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Marine biologists have used the DNA-editing tool CRISPR to genetically alter a squid for the first time. The achievement is a technical feat because cephalopod embryos have a protective outer layer that makes them tricky to work with. The team developed a pair of microscissors that cut a small hole big enough to accomodate a specially made needle. Once the needle was inside, the scientists used CRISPR to snip out a gene linked to the squid’s skin, making the animal translucent. Cephalopods have large brains, complex behaviours and neurons that directly control the changing patterns on their skin, making them a promising model organism for studying brain evolution and neural function.
In July, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York removed DNA scientist James Watson’s name from its biological-sciences graduate programme, citing his past racist comments. It’s just one example of institutions worldwide that are changing or reviewing the names of campus buildings, programmes and memorials that honour scientists and figures who had discriminatory beliefs. Many of these announcements followed years-long campaigns by students and faculty members who risked their careers to remake their institutions from within. Those who fought for the changes say that renaming buildings is only the first step towards improving diversity and inclusion in academia; they are advocating sustained efforts to transform university culture.
The dwarf planet Ceres seemingly has a salty ocean of water beneath its surface. The ocean is the source of mysterious bright areas spotted on the distant world’s surface. Images from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which dipped to less than 35 kilometers above Ceres’s surface on its 2018 mission, reveal the areas are deposits of mostly sodium carbonate. These were formed as briny water percolated up to the surface and then evaporated. “Ceres is now an ocean world,” writes planetary scientist Julie Castillo-Rogez in the Nature Astronomy News & Views article accompanying the research.
Features & opinion
The toxic effects of air pollution are so bad that moving from fossil fuels to clean energy would pay for itself in health-care savings and productivity gains — even if climate change didn’t exist. A model presented to the US government by earth scientist Drew Shindell predicts that over 20 years, aggressive decarbonization could save around 1.4 million lives in the United States alone that would otherwise be lost to air pollution. The shocking numbers arise from huge data sets being generated in the United States, China and other countries. “The air-quality scientific community has hypothesized this for at least a decade, but research advances have let us quantify and confirm this notion, over and over,” says air-quality researcher Rebecca Saari. “The air quality ‘co-benefits’ are generally so valuable that they exceed the cost of climate action, often many times over.”
In Canada, land that scientists once thought would stay frozen forever is melting. Visceral descriptions of islands disgorging semi-frozen mud illustrate the catastrophic changes happening in the permafrost that underlies nearly half of Canada. As a result, people are losing their homes, infrastructure is failing and wildlife is struggling to adapt. “When permafrost thaws, we’re losing the glue that holds the landscape together,” says permafrost scientist Steve Kokelj.
Before the pandemic, stem-cell biologist Prabha Devan was already getting up at 4 a.m. and working late in the laboratory so that she could combine her research with parenting her 7-year-old son. Then came COVID-19: schools closed and childcare options disappeared. “I am used to coping on my own, but this seems very bleak,” she says. Devan and other parents share how their lives were thrown into chaos by lockdowns and a lack of support for scientists with caregiving responsibilities.
Leif-lovers, we are preparing a special penguin-seeking event for the next two weeks (when I will be on holiday and the regular Briefing will be on hold). So be sure to stay tuned.
In the meantime, hone your animal-spotting skills with herpetologist Earyn McGee’s weekly #FindThatLizard challenge. (And, unlike our beloved pal Penguinson, the lizards are REAL.) McGee is hosting a live #FindThatLizard special event tomorrow, and kindly provides some #FindThatLizard colouring pages as we anxiously await.
With contributions by Nicky Phillips