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Daily briefing: Deafness gene might be next target in CRISPR babies

Biologist says he will create CRISPR babies for five deaf couples who want children who can hear. Plus: Almost every solid might be topological and how to make a long-distance academic job move without going broke.

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Two overlapping sheets of graphene

Misaligned layers of graphene seem to exhibit a phenomenon known as fragile topology.Credit: Juliette Halsey for Nature

Almost every solid might be topological

‘Fragile topology’ is a newly discovered type of topological behaviour — a group of quantum phenomena that is rapidly becoming essential for understanding the properties of solid matter. In topological materials, some electrons share collective quantum states that contribute to exotic behaviour such as superconductivity. Fragile topology — only now being hinted at in real-world experiments — has exploded onto the scene because it seems to be everywhere: it might occur in almost all crystalline solids.

Nature | 6 min read

Double-blind review for space telescope time

NASA is switching to a double-blind system for evaluating who gets time on its space telescopes. In the new system, both applicants and decision-makers are kept anonymous. The change is designed to eliminate biases based on gender, ethnicity and prestige. The approach has already proven extremely effective in reducing gender bias against users of the Hubble Space Telescope. “It really steered us back to what a review is supposed to be — not a review of the PI, but a review of the science,” says astronomer Priyamvada Natarajan, who chaired the committee that allocated Hubble time last year.

Nature | 4 min read

Deafness gene might be next target in CRISPR babies

Five deaf couples are seeking to become the first to try the CRISPR gene-editing technique to produce babies who can hear. So says molecular biologist Denis Rebrikov, who made headlines last month when he announced his desire to follow in the controversial footsteps of He Jiankui by becoming the second scientist to make genome-edited babies. Some might consider Rebrikov’s proposal to be more ethically justifiable because it addresses existing mutations. (He Jiankui claims to have edited an unmutated gene to give babies protection against HIV infection.) “It is clear and understandable to ordinary people,” says Rebrikov. “Each new baby for this pair would be deaf without gene mutation editing.”

New Scientist | 4 min read

Read more: Russian biologist plans more CRISPR-edited babies (Nature, 7 min read)


The evo-devo opera diva

Cassandra Extavour upended the leading theory of how most animals generate the precursors of eggs and sperm, and in a Nature paper this week, she and her team have cracked a long-standing question about the astonishing diversity of insect eggs. All this while facing racism and prejudice as a gay black woman in science, championing diversity and nurturing a side career as a soprano.

Nature | 11 min read

Reference: Development paper & Nature paper

How to move for work without going broke

Without reimbursement for relocation costs, PhD students and postdocs are often forced to empty savings accounts, seek financial help and even rack up debt when they move for work. Get financial tips for making the move, hear how other researchers made it happen and learn how institutions and universities worldwide are helping with moving expenses.

Nature | 12 min read

Why we should rename breast-cancer syndrome

All sexes have the same rate of mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are typically associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome (HBOC). But the syndrome’s name belies that many of these mutations also cause prostate and pancreatic cancer, and all sexes are equally likely to pass them on to their children. This leads to confusion, argues physician Colin Pritchard — and means that not everyone who should be is getting tested. Part of the solution, says Pritchard, would be to rename HBOC to ‘King syndrome’, after cancer geneticist Mary-Claire King, who discovered BRCA1.

Nature | 7 min read


“[They] are asking us about their future because... they see their peers on the streets campaigning against this industry.”

Inspired by student climate strikers, the children of OPEC members are quizzing their parents about the oil industry’s role in climate change, says OPEC secretary-eneral Mohammed Barkindo. (AFP)

Hats off to applied health researcher Sarah Knowles for the most eye-catching (and funny) conference poster I’ve ever seen. Send me favourite technique for attention-grabbing slides and posters — plus any other feedback on this newsletter — to

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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