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Daily briefing: Earth’s deepest life survives by scavenging carbon

How life survives in one of the deepest layers of Earth’s crust ever explored, a vaccine on the horizon for devastating swine fever and how China is staying on track of its mission to Mars.

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A transmission light micrograph of a rock thin section: a pattern of colours on a dark background.

A thin slice of rock from oceanic crust at Atlantis Bank in the Indian Ocean, where slow-living bacteria have been found.Credit: Frieder Klein/WHOI

Earth’s deepest life scavenges carbon

In one of the deepest layers of Earth’s crust ever explored, researchers are finding life. An analysis of rock samples from the bottom of the Indian Ocean has revealed microbes adapted to life within nutrient-poor hairline fractures in the Earth. Researchers found several species of bacteria, fungi and archaea that live in the rocks and feed on carbon from fragments of amino acids and other organic molecules carried in deep ocean currents.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Nature paper

By the numbers

70%

The proportion of all microbes on Earth that are thought to live in places long deemed inhospitable, such as deep sediments under the oceans, the cold deserts of Antarctica and the stratosphere.

Europe’s Mars rover delayed by two years

The European and Russian space agencies have pushed back the launch of a rover that will search for signs of life on Mars. The Rosalind Franklin probe was meant to launch in July but will now depart in 2022 to allow key tests to take place. The space agencies also cited the global coronavirus pandemic as a reason for the delay. The epidemiological situation in Europe has “left our experts practically no possibility to proceed with travels to partner industries”, said Dmitry Rogozin, director-general of Roscosmos.

Nature | 4 min read

Scientists closes in on vaccine for swine fever

Researchers in China have developed an experimental vaccine that can protect pigs for life from a lethal virus that has wiped out 40% of the country’s 440 million pigs. Virologists say the vaccine still requires clinical trials and large-scale vaccine production. The country has suffered huge economic losses as a result of the virus since it appeared in 2018, although it is mostly under control now.

Nature | 4 min read

Why locusts, why now and how to stop them

Heavy rains, war and a lack of funding have been hampering efforts to control the biggest locust outbreak in more than a quarter of a century. Locust monitoring in Africa is severely underfunded, with many countries facing unpaid bills to the organization that provides a locust early-warning system and helps to control outbreaks. In Yemen, the ongoing war and the humanitarian crisis it has caused put the country in no position to deal with the pests. The United Nations has appealed for urgent funding as scientists scramble to model outbreaks and find safe countermeasures.

Nature | 4 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

China's heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket blasts off from its launch centre in Wenchang

China's Long March 5 rocket will carry its Mars probe into space.Credit: AFP/Getty

How China is staying on track for Mars

• China’s first journey to Mars is on track for a July launch, say researchers. But with parts of the country in some form of lockdown because of the coronavirus, the mission teams have had to find creative ways to continue their work. Instead of risking the team members getting infected on a plane or high-speed train, 3 people drove 6 payloads in a car from Beijing to Shanghai — a journey that took more than 12 hours. (Nature | 4 min read)

• Although the symptoms of COVID-19 are mostly respiratory, some patients suffer severe cardiovascular damage. Four cardiologists explore the effects and the underlying mechanisms, in hopes of improving treatment for people with underlying cardiovascular diseases. (Nature Reviews Cardiology | 7 min read)

• Scientists working on mathematical models for COVID-19 are still in the early stages of characterizing the outbreak, says epidemiologist John Edmunds. Next will come forward-looking ‘scenario planning’ models — but we need better surveillance and testing data to make those calculations more accurate. (The Scientist | 7 min read)

Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature

Research highlights: 1-minute reads

China’s live-chicken trade might help to spread flu viruses

The market for live poultry might be fuelling the spread of avian flu viruses in China, according to an analysis of viral genomes and models of the poultry trade. Some influenza viruses that infect birds can also infect people: the H5N1 virus, for example, which has an estimated fatality rate of 50–60% in humans.

‘Third-hand’ tobacco smoke fills non-smoking cinemas

Even in a non-smoking cinema, film-goers can be exposed to hazardous tobacco-related pollutants, which waft off the clothing and bodies of smokers in the audience. Levels of smoke-related chemicals rise sharply during age-restricted action films, but less so during a children’s flick.

Primeval roots for a key animal protein

A vital structure found in the neurons of all animals — calcium-ion channels — might have originated in bacteria. Researchers identified a bacterial version of the specialized proteins in a hot-spring bacterium called Meiothermus ruber. This suggests that the channels originated in a common ancestor of bacteria and animals.

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

Features & opinion

A woman in a loose Edwardian dress leans over a lab bench.

Rosamund Pike plays Marie Curie in Radioactive.Credit: StudioCanal and Amazon Content Services

Radioactive fails to get under Curie’s skin

Who was Marie Skłodowska Curie, and how did she become the only person ever to win Nobel prizes in two scientific disciplines? A new biopic, Radioactive, gives only a partial answer, writes reviewer Georgina Ferry. By falling into the ‘lone heroes’ trap, the film gives little insight into Curie’s own motivations or her respected place in the international scientific community.

Nature | 5 min read

Podcast: Tiny dinosaur skull preserved in amber

A skull found perfectly preserved in amber might belong to the world’s smallest dinosaur — and reveal a whole new lineage of birds. Hear more in this week’s Nature Podcast.

Nature Podcast | 27 min listen

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

Where I work

Rose Marks abseils down the cliffside in Mpumalanga, South Africa, while researching plants.

Rose A. Marks is a postdoctoral researcher in molecular and cell biology at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.Credit: Jennie Lyn Pretorius for Nature

Biologist Rose Marks scales a 100-metre quartzite cliff in South Africa to measure and take samples of the ‘resurrection’ plant (Myrothamnus flabellifolia), which can survive for years in a completely desiccated state. “Understanding what makes these plants so resilient could help us to develop crops that will survive drought,” says Marks. (Nature | 3 min read)

Quote of the day

“Hope is not a strategy.”

Epidemiologist Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization's head of emergencies, calls on governments to respond aggressively and systematically to the coronavirus pandemic. (NPR)

For music lovers, disco icon Gloria Gaynor shows us how to achieve the full 20-second hand wash to the tune of her classic hit ‘I Will Survive’. And the Seattle Symphony is publishing free videos of “performances that provide strength, comfort and joy” while their hall is closed owing to the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state.

Today I socially distanced myself by replacing public transport with a 15-kilometre bike ride, and it was pretty great. Wish me a pleasant pedal home — and please send me any feedback on this newsletter — at briefing@nature.com. (And if you’re not finding any silver linings, or you are facing difficulties, you have my very best wishes.)

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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