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Daily briefing: Long-sought structure of Pepto-Bismol decoded

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Chrystia Freeland receives a standing ovation as she delivers the federal budget.

Canadian finance minister Chrystia Freeland introduced the country’s federal budget on 7 April.Credit: Canadian Press/Shutterstock

Canada announces new innovation agency

The Canadian government has announced that it will invest Can$1 billion (US$780 million) over the next five years to create a funding agency focused on innovation in science and technology. The country has long lagged behind its peers, ranking last in the G7 group of wealthy nations in terms of business spending on research and development. “This is a well-known Canadian problem — and an insidious one,” said finance minister Chrystia Freeland in her speech setting out the federal budget, which authorizes the agency. “It is time for Canada to tackle it.” The unit will buck a trend of countries trying to replicate the renowned US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); instead, it will be modelled on innovation agencies in Finland and Israel.

Nature | 6 min read

Extreme heat ramps up in India

Life-threatening heat waves have arrived a month earlier than normal in India, with temperatures in Delhi expected to reach 44 ℃ this week. The region is already under pressure from a warmer-than-normal spring — and it will only get hotter, says the India Meteorological Department. Hot days can kill, and even uncomfortably hot nights can affect health, with the poorest people most affected. Greening cities, changing labour laws to protect those who work without cooling, and redesigning buildings can all help, say researchers. “We are doing some things right but it’s time to up our game,” says climate-change-adaptation researcher Chandni Singh. “Because we have to live with the heat.”

BBC | 5 min read

The secret of Pepto-Bismol

The compound bismuth subsalicylate — the active ingredient in the antacid Pepto-Bismol — has a molecular structure that looks like a layered sugar wafer. Bismuth subsalicylate has been used since 1900 to treat gastric infections, ulcers and upset stomachs, but the drug’s molecular structure has remained unclear. Researchers now report that the chemical is made up of a stack of flat layers of molecules with ions sandwiched between them, making it nearly impossible to dissolve the drug in water. The structure also enables the crystals to resist acidic conditions, which might explain the drug’s functions and why it works so well in the human gastrointestinal system.

Chemistry World | 5 min read

Reference: Nature Communications paper

Features & opinion

The story of a COVID lifesaver

In November, an antiviral pill called Paxlovid raised hopes that it offered a game-changing treatment when its developer, Pfizer, released interim data indicating that it cut the risk of hospitalization or death in vulnerable people newly diagnosed with COVID-19 by 89%. Researchers continue to investigate the drug’s characteristics and effects, but “at this point this is the best therapy we have that we can use widely”, says health-policy researcher Ashish Jha, a leader in the US government’s response to COVID-19. Its development, in a country where a new drug typically takes 11 years, took just 20 months.

STAT | 13 min read

Read more: Hundreds of COVID trials could provide a deluge of new drugs (Nature | 10 min read, from March)

Five female Ukrainian scientific pioneers

Female Ukrainian scientists who were born before the Second World War take centre stage in the first of a three-part series on the blog of meta-scientist Hilda Bastian. They include Sofia Okunevska-Morachevska, who was the first female physician in the Austro-Hungarian empire, and Claudia Yakovlevna Latysheva, who went from being the first woman to gain a PhD in mathematics in Ukraine to dean of the faculty of mechanics and mathematics at the National University of Kyiv.

Absolutely Maybe blog | 12 min read

Podcast: a continent on the cusp of change

Early-career researchers in Africa are starting to reap the benefits of increased investment in science and a growth in the number of research collaborations and partnerships, says Ifeyinwa Aniebo, a molecular geneticist who researches malaria drug resistance in Nigeria. Aniebo’s assessment of the current state of science across the continent launches an eight-part podcast series, Science in Africa, presented by Akin Jimoh, chief editor of Nature Africa.

Nature Careers Podcast | 12 min listen

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Image of the week

Perseverance's landing system sits amongst dust and rocks on Mars

Nature | 4 min read, from 2021

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter captured images of the discarded landing system that gave the Perseverance rover its white-knuckle ride to the surface of Mars. The white backshell, which protected the rover in space and during its entry into Mars’ atmosphere at nearly 20,000 kilometres per hour, is shown upright surrounded by debris. In the upper-left-hand corner of the image, most of the 21.5-metre-wide parachute is covered in dust, obscuring the message encoded in the red-and-white stripes: “dare mighty things”. (NASA press release | 5 min read)

Read more: Mars video reveals Perseverance rover’s daring touchdown

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“In our fast-changing information environment, we should not regulate and legislate by anecdote.”

Social-media companies must release data to independent researchers to allow them to better understand how misinformation, disinformation and other harms can spread, argue four researchers who study the platforms. (Scientific American | 6 min read)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-01215-y

Today I’m pondering the finding that for those of us in the prime of our lives (aged 38–73 years), the optimal amount of sleep for cognitive performance and mental health seems to be seven hours a night. As a fan of a solid eight-hour minimum, I’ll have to sleep on that.

Thanks for reading,

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty

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