Daily briefing: Grains of stardust are the oldest material ever found on Earth

Meteor material is almost 3 billion years older than our Sun. Plus: animal-cloning researcher sentenced to 12 years in prison for embezzling research funding and three document-sharing tools for scientists.

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One goat in livestock at Kashgar Xinjiang province China.

Li Ning's team team engineered goats to produce a protein found in human milk.Credit: Getty

Cloning scientist gets 12-year prison sentence

A Chinese court has sentenced leading animal-cloning researcher Li Ning to 12 years in prison for embezzling millions in research funding. Li was one of several scientists at Chinese universities who were arrested in 2014 for misusing research grants. Li has denied stealing the money, and said that he had invested unused grant funding with the intention of supporting research in future years.

Nature | 2 min read

Meteor contains oldest material on Earth

Some grains of interstellar dust in a meteorite that fell to Earth in 1969 are almost 3 billion years older than our Sun. The specks of dust were incorporated in the meteorite after they were flung out from dying stars between 4.6 billion and 7.5 billion years ago. “They’re solid samples of stars, real stardust,” says cosmochemist Philipp Heck.

Researchers dated the dust on the basis of neon isotopes produced from exposure to galactic cosmic rays while in space. The age distribution of the dust offers evidence that there was a star formation boom in our Galaxy 7 billion years ago.

BBC | 5 min read

Reference: PNAS paper

Predatory-journal papers make no impact

Papers published in ‘predatory’ journals are cited much less often than those in reputable publications. An analysis of 250 articles concludes that papers in predatory journals have “very limited readership among academics”, and therefore have little effect on science.

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: arXiv preprint

Source: Ref. 1

Features & opinion

US regulators let trials dodge the rules

Many prestigious US universities, companies and institutions that conduct clinical trials continue to break the law by failing to make the results public. Science looked at more than 4,700 trials that should have been registered on and found that trial sponsors violated the reporting law more than 55% of the time. Science names and shames 30 offenders and points the finger at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to apply sanctions. The FDA hasn’t collected a dollar in penalties (analysts estimate it could have claimed US$6 billion) and the NIH has yet to withhold a single grant.

Science | 13 min read

PhD and carer: how I got through it

“Caring for a loved one who had cystic fibrosis and was waiting for a transplant, while I was trying to complete my PhD programme, seemed impossible,” writes clinical researcher Luke Yates. He describes how a compassionate supervisor and a range of techniques helped him to maintain his experiments, his family commitments and his mental health.

Nature | 5 min read

Document-sharing tools for scientists

Go beyond Google Docs with these three tools to collaborate on writing. HackMD is a lightweight, browser-based editor for files written in Markdown, with good version control. Manubot is a solution developed by scientists to turn a GitHub repository into a self-published manuscript, including error checking and pulling in figures. And for those who love LaTeX, Overleaf is great at handling references and generating bibliographies.

Nature Index | 9 min read

Nature Medicine

Big data brings big hopes in health

The digitalization of medical records, increasing affordability of molecular testing, the advent of medical informatics and widespread use of wearables has fuelled an explosion of data related to health care. Nature Medicine explores how it can be wrangled for the benefit of human health.

• Big data is already redefining what means to be ‘healthy’, uncovering unknown disease-risk factors and allowing more-accurate diagnostic and prognostic predictions. Computational biologist Eran Segal and two colleagues take a deep dive into the types of data involved, and the challenges and promises of using it. (36 min read)

• Big data offers to revolutionize social science — and amplify our deepest cultural biases, argues public-health data expert Emily Courey Pryor and five colleagues. They call for big data to be “intentionally managed as a vehicle for equity and empowerment, not simply as a novel technical resource”. (5 min read)

• Big data means big risks when it comes to the security of very personal information. Bioethics legal scholars Glenn Cohen and Nicholson Price explore the concept of health privacy and how to enforce it. (29 min read)

Read the whole collection

By the numbers

2,314 exabytes

The estimated amount of health data that will be produced worldwide in 2020. (An exabyte is one quintillion, or 1018, bytes.)

Image of the week

Lightning illuminates the huge plume of smoke billowing from Taal Volcano that towers above Batangas

Hundreds of thousands of people have been urged to evacuate after the Taal volcano in the Philippines began erupting on Sunday. Volcanologists have warned of the possibility of an imminent explosive eruption within hours or days. (New Scientist, 2 min read) Domcar C Lagto/PACIFIC P/SIPA/Shutterstock

Quote of the day

“It’s a kind of paste, and it has a pungent characteristic — it smells like rotten peanut butter.”

Space geologist Jennika Greer crushed fragments of a meteorite to isolate grains of dust that are older than any material ever found on Earth. (BBC)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-00092-7

The Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico asked Pulitzer-prizewinning novelist Cormac McCarthy to “spruce up” its mission statement. After he “wadded it up and pitched it in the trash”, here’s what he came up with. (McCarthy has provided writing advice to scientists at the institute, which ecologist Van Savage kindly shared with us, too.)

Help me spruce up this newsletter by letting me know what you think of it — please send your feedback to Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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