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Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of four Deinococcus radiodurans bacteria forming a tetrad.

This extremophile bacteria can withstand extreme radiation.Credit: Michael J Daly/Science Photo Library

Bacteria could last on Mars for 280 million years

Researchers have discovered that certain hardy bacteria could survive in the hostile Martian conditions for millions of years, by testing the ability of a selection of ‘extremophile’ microbes — which can live in harsh environments — to survive in cold, radioactive conditions similar to those on Mars. The team found that, when dried and frozen, the Deinococcus radiodurans microbe could survive under the surface of Mars for 280 million years. The findings increase the chance that life could be found in future samples from the red planet.

New Scientist | 2 min read (free registration may be required)

Reference: Astrobiology paper

Bird flu on the rampage

Outbreaks of a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza are leaving a path of destruction across Europe and North America, on a scale that has not been previously seen. Domestic bird culls once kept the virus in check, but sustained circulation in wild birds has become the norm since the early 2000s. Over the past year, transmission in wild birds has ramped up dramatically. “Something is quite different about this virus”, says wildlife-disease researcher Rebecca Poulson, but no one knows exactly what that is. It’s possible that mutations have enabled the virus to infect more bird species than previous strains; mammals such as seals, bobcats and skunks are also being infected. Researchers fear that the outbreaks could rage on.

Nature | 4 min read

Astronomy professor suspended for harassment

An astronomy professor has been suspended from Leiden University, the Netherlands, following years of what the university says was intimidating behaviour towards female colleagues. The decision to suspend the professor was made after an investigation following allegations made in May by four female employees of the university; however, earlier allegations were not properly addressed at the time, says Annetje Ottow, chair of Leiden University’s board. Speaking to the Dutch newspaper NRC, she said: “There were earlier signals. They were not taken seriously enough.” Ottow said that the professor in question has not been fired and will still keep his salary, following the advice of the university’s complaints committee and outside legal counsel.

NRC (news article) | 3 min read and NRC (interview) | 7 min read (originals in Dutch, English translations available through Google)

Features & opinion

The scientists trying to rewind ageing

Research laboratories and biotech companies are applying cellular-reprogramming techniques to animals to see whether they can make them more youthful. The methods are based on the Nobel-prizewinning discovery in 2006 by Japanese scientist Shinya Yamanaka, who turned adult cells into stem cells that resemble embryonic cells. Some scientists say they have found evidence of the procedure rejuvenating the animals and their organs. “We think we can turn back the clock,” Richard Klausner, chief scientist of the company Altos Labs, told an audience at an event in June. Investors are throwing billions into these initiatives, despite a lack of consensus among scientists on what causes ageing and when ageing even begins.

MIT Technology Review | 13 min read

Better databases could help to beat cancer

To make progress on cancer research, scientists need to build large registries that link scattered records, says cancer biologist T. S. Karin Eisinger-Mathason. By taking advantage of technologies that can link disparate but relevant data while preserving privacy, we can trace cancer diagnoses, health effects and risk of death back to potential risk factors, she argues.

Nature | 4 min read

Only one choice for Brazil election

As Brazilians prepare to go to the polls on Sunday, a Nature editorial argues that a second term for Jair Bolsonaro would represent a threat to science, democracy and the environment. Bolsonaro charged into office four years ago denying science, threatening Indigenous peoples’ rights and pushing a development-at-all-costs approach to the economy. This weekend, Brazilians will go to the polls in the second round of one of the country’s most important elections. Bolsonaro is standing for re-election against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the Workers’ Party leader who was president for two terms between 2003 and 2010. Lula is not without baggage — he spent 19 months in jail as a result of a corruption investigation, although the convictions were annulled in 2021. However, he has pledged to achieve ‘net zero’ deforestation and protect Indigenous lands, if elected.

Nature | 4 min read

Quote of the day

“We did not need to excavate her — she had been there for 1,300 years, why would we want to dig her up in 2013?”

Archaeologist Li Ming on being forced to excavate a thousand-year-old tomb belonging to one of the most powerful female politicians in Chinese history, Shangguan Wan’er. The tomb was discovered in 2013 during surveys for a new road-building project, and had to be removed to protect it from damage during the construction work. Li Ming’s story is just one example of China’s struggle to protect its heritage in the face of urban development. (Sixth Tone | 9 min read)