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Daily briefing: The longest-known earthquake lasted 32 years

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The large stump of a dead coral microatoll sits on a beach on an island near Sumatra.

Coral microatolls, such as this one, cannot grow when exposed to air, so their fossilized bodies record elevation changes that push them up out of the water.Aron Meltzner/Earth Observatory of Singapore

Coral scars show 32-year-long earthquake

A devastating earthquake in Indonesia in 1861 was the crescendo of a 32-year-long clash between the tectonic plates below the island. It is the longest such ‘slow slip event’ ever recorded, and it left its mark in the bodies of the long-lived corals that inhabit the seas above. Researchers analysed growth patterns in corals on Simeulue Island, which were periodically exposed to the air as the land rose up and down. The corals record decades of vertical movement at the fault, from 1738 to the moment they died when thrust up by the 1861 quake. The findings will help seismologists to better understand some of the most dangerous quakes on Earth: the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people were preceded by a slow slip.

Scientific American | 4 min read

Go deeper with geoscientist Daniel Melnick in the Nature Geoscience News & Views article.

Reference: Nature Geoscience paper

120—150 years

The maximum lifespan for humans, according to an analysis of blood cell counts and physical activity among ageing people. (Scientific American | 6 min read)

Reference: Nature Communications paper

COVID-19 coronavirus update

A city gardener works next to a mural showing a health worker wearing a face mask in Mexico City.

A mural promotes mask use while honouring health workers in Mexico City.Credit: Pedro Padro/AFP via Getty

The science of mask mandates

With COVID-19 rates dropping and vaccinations on the rise, some regions, such as places in the United States, are lifting mask mandates. Others, such as Germany, are doubling-down on a public-health strategy that has been proven to protect. Both approaches have contributed to evidence — gained from the current pandemic and from public-health responses to diseases such as HIV — that effective messaging and role models can be as important as official regulations. “Like any human behaviour, it’s more complex than saying, ‘Thou shalt do this,’” says epidemiologist Ronald Valdiserri.

Nature | 13 min read

Southeast Asia’s mRNA-vaccine pioneer

The designer of Thailand’s ChulaCov19 vaccine talks to Nature about his aim to make the nation into an mRNA-vaccine hub, and the challenge of competing with bigger rivals. Human trials of ChulaCov19 are about to launch. If they are successful, Thailand could emerge as an important supplier of mRNA vaccines in Asia, making it a small but significant player in the dash to adopt the new technology. Homegrown mRNA vaccines are already undergoing trials in China, India and Japan. Thailand is a relative newcomer in the region, but its efforts have increased in urgency as it and its neighbours suffer both vaccine shortages and renewed COVID-19 surges.

Nature | 5 min read

Features & opinion

All about AI

Two books offer complementary insights into how artificial intelligence (AI) is shaping society. In The Alignment Problem, writer Brian Christian gives an intimate view of the people making AI technology — their aims, expectations, hopes, challenges and desolations. In Atlas of AI, scholar Kate Crawford deals with how, practically, AI gets into and plays out in our lives. “Meticulously researched and superbly written, these books… show that the responsible — ethical, legal and beneficial — development and use of AI is not about technology,” writes reviewer Virginia Dignum. “It is about us.”

Nature | 6 min read

One cow to feed them all

Even laboratory-grown meat is made from cows — or from one cow, at least. Researchers must start with conventional meat cells, which someday might serve as the seed for huge bioreactors churning out more environmentally sound, ethical flesh. This means scientists must get their hands on reliable cell lines to study — but in the secretive world of cultured meat, no one wants to share. “There’s basically nowhere to start yet. If anyone wants to get into this field, it takes a significant amount of resources and time to acquire and characterize a cell line in-house,” says cultivated-meat researcher Elliot Swartz.

Wired | 15 min read

Quote of the day

“There’s no way the individual who saved these samples in 1918 had any idea of what could be done to them… To my mind, this is a beautiful example of fundamental research.”

Influenza researcher Andrew Mehle lauds the farsighted pathologist who preserved lung samples that have offered insight into the 1918 flu epidemic. (The Atlantic | 6 min read)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-01446-5

Do you know a champion of science (or maybe you are one)? Nominations are now open for the 2021 John Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science. The award recognizes the work of any individual who promotes science and evidence on a matter of public interest in the face of hostility. There is also a prize for early-career individuals. The closing date is 14 June — find out more or nominate someone here.

This newsletter is always evolving — tell us what you think! Please send your feedback to briefing@nature.com.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by John Pickrell

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