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The tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus) is the last living member of the reptilian order Rhynchocephalia, which once roamed across the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana. The first genetic sequence of this iconic New Zealand animal reveals its crucial link to the now-extinct stem reptiles from which dinosaurs, modern reptiles, birds and mammals evolved. It also illuminates the tuatara’s unique biology, including its unusual longevity and combination of bird- and reptile-like features. The study sets a new standard for co-production: the work is a collaboration between genomicists and Ngātiwai, the Maori iwi (people) who have guardianship over the tuatara populations that were used. Geneticist Rebecca Johnson explores the findings in a Nature News & Views article.
Get up to speed quickly with first author Neil Gemmell’s Twitter thread about the paper.
Some scientists are worried that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has updated the guidance for its prestigious graduate-student fellowships to emphasize research in applied computational science. The NSF is the major US agency tasked with funding basic research. Critics fear that the focus on artificial intelligence, computationally intensive research and quantum information science will decrease money for fundamental science, which can struggle to attract funding from government and industry sources.
Features & opinion
Six scientists and policy analysts share ways that individuals can help to save the world. They discuss the need to make emotionally restorative personal choices and emphasize the importance, where it is feasible, of pushing leaders to prioritize green policies. “Reducing your carbon footprint via climate-friendlier lifestyle choices is certainly important,” says climatologist Michael Man. “But the most important thing you can do is demand policy action and systematic change.”
Once-in-a-generation swarms of locusts are attacking crops in sub-Saharan Africa, and COVID-19 is threatening long-term disruption to food-supply chains. The United Nations has warned of famine on a scale that has not been seen in 50 years. Researchers must help to build agile, inclusive data collection and analysis to inform agricultural policy and avert disaster, argue global-development researcher Jaron Porciello and five colleagues.
Today I’ve been enjoying EcoBuilder, a smartphone game that lets me design my own ecosystems, populated by adorable blobs, that are modelled using real ecology equations. Designed at Imperial College London, researchers say players’ solutions might help solve real-world ecological puzzles that are reflected in the game. I’ve already learnt from experience why grey squirrels are out-eating red squirrels in the United Kingdom — but I won’t spoil the level by telling.
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