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Daily briefing: Enigmatic archaea might be key to complex life

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image from THEMIS, The Thermal Emission Imaging System instrument on board.

A false-colour image of Zhurong’s landing site; the image is a composite of ones taken by NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Warmer features, such as rocky surfaces that retain heat at night, appear redder; dusty surfaces, which are cooler, appear blue-green. A conical feature in the top left could be a mud volcano.Credit: NASA/ASU

Where no rover has gone before

Scientists are rushing to analyse satellite images and geological maps of the landing site of China’s Zhurong Mars rover, to pinpoint intriguing features and plan the rover’s next steps. Until Zhurong touched down on Saturday, the potential landing zone — in a vast impact crater called Utopia Planitia — was thousands of kilometres across, meaning that scientists could only loosely finger sites of possible interest. Of particular significance is a possible mud volcano — a type of landform that no Mars rover has visited before.

Nature | 5 min read

Mammals can breathe through their bums

Researchers have successfully demonstrated a technique to oxygenate the blood of pigs and rodents by introducing liquid oxygen into their anuses. Inspired by aquatic organisms that can breathe through their intestines, researchers gave the animals enemas with oxygen-rich perfluorocarbon liquid. Scientists hope that the approach could one day be used to treat people with low oxygen, without risking the lung damage that can be caused by mechanical ventilators.

The Scientist | 6 min read

Reference: Med paper

Features & opinion

Coloured scanning electron micrograph of Prometheoarchaeum syntrophicum archaea

Scientists spent 12 years culturing a slow-growing, tentacled archaeon thought to be similar to the ancestor of complex cells.Credit: Hiroyuki Imachi, Masaru K. Nobu and JAMSTEC

Meet the parents

Enigmatic microbes called archaea are best known for living in extreme environments, such as deep-ocean vents and acid lakes. They might also hold the key to understanding how complex life evolved on Earth. Many scientists suspect that an ancient archaeon gave rise to the group of organisms known as eukaryotes, which include amoebae, mushrooms, plants and people. A surge in interest in these oft-overlooked microbes, and the ongoing invention of methods for tending to them in the laboratory, is bringing researchers closer than ever before to plausible evolutionary answers.

Nature | 11 min read

Two ways to make complex cells: Graphic that shows two theories of how complex eukaryotic cells evolved from a simple archaeon.

Nik Spencer/Nature; Source: B. Baum & D. A. Baum BMC Biol. 18, 72 (2020).

Media bias delegitimizes Black-rights protesters

The way that the media reports Black civil-rights protests has contributed to the long delay in reckoning with anti-Black racism, argues media researcher Danielle Kilgo. Kilgo and her colleagues used linguistic analysis to quantify narratives from newspapers, websites and television, mainly in the United States. The results reveal that civil-rights protesters are the least likely to have their concerns and demands presented substantively, compared with protestors focusing on other issues, such as women’s rights or gun control. “Less space is given to protesters’ quotes; more space to official sources,” she writes. “The dominant narrative accentuates trivial, disruptive and combative actions.”

Nature | 5 min read

Nobel laureate nearly nuked Nevada

Frederick Reines was a larger-than-life physicist who did larger-than-life experiments. One of his efforts to detect neutrinos — for which he eventually won a share of the 1995 Nobel in physics — originally involved detonating a 20-kiloton nuclear bomb in the Nevada desert, although it ultimately took place in a nuclear reactor. A new biography of Reines by his cousin Leonard Cole introduces us to “an inspiring, supportive colleague and an entertainingly boisterous companion, who whistled and sang his way through life”, writes reviewer Alison Abbott.

Nature | 7 min read

Image of the week

Darwin’s Arch, before and after it collapsed.

In the Galápagos archipelago, Darwin’s Arch, a memorable rock formation named after the iconic naturalist Charles Darwin, collapsed on Monday. Ecuador’s environment ministry said the cause was natural erosion. “It really was an icon of the Galápagos landscape,” says Jen Jones, at the Galápagos Conservation Trust. “The collapse of the arch is a reminder of how fragile our world is.” (The Guardian | 3 min read)(Judith Holford/Alamy, Héctor Barrera/Ecuador's Ministry of Environment)

Quote of the day

“Universal health care might seem a lofty goal amid a crisis, but if we do not push for change now, we will regret it.”

The crucial task of vaccinating the world’s population against COVID-19 must not overshadow the need to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to basic health care, argues a Nature editorial.


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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by John Pickrell

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