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Collagen fibers (second harmonic generation) and dermal pigment cells (autofluorescence) in African house snake embryonic skin.

Credit: Grigorii Timin

The month’s best science images

This confocal-microscope image shows the scaly skin of an African house snake (Lamprophis spp.) embryo in exquisite detail. The bright dots along the edge of each scale show dermal pigment cells, and the silvery criss-crossing strands are collagen fibres. Biophysicist Grigorii Timin captured the shot, which was a regional winner at the Olympus Image of the Year Award 2020.

See more of the month’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature’s photo team.

Nature | Leisurely scroll

‘Spectacular’ Neanderthal find in Italy

The remains of 9 Neanderthals who died between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago have been unearthed in a cave outside Rome. According to archaeologists, the Neanderthals were killed by hyenas and dragged into the cave to be devoured. The bones were found in the Guattari Cave, the site of an earlier Neanderthal discovery in 1939. “It is a spectacular find,” says archaeologist Mario Rolfo. “A collapse, perhaps caused by an earthquake, sealed this cave for more than 60,000 years, thereby preserving the remains left inside for tens of thousands of years.”

The Guardian | 5 min read

Reference: Italian Ministry of Culture press release (in Italian but with some worthwhile videos)

COVID-19 coronavirus update


What we know about variants in India

Scientists are working to understand several coronavirus variants now circulating in India, where a ferocious second wave of COVID-19 has devastated the nation and caught authorities unprepared. The country recorded nearly 400,000 new infections on 9 May, taking its total to more than 22 million. Evidence is growing that one variant — B.1.617 — first detected in India might be more transmissible and slightly better at evading immunity than are existing variants. Animal models also hint that it might be able to cause more severe disease. Researchers want to know whether this variant and others might be driving the second wave and what kind of danger they pose globally.

Nature | 7 min read


How India can tackle the mutating virus

With unprecedented SARS-CoV-2 infections, India is likely to become a hotspot of future mutations unless the contagion is rapidly controlled, write Anurag Agrawal, the director of the CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in Delhi, and medical student Disha Agrawal. They outline, in simple terms, how India can tackle a mutating virus head-on: “sequencing, sequencing and more sequencing”. Rising infections and ineffective therapies raise the risk of dangerous variants, they say, and genetic sequencing is key to keeping them in check.

Nature India | 6 min read

Notable quotable

“Our sherpas are known for sharing their oxygen with struggling climbers at high altitude. Today, COVID-19 is leaving our country breathless.”

KP Sharma Oli, the prime minister of Nepal, pleads with the international community to urgently share vaccines, diagnostic tools, oxygen kits, critical-care medicines and equipment. (The Guardian | 5 min read)

Features & opinion

Stop the emerging AI cold war

A race between the United States, China and Russia to militarize artificial intelligence (AI) is gearing up. A call by the US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence for “the integration of AI-enabled technologies into every facet of war-fighting” will only undermine the country’s ability to lead emerging global norms on AI, argues legal scholar Denise Garcia. “Enhancing AI war-fighting capacity will decrease security in a world where the biggest threats are instability — political, social, economic and planetary,” writes Garcia.

Nature | 5 min read

How to deal with an academic bully

Standing up to a persecutor is tough, particularly if they are your supervisor. But you can take steps to defend yourself. Eight higher-education professionals who research bullying in academia offer sober advice about some of the options available, and how to protect your career and mental well-being in the process.

Nature | 11 min read

Quote of the day

“Cats are funny, cats are weird and quirky, and we love them for it. And that makes them hard to study.”

Animal-behaviour researcher Gabriella Smith drafted citizen scientists to observe their own pet cats. They helped discover that felines will choose to sit inside an optical illusion of a box. (NPR | 5 min read)