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Daily Briefing: Scientists wake up 100-million-year-old microbes

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Magnified image showing microbes revived from 101.5 million-year-old sediment.

Magnified image showing microbes revived from sediment cores under the Pacific Ocean.JAMSTEC

Microbes revived after 100 million years

Scientists have managed to wake up microbes that have been buried deep beneath the sea floor — apparently in a dormant state — since dinosaurs walked on Earth. The bacteria were discovered in 100-million-year-old clay samples drilled from beneath the South Pacific. When incubated and given nutrients, the microbes began to feed and multiply. “Low food and energy seem not to set the ultimate limit for life on Earth,” says marine microbiologist Bo Barker Jørgensen.

Science | 5 min read

Reference: Nature Communications paper

ITER nuclear-fusion project starts assembly

The world’s biggest nuclear-fusion project, ITER, has entered its five-year assembly phase in Saint Paul-lez-Durance, southern France. When completed, the multibillion-euro facility will aim to show that fusing hydrogen nuclei to make helium — the same process that heats up the Sun and powers hydrogen bombs — is a viable way to produce electricity. Although there are still many technical hurdles to overcome, “it’s a hugely exciting phase of the project to be in,” says Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. “Most of us came to fusion to change the world — to make a massive difference to how we provide clean energy to future generations. We all know that we need ITER to succeed.”

BBC News | 4 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Donald Trump with Alex Azar and Robert Redfield

Researchers are questioning why Donald Trump chose to remove COVID-19 data management from the CDC and transfer it to the federal government.Credit: Tom Brenner/Reuters

Trump administration risks sidelining CDC

Earlier this month, the administration of President Donald Trump chose to transfer responsibility for coronavirus data collection, management and sharing from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the Department of Health and Human Services. A Nature Editorial argues that the change has caused confusion in hospitals, and calls for measures to ensure that politicians do not use the change to bypass researchers and sway the public-health response to suit their narrative.

Nature | 6 min read

The dangers of ‘hygiene theatre’

As lockdowns ease, restaurants, gyms and other establishments keen to entice customers are making a show of scrubbing down and sanitizing everything in sight. But could it all be a waste of time? Some researchers say that increasing evidence points to the coronavirus being a predominantly airborne disease — so these enhanced cleaning regimes might be doing little to reduce the spread of COVID-19, while lulling people into a false sense of security.

The Atlantic | 8 min read

Notable quotable

“It would be ludicrous if low-risk people in rich countries get the vaccine when health care workers in South Africa don’t.”

Lawyer and public-health activist Ellen ‘t Hoen says a global effort is needed to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are distributed fairly when they become available. (Science | 7 min read)

Features & opinion

Pluto’s dark side spills its secrets

When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft zipped past Pluto in 2015, it was able to capture close-ups of only one side — the hemisphere that the Sun illuminated at the time. Now that scientists have scrutinized those ‘near-side’ images, they are beginning to analyse the dwarf planet’s ‘dark side’, which the spacecraft photographed days before it shot past. Hundreds of images are providing a new view of this active world — one that offers crucial insight into how it formed, whether there’s an ocean hiding beneath its icy crust and the complex ways that compounds freeze out of the atmosphere and sculpt its surface. “I expected Pluto to be a scientific wonderland, but it did not have to be so beautiful,” says planetary scientist Leslie Young.

Nature | 12 min read

Image of the week

Comet NEOWISE seen from Nevada.

The comet NEOWISE, seen here over the Cathedral Gorge State Park in Nevada, has been visible in the Northern Hemisphere night sky throughout July. The comet is named after NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, the space telescope that discovered it. But this week is probably your last chance to get a good look at it and take a photo — NEOWISE is now heading away from Earth as it continues its journey around the Sun.Ethan Miller/Getty

Quote of the day

“There’s a danger of missing out on something useful just by assuming that it’s not possible.”

Theoretical physicist Tom Złosnik studies the mathematics of gravity to explore theories that challenge one of cosmology’s core concepts — the idea that dark matter forms the Universe’s primary structure. (Quanta | 6 min read)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-02259-8

Scientists in Australia have named five new species of fly after superhero creator Stan Lee and characters from the Marvel comic Universe.

If you got to name a new species, what would be your inspiration? Send your thoughts — or any feedback on this newsletter — to briefing@nature.com.

Emma Stoye, news editor, Nature

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