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Unemployment demonstration during the Great Depression in front of the Capitol, 1931.

People demand rights for the unemployed during the Great Depression in 1931 in front of the US Capitol.Credit: Alamy

The Great Depression shaped people’s DNA

The cells of people who were conceived during the Great Depression show signs of ageing faster than they should. The changes were measured in the cells’ epigenome, the chemical tags attached to DNA that determine how and when genes are expressed. Researchers say that the patterns they have uncovered could be tied to higher rates of disease and death.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: PNAS paper

Extreme numbers get new names

By the 2030s, the world will generate around a yottabyte of data per year — that’s 1024 bytes, or the amount that would fit on DVDs stacked all the way to Mars. The data boom has prompted the governors of the metric system to agree on new prefixes to describe the outrageously big and small. The prefixes ronna and quetta represent 1027 and 1030, and ronto and quecto signify 10−27 and 10−30. Earth weighs around one ronnagram, and an electron’s mass is about one quectogram. Ronna and quetta might sound strange now, but so did giga and tera once, says metrologist Olivier Pellegrino. This is the first update to the prefix system since 1991, when zetta (1021), zepto (10−21), yotta (1024) and yocto (10−24) were added.

Nature | 5 min read

Theranos founder sentenced to 11 years

Elizabeth Holmes has been sentenced to 11 years and 1 month in prison after being found guilty of fraud against investors in her blood-testing company, Theranos. Theranos claimed it could run more than 200 health tests on just a few drops of blood taken from a finger prick — but the claims were exaggerated. “She pushed the envelope a little too far,” says legal scholar Anat Alon-Beck. “You fake it ’til you make it, but it was too much ‘fake’.”

Wired | 5 min read

Read more: Lessons for scientists from the Theranos debacle (Nature | 5 min read, from January)

Features & opinion

Online groups support women in STEM

Giving women fair access to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) requires mentorship and a professional network — so-called social capital. “I can’t underscore how important this community is for girls and non-binary people,” says Tarika Barrett, an education reformer and chief executive of the non-profit organization Girls Who Code. “When they’re feeling as though they can’t persist in the field, they have that community to lean on, coupled with their computer-science expertise.” Four leaders of groups dedicated to women in technology share their stories and tips for better allyship.

Nature | 9 min read

‘A new era of behavioural climate research’

Climate change is rooted in human behaviour, and behavioural change will be key to achieving solutions. A joint special from Nature Human Behaviour and Nature Climate Change focuses on how to better incorporate behavioural science into tangible improvements in climate policy. “We are at the beginning of a new era of behavioural climate research,” says the accompanying editorial.

Nature Human Behaviour & Nature Climate Change joint special | Full collection & Editorial

When your book gets a backlash

Neuroscientist Gina Rippon describes shoddy science reporting and the misuse of brain research as “neurotrash”. One example is the way brain images are “hijacked by self-help gurus, relationship counsellors and even those espousing single-sex education”, she says. Neurotrash contributed to the furore over her book, in which she argues that our brains are not fixed as male or female at birth, but are instead highly plastic, changing constantly throughout our lives and influenced by the gendered world in which we live. Rippon shares what it was like to write and promote her first popular-science book and how she dealt with the backlash.

Nature | 8 min read

Podcast: A radical plan for vaccine equity

Countries in the global south who found themselves at the end of the queue for COVID-19 vaccines have banded together to create a radical plan to produce mRNA vaccines locally. If successful, they could end a dangerous dependency on wealthy nations and help to stop pandemics before they start.

SETI Institute Big Picture Science podcast | 2 hour 23 min listen

Read more: The open-science plan to develop mRNA vaccines all around the world (Nature | 22 min read, from July)

Quote of the day

“It’s a known problem that when policymakers want to delay action, they call for more research. And we went along with that. I simply could not go along with this anymore.”

Wolfgang Knorr co-founded ‘Faculty for a Future’, which offers free resources to academics who want to transform their careers in response to the urgency of the climate and ecological crises. (Nature Human Behaviour | 6 min read)