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A radio signal detected by an Australian telescope in 2019, which seemed to be coming from the star closest to the Sun, was not from aliens. “It is human-made radio interference from some technology, probably on the surface of the Earth,” says astronomer Sofia Sheikh. Initially the disturbance, detected in the course of Breakthrough Listen — an ambitious and privately funded US$100-million effort in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence — looked intriguing enough that it prompted an 11-month investigation into its origins. The experience puts scientists in a better position to study future candidates.
Archaeologists have used ancient DNA samples to identify the genetic homeland of modern horses, where the animals were first domesticated around 4,200 years ago. They found that modern domestic horses probably originated on the steppes around the Volga and Don rivers, now part of Russia, before spreading across Eurasia, ultimately replacing all pre-existing horse lineages. “This study has solved a massive mystery, and also fundamentally altered our view of some of the most significant human migrations in prehistory,” says bioarchaeologist Alan Outram.
The Brazilian science community is aghast after President Jair Bolsonaro signed a bill sending 600 million reais (US$106.3 million) earmarked for the country’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to several other government departments. The promise of the money earlier in the year had triggered Brazil’s main science-funding agency to initiate a call for research-grant applications. Now, the 8,000 submitted proposals face an uncertain future. “The whole situation is depressing,” says computer scientist Patricia Endo. “If it were not for my family, I would have left the country already.”
Features & opinion
Vaccines based on messenger RNA (mRNA) were in development long before the SARS-CoV-2 virus began infecting people, but the pandemic has hugely accelerated the process. The success of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines — including those made by Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna — offers hints that the same approach could provide protection against other diseases, such as malaria, rabies and influenza. “The COVID-19 pandemic could prove to be the great accelerator of vaccine technology, rather like nuclear power after World War Two,” says infectious-diseases consultant Christopher Green.
Inside the legal battle to decide who owns your DNA
In 2009, lawyer Chirs Hansen embarked on a lawsuit that ended gene patenting in the United States. The effort seemed doomed, yet Hansen went on to win at the US Supreme Court, challenging the very idea of what patents are and what they should do. The unexpected twists and turns of that case — as well as its impact on medicine, and particularly on the lives of women affected by breast and ovarian cancer — are detailed in Jorge L. Contreras’s book The Genome Defense. The story stands as a guide to the forces that shape the “increasingly important” genetic-testing industry, writes reviewer Heidi Ledford.
Where I work
Many people would struggle to make sense of the scribbled equations on this chalkboard. But as someone with albinism, a genetic condition that impairs vision, theoretical-physicist Sofia Qvafort faces particular challenges. Qvafort started VIP@Uni, a website that offers tips and resources for visually impaired people in academia. “If you’re passionate about something, you find ways around the obstacles,” she says. (Nature | 3 min read)