Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here.

Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences winners

Abhijit Banerjee (left), Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer (right) use methods inspired by medical trials to test whether interventions designed to alleviate poverty are effective.Credit: Niklas Elmehed

‘Randomistas’ win economics Nobel

Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer have been awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. The three economists are at the vanguard of the influential ‘randomista’ movement, which applies the methods of rigorous randomized medical trials to social interventions such as improving education.

Esther Duflo is the youngest person ever to win the economics prize, only the second woman to win the prize (Elinor Ostrom won in 2009) — and the only woman to win a science Nobel this year.

Nature | 3 min read

Read more about Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer’s work: Can randomized trials eliminate global poverty? (Nature, from 2015)

CRISPR baby risk study retracted

Geneticists have retracted a study that suggested that the gene edits made to to the ‘CRISPR babies’ might have shortened their life expectancy. The research was conducted in the wake of a controversial claim by biophysicist He Jiankui that he edited the genomes of twin babies to recreate a natural mutation in the gene CCR5 that confers HIV resistance. The erroneous conclusion was caused by technical errors in how the mutation was identified in the UK Biobank database.

Population geneticist Rasmus Nielsen, who led the now-retracted study, was met with an outpouring of support from fellow scientists when he made a brief statement on Twitter calling the event “the one thing that all scientists fear the most”.

Nature | 6 min read

Reference: Retracted Nature Medicine paper

UK chases fusion power dream

The United Kingdom has pledged £200 million (US$248 million) to build its own fusion power plant: an ambitious prototype facility that could demonstrate commercial energy production by 2040. The Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production (STEP) would be a more compact version of the same ‘tokamak’ design used in ITER, an international collaboration in southern France that has cost billions of any monetary unit you’d care to name. No fusion facility has yet been able to generate more energy than it takes to run.

Nature | 4 min read

Scientists seek cause of mysterious vaping illness

New research has undercut a popular theory behind the outbreak of a mysterious, sometimes lethal, lung injury associated with vaping — and underscores how far researchers still have to go to pinpoint its cause. The largest analysis so far of lung tissue taken from ill vapers did not find evidence of lipoid pneumonia, which might have been caused by the oily chemicals in vapes. Researchers are struggling to even categorize the chemicals contained in e-cigarettes, which come in thousands of variations and are often customized by their users.

Nature | 5 min read


Harold Urey: a conscientious chemist

Chemist Harold Urey, who won a Nobel prize for his discovery of deuterium, navigated the ethical labyrinth of the cold war with the help of his pious upbringing, argues science historian Matthew Shindell in a new biography. From working on the Manhattan Project to opposing nuclear proliferation and influencing the early days of NASA, Urey led chemistry in new directions, including to the Moon.

Nature | 5 min read

Gandhi’s take on sustainable science

Far from being anti-science, as some have claimed, Mahatma Gandhi was an enthusiastic inventor, a keen student of the art of experimentation and a proponent of science communication. As the world commemorates the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth this month, his commitment to what we now call sustainability is perhaps more relevant than ever, argues a Nature editorial.

Nature | 4 min read

The discovery that changed biology forever

On Nature’s 150th anniversary, we’re revisiting some of the most important papers of all time published in the journal. James Watson and Francis Crick’s 1953 paper announcing the double-helix structure of DNA kick-started a process that, over the following decade, would lead to the cracking of the genetic code and the sequencing of the human genome. Science writer Georgina Ferry tells the story of the discovery, its flawed protagonists and the pivotal role of X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin.

Nature | 8 min read

Reference: Nature paper (from 1953)


How treacherous brain cells aid cancer’s invasion

Brain cells called astrocytes encourage the multiplication of cancer cells that have infiltrated the brain from tumours elsewhere in the body.

A city’s worst heat hits low-income residents

Satellite and census data for 25 cities on 5 continents show that the burden of urban heat-islands often falls more heavily on less-affluent neighbourhoods than on richer districts. Adding green spaces to lower-income areas could help to relieve this inequality.

Squashed atomic nuclei undermine long-held doctrine of nuclear structure

A cadmium atom’s nucleus shape-shifts even when its energy is low — a finding that overturns a widely held conviction about the structure of atomic nuclei.

Rumbles reveal strength of Europe’s most active volcano

Monitoring the low-frequency infrasound of a volcano can quickly estimate how much gas and rock are being spewed out, reveals a study of Mount Etna in Sicily.

Rosy octopuses get wartier, deeper

Shallow-water rosy octopuses have nearly smooth skin, but their deep-living brethren are wartier, smaller and have fewer arm suckers. Earlier observations had raised doubts as to whether the animals all belong to the same species, but DNA analysis confirms they’re all Graneledone pacifica.

Get more of Nature’s Research Highlights: short picks from the scientific literature.