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How to build a moon clock: Diagram showing three atomic clocks on the moon that could be used to determine lunar time.

Image credit: NASA

No one knows what time it is on the Moon

Scientists are working to define the first official time for the Moon. This will help to coordinate lunar missions and allow creation of a lunar satellite navigation system. Defining lunar time will involve installing at least three master clocks that tick at the Moon’s natural pace, which is slightly faster than time on Earth because the Moon has weaker gravity. The clocks’ combined output could then be synchronized to Earth time.

Nature | 6 min read

Bird flu spreads in mink farm

An outbreak of avian influenza on a mink farm in Spain in October 2022 provides the strongest evidence so far that the H5N1 strain of bird flu can spread from one infected mammal to another. Genetic sequencing showed that the animals were infected with a new variant of H5N1, which includes genetic material from a strain found in gulls, as well as a genetic change known to increase the ability of some animal-flu viruses to reproduce in mammals. Until this particular outbreak, all mammalian infections could be attributed to direct contact with virus-contaminated material, says virologist Hualan Chen. Its spread between mammals “implies that this H5N1 virus may pose a higher risk to public health”, Chen says. Eleven farm workers were in contact with the infected mink in Spain, but all tested negative for H5N1.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Eurosurveillance paper

Women get half the lab space of men

Female scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, have, on average, half as much research space and one-third the storage space of men, according to a report released by the institute last week. The discrepancy is not explained by factors such as funding, seniority or group size. The data echo similar findings stretching back to a groundbreaking 1999 report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led by biologist Nancy Hopkins, who measured every lab in the biology building under the cover of darkness. “I looked at this thing and I thought, ‘Oh my God, 30 years; I was doing this 30 years ago’,” she says. “It has been written about and talked about and it’s still happening.”

Science | 6 min read

Reference: University of California, San Diego report

China’s plan to detect worrisome variants

China is ramping up efforts to monitor COVID-19 variants circulating in its population, and has announced plans to have 3 hospitals in each of its 31 provinces genetically sequence virus samples collected from 15 outpatients, 10 people with severe COVID-19 and all people who have died from COVID-19 each week. Scientists are divided on whether these plans will be enough to rapidly detect a concerning variant that could cause new waves of infection and death, in part because many other nations have reduced their genomic monitoring.

Nature | 3 min read

Petition to reverse ecologist’s suspension

More than 300 scientists have signed a petition imploring the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), to reverse Priyanga Amarasekare’s suspension. The ecologist was suspended without salary or benefits for undisclosed reasons — a punishment, the signatories say, “normally applied only to the most egregious wrongdoings”. Amarasekare’s colleagues and former students suspect that she was targeted for accusing the university of discrimination. UCLA says it “supports freedom of expression and does not condone retaliation of any sort”.

Nature | 5 min read

Features & opinion

Cartoon of an anthropomorphised T-cell driving a hot rod at speed with fire and smoke coming out of the exhaust

Illustration by Fabio Buonocore

Supercharging cancer-fighting T cells

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapies, which modify a person’s own immune cells to dial up their search-and-destroy function, have become a game changer for treating blood cancers. Scientists are now looking to CRISPR genome editing to address some of the biggest issues for CAR-T cells: they don’t work well against solid tumours, can have dangerous side effects and are exceedingly expensive to make. And with more than 500 clinical trials under way, CAR-T cells might even start going beyond cancer.

Nature | 10 min read

How to stop Ebola before it spreads

Henry Kyobe Bosa, the national incident manager for Ebola and COVID-19 for Uganda, and his colleagues worked tirelessly to quash a recent Ebola outbreak there. “Last October, just 3 weeks into the outbreak, the disease spread to Kampala, a well-connected city of 1.5 million people,” he warns. “From there, it might easily have entered other countries.” But the quarantines and lockdowns that controlled the spread came at a high cost, especially for the country’s poorest people. He calls for a preventative vaccination effort to protect vulnerable populations in sub-Saharan Africa and, through them, the rest of the world.

Nature | 5 min read

From scientist to entrepreneur

After failing to find a tenure-track position, ecologist Ana Pineda ditched academia to teach scientists mindful productivity and writing skills through her online business. Becoming an entrepreneur rewarded her with intellectual, geographical, time and financial freedom, she writes. On the flipside, running a business comes with uncertainty, self-doubt and the stress of having to continually attract clients.

Nature | 7 min read

Infographic of the week

Graphical representation of the abstract showing mice reacting to stimulation of Mrgprb4-lineage neurons

The sensation of a gentle touch can make mice happier and more sexually receptive, thanks to skin neurons that are sensitive to touch and activate a reward pathway in the brain. Scientists genetically engineered mice so that their touch-sensitive skin neurons could be activated by a flash of blue light — without the scientists actually having to touch them. When researchers triggered the cells, female mice assumed a sexually receptive pose, even if no other mice were around. And the mice seemed to seek out the sensation again. Eliminating the neurons caused female mice to fight off males that they would normally have tried to mate with. The results might one day lead to therapies for stress and anxiety, especially for people who do not like to be touched. (Nature Research Highlight | 2 min read, Nature paywall)

Reference: Cell paper (Leah J. Elias et al./Cell)

Quote of the day

“From its earliest times, science has operated by being open and transparent about methods and evidence, regardless of which technology has been in vogue.”

A Nature editorial asks how transparency and trust-worthiness can be maintained if researchers use software, such as ChatGPT, that works in a fundamentally opaque manner. (4 min read)