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Daily briefing: First transplant of a gene-edited pig heart

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Surgeons at the University of Maryland School of Medicine transplant a genetically altered pig heart into David Bennett.University of Maryland School of Medicine

First person receives gene-edited pig heart

A person in the United States is the first to receive a transplant of a genetically modified pig heart. Yesterday, the University of Maryland Medical Center announced that the 57-year-old patient was still doing well 3 days after the surgery. The heart came from a pig raised by Revivicor, a US firm that spun off from the UK company that helped to clone Dolly the sheep. It’s not clear exactly how the pig was gene-edited, but the company has developed pigs whose cell surfaces do not have a sugar molecule called α-1,3-galactose, or α-gal, which triggers the human immune system. The man also received an experimental drug made by Kiniksa Pharmaceuticals designed to stave off rejection.

STAT | 8 min read

Read more: New life for pig-to-human transplants (Nature | 11 min read, from 2015)

‘If it’s not on arXiv, it doesn’t exist’

On January 3, the arXiv server hit a milestone when it published its two millionth preprint. Since it was created in 1991 by physicist Paul Ginsparg, the repository has become indispensable for sharing research in fields such as astronomy, particle physics and mathematics. Such explosive growth is not painless: a handful of staff and volunteer moderators work to ensure that the 1,200 daily submissions meet basic quality standards. Critics worry that the full diversity of scientific thought — and of scientists themselves — is not represented among those gatekeepers. And the site has struggled with stability. “We’re an old classic car, and the rust has finally come through, and the pistons are wearing out,” says astrophysicist Steinn Sigurdsson, arXiv’s scientific director. “We are understaffed and underfunded — and have been for years.”

Scientific American | 10 min read

Features & opinion

E. O. Wilson: from ants to the whole world

Evolutionary biologist Edward (Ed) Wilson was a world authority on ants who became one of the great scholarly synthesizers. He brought ideas of biodiversity into the mainstream and won two Pulitzer prizes, one with his Nature obituarist Bert Hölldobler. Wilson died on 26 December, aged 92. His book Sociobiology, published in 1975, was the first to address the evolution and organization of societies in organisms ranging from colonial bacteria to primates. Its final chapter, on human social interaction, ignited controversy for its argument that our behaviour was rooted in genetics. In 2016, his book Half-Earth made a passionate plea to leave half of our world to nature.

Nature | 5 min read

How to stamp out fake clinical data

It is surprisingly hard to detect faked medical trials in the literature — but not impossible, says Lisa Bero, who studies bias in the design, conduct and publication of research. She has been part of a years-long initiative to exclude fraudulent studies from reviews produced by Cochrane, an international group that specializes in synthesizing evidence in medicine and health. Multiple checks are necessary, and success requires all involved in the publication pipeline to step up and coordinate, she writes.

Nature | 5 min read

There are no ‘natural’ disasters

Hazards such as floods, droughts and heatwaves might be natural, but disasters are human-made, argue disaster researcher Emmanuel Raju, sustainability researcher Emily Boyd and climate scientist Friederike Otto. Disasters occur when hazards meet vulnerability — such as when the most vulnerable groups of people are pushed to live in hazardous areas. The authors argue that “a discourse in which the role of human activity in disasters is clearly communicated — as opposed to blaming nature or the climate — will be more conducive to a proactive, equitable and ultimately successful approach to reducing impacts of disasters”.

Communications Earth & Environment | 8 min read

Where I work

Sergey Zimov photographs a camel at the Pleistocene Park.

Sergey Zimov is founding director of the Northeast Science Station in Cherskii, Russia.Credit: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Geophysicist Sergey Zimov is founding director of the Northeast Science Station in Cherskii, Russia — a settlement of about 2,500 people in the delta of the Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, beyond the Arctic Circle. “For the past 30 years, my team has been trying to recreate the grassland ecosystem that existed here tens of thousands of years ago by repopulating the area with large herbivores, such as this camel,” says Zimov. “The area we’re rewilding covers 20 square kilometres, and we call it Pleistocene Park.”

Quote of the day

“I think it makes perfect sense. Dolphins have a lot of sex.”

Tissues, nerves and structures indicate that the clitorises of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have evolved to function for pleasure, says biologist Patricia Brennan. (New Scientist | 7 min read)

Reference: Current Biology paper


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