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  • NATURE BRIEFING

Daily briefing: Tropical rainforests’ ability to absorb carbon has peaked

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False-colour scanning electron micrograph of the human retina.

The human retina: a CRISPR therapy has been inserted directly into a person for the first time — in the eye.Prof. P. Motta/Dept. of Anatomy/University La Sapienza of Rome/SPL

CRISPR therapy inserted directly into body

A person with a rare genetic condition that causes blindness has become the first to have a CRISPR–Cas9 gene therapy administered directly into their body. No treatment is currently available for the disease, which is a leading cause of blindness in childhood. The use of CRISPR–Cas9 in the body is a significant advance from treating cells in a dish. “It is akin to space flight versus a regular plane trip,” says geneticist Fyodor Urnov.

Nature | 3 min read

Rainforests losing ability to absorb carbon

Tropical trees are dying from heat and drought, destroying the forest’s ability to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Decades of measurements in hundreds of locations show that the uptake of carbon from the atmosphere by tropical forests has peaked — with the turning point in the early 1990s in the Amazon and around 2015 in Africa. If the trend is allowed to continue, the typical tropical forest could become a source of carbon emissions by the 2060s. “Humans have been lucky so far, as tropical forests are mopping up lots of our pollution,” says geographer Simon Lewis. “We need to curb fossil fuel emissions before the global carbon cycle starts working against us.”

The Guardian | 7 min read

Go deeper with an expert analysis by ecosystem modeller Anja Rammig in the Nature News & Views.

Reference: Nature paper

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

Children as susceptible as adults

Children are just as likely to get infected with COVID-19 as adults. One of the most detailed studies yet published on the spread of the new coronavirus followed 391 people in Shenzhen, China, infected with the virus and 1,286 of their close contacts. The study could have important implications for slowing the spread of the virus through measures such as school closures. (Nature | (continuously updated)

Mathematician Adam Kucharski explains, in simple terms, how relevant statistics are calculated for the outbreak. For example, the death rate is not a simple matter of dividing the total number of deaths and total number of cases, which doesn’t account for unreported cases or the delay from illness to death. “If 100 people arrive at hospital with COVID-19 on a given day, and all are currently still alive, it obviously doesn’t mean that the fatality rate is 0 percent,” explains Kucharski. (The New York Times | 8 min read)

China is struggling to deal with the mountain of medical waste created by the outbreak. By 24 February, the volume of medical waste in Wuhan, the city in which the outbreak began last December, had quadrupled to more than 200 tonnes a day, according to Chinese media reports. The city’s only dedicated medical-waste disposal facility handle only 50 tonnes a day. (South China Morning Post | 10 min read) Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature.

Notable Quotable

“This is not a drill. This is not the time to give up. This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops.”

The World Health Organization is is concerned that in some countries, the political commitment does not match the threat level presented by coronavirus, says director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (CNN)

Features & opinion

Emissions: world has four times the work or one-third of the time

In 2010, the world thought it had 30 years to halve global emissions of greenhouse gases. Today, we know that this must happen in ten years to minimize the effects of climate change. Fifteen scientists present a snapshot of what a wasted decade means for the climate pact made in Paris, and give a whirlwind tour of the ambitious actions that we must take to get back on track.

Nature | 9 min read

Action gap. Graphic showing of 192 parties, 76 pledge to achieve net-zero emissions and 6 will stop fossil fuel exploration.

Sources: 2017 emissions: refs 12,13; 2017 Energy production: ref. 14.

Podcast: Quicker crystal creation

To understand the structure of materials, researchers often have to grow them in crystal form. In this week’s Nature Podcast, discover a new method that aims to speed up this process. Plus, a sensor that allows machines to assess images in nanoseconds, and calorie restriction’s effects on rat cells.

Nature Podcast | 24 min listen

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts or Spotify

Books & culture

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921

Albert Einstein worked at a university in Prague in 1911–12.Credit: History and Art Collection/Alamy

Einstein: don’t skip the Prague period

Historians have variously dismissed the 16 months when Albert Einstein lived in Prague as an interlude, a sojourn and a detour. An “improbably good” new book by Michael Gordin makes the period a springboard to a panoramic view of the twentieth century, writes reviewer Pedro Ferreira.

Nature | 4 min read

Five best science books this week

Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes surviving Hiroshima, humanity’s footprints, and the truth about stem cells.

Nature | 3 min read

Where I work

Marleen Martinez Sundgaard working in the In-Situ Instrument Laboratory

Marleen Martinez Sundgaard is the lead systems test-bed engineer for the InSight and Psyche missions at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.Credit: Rocco Ceselin for Nature

Quote of the day

“A mediator who was once hired to deal with the hostile climate in a department told me, ‘You are like a canary in the coal mine.’ While the canary signals the imminent danger in the coal mine, it is also always caged, and its eventual fate is death.”

Under-represented faculty and staff members engaged in diversity work sometimes leave an institution to protect their well-being, says English professor Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt, who surveyed faculty members about why they left academia. (Inside Higher Ed)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-00678-1

Welcome Perseverance! That’s the name of NASA’s next Mars rover. Looks like we’re going with the nickname ‘Percy’. (But I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Rovey McMarsface.)

Let me know what you think of the new name, and any other feedback about this newsletter. Please get in touch at briefing@nature.com.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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