

A private Hong Kong foundation has announced the three winners of this year’s Shaw prizes, which recognize scientists working in the mathematical sciences, astronomy and the life sciences. A French mathematician working on mysterious spin glasses and two US scientists — a steward of NASA’s Voyager missions and a molecular biologist whose work enabled gene-editing tools — will each receive US$1.2 million.

Nature | 2 min read


How to get conference ready

It’s tempting to try to attend sessions morning, noon and night, network like crazy and drink vats of coffee to stay alert. Lab manager Paris Grey has some more-realistic suggestions for getting the maximum value from any conference.

Part of your preparation might be considering a conference’s code of conduct. A Twitter thread about terrible conference behaviour prompted an outpouring of examples of harassment and sexual assault of female academics.

Nature | 6 min read & Times Higher Education | 3 min read

Are carbon offsets are failing us?

Carbon offsets are not doing their job of cancelling out greenhouse-gas emissions, reports ProPublica. “Ultimately, the polluters got a guilt-free pass to keep emitting CO2, but the forest preservation that was supposed to balance the ledger either never came or didn’t last,” writes environmental reporter Lisa Song. Her investigation points to a lack of evidence and joined-up thinking on the ground — and scientists say that current efforts are simply much too small to succeed.

ProPublica | 22 min read

Enter Nature’s essay competition

Are you aged 18–25? Lucky you. You’re invited to tell Nature, in an essay of no more than 1,000 words, which scientific advance, big or small, you would most like to see in your lifetime. The winner will have their essay published in our 150th anniversary issue on 7 November, and receive a cash prize (£500 or equivalent) as well as a year’s personal subscription to the journal. Click on through to find out more, submit your entry or sign up for an email of essay tips and inspiration.

Nature | 2 min read


“There is a fear of not flying: plane travel is perceived as a key driver for career progression.”

Universities should support academics in cutting carbon by setting up alternatives to flying that do not compromise careers and research, say Melissa Nursey-Bray and her colleagues. (Sustainability)

Do you have time for a trip into the uncanny valley? Have a look at this mind-boggling clip of the Mona Lisa having a chat, thanks to research that can animate a human face from a single image. Connect with a real human (at least, I think I am) by sending me your feedback at

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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