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The way we are changing landscapes might increase the probability of pathogens jumping from animals to humans. Researchers reviewed data from nearly 7,000 sites where humans have altered natural ecosystems, such as by clearing land. They found that small creatures such as rodents, which can harbour agents that cause human disease, are more likely to move into these areas than larger animals are. (It’s not known why pathogens are more abundant in these smaller animals.)
The study lends crucial weight to a rising number of voices calling for governments and international agencies to take a holistic view of public health, animal health, the environment and sustainable development. Last week, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services hosted a workshop on the nexus between biodiversity loss and emerging diseases. And on 24 July, an interdisciplinary group of scientists, including virologists, economists and ecologists, published an essay in Science arguing that governments can help to reduce the risk of future pandemics by controlling deforestation and curbing the wildlife trade.
Roughly 76 million years ago, a Centrosaurus that lived in what is now Canada was walking around with a malignant tumour in its lower leg. The deformed fossil bone was diagnosed with osteosarcoma — the first time that cancer has been confirmed in a dinosaur, although scientists have identified benign tumours in Tyrannosaurus rex fossils. Researchers say that the tumour could have eventually been fatal, but considering where the specimen was found, the Centrosaurus probably died in a flood with the rest of its herd.
Features & opinion
This week is the 75th anniversary of the United States’ nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on 6 and 9 August 1945. The survivors came to be known as ‘hibakusha’, translated to ‘survivor of the atomic bombs’. Since the bombings, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF) has followed tens of thousands of hikakusha to learn about the long-term effects of radiation on their health. Safety standards around the world are now based in part on their results, and new data are still coming in. But some of the hibakusha, who have faced discrimination on top of a lifetime of health impacts, have seen little in terms of support in return.
Read more: A Nature editorial calls on researchers to help free the world of nuclear weapons (6 min read)
Books & culture
After being detained in internment camps during the war by the United Kingdom, German-born physicist Klaus Fuchs in turn betrayed his adopted country by sharing its nuclear secrets with the Soviet Union. A new book by Nancy Thorndike Greenspan combines the drama of a police procedural (how did they do it?) with the ambiguities of a psychological thriller (why did they do it?), writes reviewer Sharon Weinberger.
It was penned before the coronavirus pandemic started, but a book about the contagion of ideas, diseases, norms, information and misinformation couldn’t be more timely. Evolutionary biologist Carl Bergstrom and data scientist Jevin West offer an entertaining, informative survey that skewers statistical shenanigans and debunks deceptive data. But reviewer Eric-Jan Wagenmakers wishes for more rigorous references and more acknowledgement of how data visualization can be done correctly.
Where I work
Skhul is one of Israel’s Mount Carmel caves, which have yielded exquisite discoveries from half a million years of human history. “There is no way to be indifferent to it,” says archaeologist Mina Weinstein-Evron of the entrance to Skhul, which is set into an abrupt cliff. “I have a feeling of ownership, but also one of responsibility” for the caves, she says. (Nature | 3 min read)
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With contributions by Nicky Phillips