Daily briefing: Cryptographers fight a future without secrets

Preparing for the day quantum computers bring down public-key encryption, huge US study will offer genetic counselling and how consciousness arose from 3.8 billion years of trying to survive.

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A crowd on a street

Researchers running a genetic-sequencing project are recruiting participants from ethnic and socio-economic groups that are typically under-represented in biomedical studies.Credit: Hydromet/Getty

Genetic counselling for All of Us

A huge US study that aims to sequence the genomes of one million people will also offer genetic counselling to its participants. The project, called All of Us, will partner with a private company to counsel every study volunteer who has a genetic variant that could have serious health implications. Project leaders hope that the service will help them to build the lifelong relationships with participants necessary to furnish scientifically valuable long-term data.

Nature | 4 min read

Amazon in flames like never before

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has seen a record number of fires this year. The country’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) said its satellites detected more than 74,000 fires between January and August, the highest number since records began in 2013. The INPE has been locked in conflict with President Jair Bolsonaro over its efforts to track destruction of the rainforest, and Bolsonaro sacked the INPE’s director earlier this month.

BBC | 6 min read

Read more: ‘Tropical Trump’ sparks unprecedented crisis for Brazilian science (Nature)

Fighting a future without secrets

Cryptographers are gathering to find a quantum-computer-proof method for encrypting data. They are prompted by the worrying possibility that an as-yet-uninvented quantum computer will be able to break the ‘public key’ method that obscures much of today’s Internet communications. At that moment, pretty much every encrypted message ever recorded, from state secrets to dodgy WhatsApp messages, would be an open book. “If you wait until we have a quantum computer it’s too late,” says cryptographer Tanja Lange. “Every day that we don’t have postquantum cryptography is a day the data is leaked.”

Science | 8 min read

Two quit MIT Media Lab over Epstein links

Prominent media researchers Ethan Zuckerman and J. Nathan Matias have cut ties with the influential MIT Media Lab because of the lab’s links with sex offender and alleged sex trafficker, the late Jeffrey Epstein. Media Lab director Joichi Ito has apologised for taking Epstein’s money for the lab and for Ito’s own venture capital funds. And a Media Lab co-founder, the late cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky, has been accused of involvement in related sexual offences.Both Zuckerman and Matias’s work focuses on issues related to social justice and inclusion. “It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship,” wrote Zuckerman on his blog.

The New York Times | 7 min read


An MRI-based illustration of the human brain and limbic system

An illustration of the brain’s amygdalae (the pinkish purple structures at far left and far right), which have a role in non-conscious detection of threats and defensive behaviour.Credit: K H Fung/Science Photo Library

Survival: the first 3.8 billion years

Joseph LeDoux’s new book offers a grand narrative of how humans got conscious brains, by one of this generation’s most important neuroscientists, writes reviewer Lisa Feldman Barrett. It’s an epic tale, tracing the evolution of survival behaviours from the dawn of life on Earth 3.8 billion years ago to the development of the human brain’s capacity for consciousness, language and culture.

Nature | 6 min read

Four ways to stop online hate

Data scientist Noemi Derzsy analyses a “captivating” new study on the network dynamics of online hate groups and why current efforts to stop them aren’t working. The study takes complex-systems theory, legal implications and privacy concerns into account to come up with four strategies that could work better: banning relatively small hate clusters, banning a small number of users selected at random from hate groups, promoting “human immune systems” of anti-hate users — or even pitting hate groups against each other.

Nature | 6 min read Reference: Nature paper

Rahul and Yan: The Bake Off scientists

In 2017, biomedical scientist Chuen-Yan Tsou made it through to the seventh week of international TV baking blockbuster The Great British Bake Off (known as The Great British Baking Showby you wacky North Americans), and in 2018 optical metrologist Rahul Mandal won it. They share how they used their scientific knowledge to conquer ‘the tent’ and provide two delicious recipes for you to whip up for your own colleagues.

Nature News & Views | 10 min read


“I now understand that early-career opportunities, like gray hairs, don’t stop appearing.”

To become a “sustainable scientist”, you must learn to say no, writes hydrologist Jeffrey McDonnell. (Science)

Forget how to train your dragon — this is how to build one with CRISPR. Tell me which mythical creature you would create in the lab — plus any other feedback on this newsletter — at

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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