Daily briefing: 23andMe develops experimental drug using customers’ data

A first for a commercial DNA-testing company, “significant mistakes of judgment” at MIT and 11 tips for mastering large data sets.

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus

MIT's executive committee commissioned a review in August 2019 of Jeffrey Epstein's donations to the university.Credit: Yiming Chen/Getty

MIT made ‘mistakes’ in taking Epstein money

The disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein donated US$850,000 to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — most of it after his conviction for sex offences. An investigation commissioned by MIT into its relationship with Epstein found that “no Senior Team member violated any law, breached any MIT policy, or acted in pursuit of personal gain” but that some “made significant mistakes of judgment”. The report pointed the finger at former MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito — who has resigned over the issue — and mechanical engineer Seth Lloyd, who has been placed on paid administrative leave.

Nature | 3 min read

Draft genome for mystery virus in China

Researchers in China have published a draft genome of the coronavirus suspected of causing a recent outbreak of illness in the city of Wuhan. Virologists around the world rushed to analyse the sequence, with early results indicating a bat virus distantly related to SARS. Many also took care to commend the consortium, led by the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center and School of Public Health, for its transparency — especially in a cautious climate fuelled by missteps during the SARS outbreak in 2002–03.

Science | 5 min read

23andMe makes drug using customers’ data

For the first time, 23andMe has developed an experimental drug using its customers’ genetic information. The commercial DNA-testing company has designed an antibody that blocks three proteins associated with some inflammatory diseases. Eighty per cent of people who use 23andMe’s DNA-testing kits agree to share their data with the company for research purposes, without compensation. The company has sold the rights to the new antibody to Spanish pharmaceutical company Almirall.

New Scientist | 3 min read

One of world’s largest fish has gone extinct

The Chinese paddlefish (Psephurus gladius), a freshwater fish that could grow up to 7 metres long, is gone forever. The giant of the Yangtze River used its long sword-like snout, packed with electricity-sensing cells, to track its prey. The Gezhouba Dam cut off the paddlefish from its only spawning grounds upstream in 1981, and researchers estimate that the fish had become functionally extinct, without enough members to maintain the population, by 1993. “This is the first of these very large freshwater fish to go and many are at risk,” says fish biologist Zeb Hogan.

National Geographic | 7 min read

Reference: Science of The Total Environment paper

Features & opinion

Eleven tips for mastering your large data sets

Cherish your data and don’t treat them as secondary to your ‘real’ science. That’s step one for making the most of your big data, says bioinformatician Tracy Teal. She outlines the backup options, version-control systems and other approaches that will help you to give your data the love they deserve.

Nature | 7 min read

Balance privacy and honesty to become a great role model

Marine ecologist Sascha Hooker was wary of sharing some aspects of her personal life as a parent and carer — until she considered how helpful she had found hearing other scientists’ own stories. Hooker explores the tension between inspiring others, progressing a career and keeping some things private.

Nature | 5 min read

How to bring time back into physics

The language of physics is mathematics. So it’s no wonder that our reliance on timeless, axiomatic maths led to a classical physics in which time is an illusion, argues quantum physicist Nicolas Gisin. He proposes an ‘intuitionistic’ mathematics, in which numbers are processes that develop in time — allowing for a physics in which time truly passes and the future is open.

Nature Physics | 10 min read

Science Twitter for absolute beginners

Around two years ago, chemist Jennifer Heemstra had no idea how to use Twitter. Now she says the social network “has opened my eyes to new perspectives and advice, and even created some unique and exciting opportunities that I never would have found otherwise”. Heemstra shares some reasons why you might want to take the plunge into #ScienceTwitter, and how to get started.

ASC Central Science | 14 min read

Quirks of Nature

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00078-5

Today I’m wishing a happy retirement to the two tireless male Galapagos giant tortoises who (along with 12 equally celebration-worthy females) have saved their population. The Galapagos National Park has announced the end of its captive breeding programme after restoring the numbers on Española Island from 15 to 2,000. The rest of us toil on — please send your feedback on this newsletter to Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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