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Laboratory Longtail Macaques in the breeding centre of the National Primate Research Center of Thailand.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the supply of research monkeys has been low.Credit: Mladen Antonov/AFP via Getty

‘Monkey laundering’ undermines research

Laboratory monkeys are being illegally poached from the wild, falsely labelled as captive-bred and sold as research animals — a practice known as monkey laundering. Smugglers are being drawn by skyrocketing prices after the biggest supplier, China, halted exports to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Monkey laundering could invalidate study results because wild monkeys have been exposed to a cocktail of diseases, and forcing them into captivity is stressful for them. “We know [through] doing experiments that healthy, happy animals result in the most consistent data,” says microbiologist Ricardo Carrion.

Nature | 6 min read

Scientists and the Israel–Hamas conflict

Among the terrible losses suffered in Israel in the 7 October Hamas attacks, Ben-Gurion University (BGU) lost 84 people, including students and faculty members. One of them was theoretical physicist Sergey Gredeskul. “Apart from being a great physicist, Sergey was also a musician, a storyteller and a historian of the famed Kharkiv school of physics,” says BGU’s head of physics, Oleg Krichevsky.Five out of the six main universities in Gaza have been bombed or damaged in Israel’s bombardment and ground operation against Hamas. Electrical engineer Hatem Ali Elaydi says that 74 people from seven families are sheltering in his home. “There is no electricity, no Internet, no drinking water, no fuel” and the families are drinking salty water from the sea, he says.In the West Bank, in-person teaching and research has stopped because of the risk of being shot on the way to campus. As of yesterday, three Israelis and 183 Palestinians had been killed in the West Bank since 7 October, according to United Nations sources.For now, many international collaborations are on ice. But some academics cling to hope that their work will offer a bridge to peace. “Those projects are typically at the level of person-to-person,” says Arie Zaban, president of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. “Once it’s at the level of people speaking to people, it’s a very strong relationship and it takes a lot to break it.”

Nature | 11 min read

Earliest bird signs in southern hemisphere

Footprints preserved in the rocks of Australia’s south coast might have been left by ancient birds 128 million years ago — the earliest evidence for birds in the southern hemisphere. The 27 tracks would have been made when Australia was part of the Gondwana supercontinent; this particular bit of land was close to the South Pole. Features such as widely spread toes and a distinctive perching claw suggest the animals were birds, not dinosaurs. “It would open its mouth, and you would see teeth,” says palaeontologist Anthony Martin. “And it has a tail, with no tail feathers. You would see it’s a transitional animal from its dinosaur ancestors.”

The Guardian | 6 min read

Reference: PLoS ONE paper

Two bird footprints uncovered at low tide are preserved in sandstone shown side by side. Small barnacles are visible encrusted on the rock

Tracks left by Cretaceous birds are shown here with a white bar indicating a 5-centimetre scale. A. J. Martin et al./Plos One (CC-BY-4.0)

Features & opinion

Why so many food technologies fail

The scientific narrative around new food technologies, such as genetically modified crops, often fails to take into account how political and economic forces shape agriculture, note agricultural-development researcher Klara Fischer and anthropologist Joeva Sean Rock. And initial hopes that advances will ease the challenges of subsistence farmers and smallholders often fall by the wayside in favour of private profits. Fischer and Rock argue that the way we frame the future of food has to change.

Nature Reviews Bioengineering | 5 min read

How to fix disaster early-warning systems

Early-warning systems can stop natural hazards from becoming disasters. But the UN’s US$3.1-billion early-warming programme is “doomed to fail unless it is supported and implemented from well beyond the realms of the UN”, argue warning researchers Andrew Tupper and Carina Fearnley. For example, the places that most need such systems are often where the top-down UN approach is least effective. And terminology can hinder understanding: a category 4 severe tropical cyclone in Samoa would, in neighbouring American Samoa, be described as a category 3 hurricane. We need more joined-up thinking, and everyone — from local governments to individuals — should get involved, the authors write.

Nature | 12 min read

Video: A robot chemist on Mars

A robotic chemist powered by artificial intelligence can make oxygen from water using only materials found on Mars’s surface. The refrigerator-sized machine separated and analysed ore from Martian meteorites, and then found an effective oxygen-generating catalyst among the more than three million possible compounds — all without human intervention.

Nature | 4 min video

References: Nature Synthesis paper

Click to watch

Quote of the day

“Even if you’re scared, if you truly know you need to change directions, it will work out in your favour.”

Artist, research technician and environmental educator Sierra Weir turned away from the conventional academic career path to focus on the work that really made her happy. (Nature | 6 min read)