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Daily briefing: Authors of five seminal HIV/AIDS papers tell what happened next

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The Copernicus Sentinel-6 stands on display at the IABG space test centre, near Munich, Germany.

The Copernicus Sentinel-6 satellite undergoing tests near Munich, Germany. Credit: S. Corvaja/ESA

ESA windfall will fast-track space missions

The European Space Agency (ESA) will get €12.5 billion (US$13.8 billion) in 2020–22, compared with €8.6 billion approved in 2016. The increase means the agency can boost the capabilities of its Earth-observing Copernicus satellites, bring forward its space-based gravitational-wave detector, LISA, and press ahead with a space clean-up project. Member states also pledged a 10% hike for ESA’s basic-science projects, the biggest rise in 25 years.

Nature | 3 min read

Targeted stem-cell attack could make transplants safer

Scientists are experimenting with ways to selectively target defective blood-making stem cells for destruction, clearing the way for a transplant of healthy stem cells without wiping out other important cells in the bone marrow. Early studies in animals and people use antibodies to kill the unwanted cells outright or make the cells vulnerable to attack by the body’s own immune system. The technique shows promise for fighting blood cancer as well as genetic and autoimmune diseases.

Nature | 5 min read

How to take a whale’s pulse

Researchers have measured the heart rate of a blue whale for the first time. They discovered that the whale’s pulse varies across a huge range that would kill another animal: from 2 beats per minute while diving to 37 beats per minute on surfacing — as fast as the huge heart can possibly beat. But suction-cupping a heart-rate monitor to a wild blue whale wasn’t easy, as marine biologist David Cade tells CBC Radio in a rousing interview.

CBC Radio | 4 min read or 9 min listen

Reference: PNAS paper

Research highlights: 1-minute reads

Gym benefits depend on your gut

For some men with pre-diabetes, their microbiome seems to stand between them and the benefits of exercise. Men whose insulin resistance didn’t respond to a 12-week exercise regimen had higher levels of certain bacterial genes in their guts than did the men whose pre-diabetes improved.

Arctic dogs traced back to Siberia

About 1,000 years ago, the ancestors of today’s Inuit people began their swift spread from Alaska all the way to Greenland. Now research has shown that they were accompanied by their sledge dogs — and that those dogs’ genetic legacy lives on in modern breeds such as the Greenland Dog.

Cosmic ‘blob’ could be missing star

Astronomers were spellbound by a supernova that lit up the sky in 1987 — but the neutron star it should have left behind was never found. Now researchers say an unusually hot blob inside the cloud of dusty debris left by the explosion is evidence of the neutron star heating its surroundings.

Giant tortoises learn for the long term

Three Aldabra tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea) trained to bite a ball of a particular colour could recall the task nine years later. Also, other tortoises who were trained in groups mastered their lessons much faster, challenging our view of them as solitary creatures.

Get more of Nature’s research highlights: short picks from the scientific literature.

Features & opinion

Get on track with genomic data visualizations

A growing collection of free and open-source tools help with combining and visualizing genomic data. Discover which is the best for you, whether you’re communicating with a collaborator or disseminating data to the broader scientific community.

Nature | 7 min read

Pipelines for peace

A new book by political scientist Thane Gustafson argues that the natural-gas pipelines between Russia and Europe are a force for remarkably stable economic interdependence, and that they transcend ideological and geopolitical differences. The book offers a readable, intelligent, even-handed historical interpretation of East–West natural-gas relations, says reviewer Andrew Moravcsik.

Nature | 6 min read

‘It took virologists totally off guard’

For World AIDS Day yesterday, authors of five seminal HIV/AIDS papers from the past 30 years tell the story of what happened next. “It brought out the worst and the best in people,” writes Simon Wain-Hobson, whose group published the first sequence of the virus and showed that it has simian origins. “It showed us just how little we knew.”

Nature Microbiology Community | 5 short essays

Reference: PNAS paper


“The signals of hope are multiplying … what is still lacking is political will.”

United Nations secretary general António Guterres urged leaders to “put a price on carbon” in a speech ahead of the COP25 conference in Madrid. (The Independent)

Read more: Carbon-markets shape agenda at UN climate summit (Nature)


On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me … lessons in the R programming language! Conservation biologist Kiirsti Owen did indeed create this R advent calendar as a gift for her partner to learn the basics in an easy-to-use, fun way — now we can all reap the benefits.

Help me reap the benefits from your feedback on this newsletter — please send any comments to

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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