Daily briefing: First-ever image of a black hole wins Breakthrough Prize

The Event Horizon Telescope team has won US$3-million. Plus: the lost half of one of the most important fossils of all time has been virtually restored and scientists see the first hint that body’s ‘biological age’ can be reversed.

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Denisovan distal phalanx bone fragment

The whereabouts of the missing bone fragment are still unclear.Credit: Eva-Maria Geigl

Scientists reconstruct lost piece of iconic fossil

The lost half of one of the most important fossils of all time has been virtually restored. The tiny finger bone was discovered in the Denisova Cave in Siberia in 2008, and provided the first evidence of an ancient group of humans that now bears the cave’s name: Denisovans. In the process of that early research, the bone was cut in two and examined separately — and somehow, one half went missing. Now, a reconstruction of the whole bone, based on detailed photos of the lost part, reveals that its slim shape was surprisingly similar to the finger bones of modern humans.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Science Advances paper

Drugs seem to turn back biological clock

In a small trial, taking three common drugs seemed to rejuvenate the body’s epigenetic clock, which tracks our biological age. Nine healthy volunteers took about 2.5 years off their biological ages, measured by analysing marks on their genomes, after taking a growth hormone and two diabetes medications. It’s the first time that researchers have found that it might be possible to reverse our biological age. But scientists caution that the findings are preliminary because the trial was small and did not include a control group.

Nature | 4 min read

UK leader’s brother resigns as science minister

The United Kingdom’s science minister, who is also the prime minister’s brother, has resigned citing “an unresolvable tension” between family loyalty and national interest. Jo Johnson opposes Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to allow a ‘no-deal Brexit’, which would see the country leave the European Union without negotiated arrangements for trade and other relations in place. He had been in the science role only since July — he had resigned from a different post in previous prime minister Theresa May’s government, over her Brexit plans.

Nature | 3 mins

Breeding also shaped dogs’ brains

The extensive breeding that has shaped domestic dogs’ bodies has also moulded the structures in their brains, according to brain scans of 62 dogs across 33 breeds. For example, brain regions involved in movement and navigation were bigger in dogs bred for coursing, such as greyhounds, than in dogs bred for companionship, such as the Maltese.

Nature Research Highlights | 1 min read

Reference: Journal of Neuroscience paper

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


Sri Lanka, don’t get complacent about malaria

It’s been three years since Sri Lanka was declared malaria-free, and the current generation has little awareness of how it ravaged the island for centuries, writes malariologist Kamini Mendis. “Now, I worry that even the medical profession has lost its memory of malaria,” warns Mendis, who argues that clinicians must stay vigilant to ensure that the hard-won success is not undone.

Nature | 5 min read

“The technologies have finally caught up with the questions”

The New York Times kicks off a series on visionaries with an interview with geneticist and developmental biologist Edith Heard. She says that one key to being a successful scientist is to watch your work being challenged “and to not flinch, to actually enjoy that process of people challenging your paradigm”.

The New York Times | 6 min read

Podcast: Hot in the city

Cities are generally hotter than their surroundings, but what are the causes of these ‘heat islands’? On the Nature Podcast, environmental engineer Gabriele Manoli tells how he was able to link the intensity of urban heat islands to only two variables: population and mean annual precipitation in the region. He also explores how more vegetation in cities could help to even out the effect in some places.

Nature Podcast | 25 min listen

Reference: Nature paper

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Fritz Zwicky using the 18-inch Schmidt telescope at Palomar Observatory in the 1930s.

Fritz Zwicky at the Schmidt telescope at Palomar Observatory, California, in the 1930s.Credit: Palomar Observatory/Caltech

Fritz Zwicky: the brilliance and the ire

A new biography of astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky seeks to elucidate the many facets of a prolific, but elusive, figure in the history of science. The boldness and ingenuity of Zwicky’s discoveries could work against him: many were viewed as unconventional, and were confirmed only years after he made them. He also had a reputation for abrasiveness — he reportedly called some colleagues “spherical bastards” (meaning, from whichever angle you looked at them).

Nature | 5 min read

Five best science books this week

Barbara Kiser’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes synthetic meat, racism at the poles, and the long road to the opioid crisis.

Nature | 3 min read


People who have low-risk surgery in Canada and the United States fill prescriptions for opioid painkillers at nearly seven times the rate seen in Sweden, according to the first study to quantify the differences in opioid use following surgery across countries. People treated in the United States also got prescriptions for higher doses than did individualsthose in Canada and Sweden — regardless of their surgery type. It’s unclear why there i’s such a difference between the three countries, but researchers suggest it might be because of variationsdifferences in how clinicians approach pain or what patients expect in terms of pain control. (Nature | 3 min read)

Reference: JAMA Network Open paper


A glowing orange ring on a black background.

The first direct image of a black hole and its event horizon, produced by the Event Horizon Telescope network in April.Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

The Event Horizon Telescope team has won a US$3-million Breakthrough Prize for the world’s first direct image of a black hole. Constructing the image was a huge coordinated effort using eight telescopes around the world, synchronized by atomic clocks. This effectively created an Earth-sized telescope powerful enough to image the black hole at the centre of the galaxy Messier 87. Four prizes were also awarded for research in the life sciences, which included work on appetite, neurodegenerative diseases, and protein folding, and one prize for mathematics.

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

Please join me in welcoming Berardius minimus, a new species of beaked whale that has been identified in Japan (known to locals as kuro-tsuchi). Always nice to meet a cetacean. I’d also welcome your feedback on this newsletter at

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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