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Today we hear that a second scientist has moved closer to creating gene-edited babies, discover how smoking might trigger diabetes and remember the first person to walk in space.
Biologist Denis Rebrikov says he has started gene editing human eggs as a step on the path towards becoming the second scientist to make genome-edited babies. Rebrikov announced earlier this year that he wants to follow in the controversial footsteps of He Jiankui, who edited a gene linked to HIV resistance. Rebrikov has said that he is working with five deaf couples and hopes to eventually edit a gene linked to deafness, called GJB2, in their babies (although the eggs he’s practising on now were donated by hearing women).Rebrikov responds bluntly to those who argue that clinical research with edited embryos should slow down until international frameworks are in place. “Are you serious?” he told Nature in an email. “Where did you see the researcher willing to slow down?”
Earth scientists are taking the first steps towards a hugely ambitious effort to establish a network of geophysical observatories across the Great White North. The Earth-system Observing Network-Réseau d’Observation du Système Terrestre (EON-ROSE) project would study everything from the inner Earth to the upper atmosphere. Researchers hope to drum up some of the roughly Can$100 million (US$75 million) needed by partnering with companies that want to prospect for geothermal energy sources, minerals and precious metals.
The stimulation that makes nicotine so addictive might also be why it raises the risk of diabetes — and why people with diabetes might find it harder to quit. In mice, nicotine seems to mess with the signalling pathway that links the brain to the pancreas, triggering an increase in blood sugar levels. Repeated over time, that can wear out the insulin-signalling pathways in cells and eventually lead to diabetes. “Ultimately, a disease like diabetes may be originating in the brain or may reflect dysregulated brain-body interactions, and I think that’s absolutely fascinating and absolutely terrifying,” says neuroscientist Paul Kenny.
FEATURES & OPINION
As a paediatrician treating the children of political prisoners during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Michelle Bachelet experienced at first hand how good health relies on much more than access to a doctor. Later, as president of Chile, Bachelet applied that knowledge to help ensure that death rates for children under five dropped significantly. Now the UN high commissioner for human rights, Bachelet analyses how we should respond to a new study that shows widespread improvements in child health, tempered by vast inequalities even within the same country.
Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first person to walk in space, also created the first artwork in space — he had brought coloured pencils on his 1965 Voskhod mission and captured a sketch of the brightly coloured sliver of Earth’s atmosphere. Leonov came close to death on the mission: he struggled to initially fit back through the airlock, and a guidance-system failure on re-entry meant the crew spent two days marooned in a snowy forest before being rescued. But it was the beauty and wonder of his few minutes floating free in the dark that stayed with him, and he returned to the subject in his paintings for the rest of his life. Leonov died on 11 October at the age of 85.
BOOKS & ARTS
In the present tumult, the prevailing mode of economic organization is unsustainable. That’s the common conclusion of three new books with very different perspectives on prosperity, justice and environmental health. Public-policy researcher Diane Coyle compares the efforts from, among others, ur-capitalist and philanthropist George Soros and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.
Incremental improvements in artificial lighting, from whale oil to the incandescent light bulb, were no straightforward march of progress, reveal two new books. Historian David Nye reviews what they have to say about the complex history of lighting technologies.
Mary Craig’s pick of the best of this season’s releases includes social-media war, reclaiming classics from the alt-right, and a fusion of physics and dance.