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An image from NASA's Mars Perseverance rover taken while it drills for rock samples.

The Perseverance rover drills a rock core from the edge of the ancient river delta in Jezero Crater on Mars.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Are these Mars rocks worth US$11 billion?

NASA is facing some tough questions amid budget woes: where should its Mars rover Perseverance collect its final rock samples — and will it even be able to afford to fly them home? Bringing Perseverance’s precious samples back to Earth could cost as much as US$11 billion. Perseverance’s team is also debating whether to change the rover’s travel plans to save costs. “My focus is really on making sure that we get as much science out of what we can get,” says NASA’s Lindsay Hays.

Nature | 7 min read

AI helps design antibodies from scratch

For the first time, an artificial intelligence (AI) system has helped researchers to design completely new antibodies. Creating new versions of these immune proteins, which can be used as drugs, is usually a lengthy and costly process. An AI algorithm similar to those of the image-generating tools Midjourney and DALL·E was trained on thousands of real-world structures of antibodies attached to their target proteins. It then churned out thousands of new antibodies that recognize certain bacterial, viral or cancer-related targets. Although in laboratory tests only about one in 100 designs worked as hoped, biochemist and study co-author Joseph Watson says that “it feels like quite a landmark moment”.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: bioRxiv preprint (not peer reviewed)

Randomness mathematician wins Abel Prize

The winner of this year’s Abel mathematics prize, Michel Talagrand, developed formulae to make random processes more predictable. He showed that the contributions of many variables that influence processes such as a river’s water level often cancel each other out — making the overall result less variable, not more. Talagrand, who is retired, loves to challenge his fellow mathematicians: he keeps a list of problems on his website, offering cash to those who solve it as long as he’s “not too senile to understand the proofs I receive”.

Nature | 6 min read

Why is Earth so hot right now?

Record heat defies all predictions

We knew that Earth is heating up. But not this much. “For the past nine months, mean land and sea surface temperatures have overshot previous records each month by up to 0.2 °C — a huge margin at the planetary scale,” writes Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “It’s humbling, and a bit worrying, to admit that no year has confounded climate scientists’ predictive capabilities more than 2023 has.”

Several factors might have contributed, besides the greenhouse gases we continue pumping into the atmosphere: the start of the El Niño weather pattern, fallout from the 2022 volcanic eruption in Tonga and a ramp-up of solar activity. But, even after taking all plausible explanations into account, statistical climate models are struggling to explain what’s happening. The worry is that a warming planet is “already fundamentally altering how the climate system operates, much sooner than scientists had anticipated”.

Nature | 5 min read

Infographic of the week

An infographic in two parts. The first image shows a partridge running up a steep slope, its wings folded. The second image shows the same bird running up a near-vertical surface while spreading its wings.

Fifty years ago, palaeontologist John Ostrom proposed that birds evolved from small, bipedal dinosaurs rather than from tree-dwelling animals. He reframed the debate about the origin of flight by focusing on its biomechanics. His ideas were later tested and supported by work — including a 2003 study on chukar partridges (Alectoris chukar) — which showed that wing movement can create a vortex that helps the animal to run up vertical slopes. (Nature News & Views | 8 min read, Nature paywall)

Reference: Quarterly Review of Biology paper (from 1974)

Features & opinion

Cartoon animation showing a cowboy riding a protein structure in a rotoscope-style.

Illustration: Fabio Buonocore

Protein ‘movies’ reveal hidden biology

Time-resolved cryo-electron microscopy is turning still images of the tiny motors and devices that power life into motion pictures. Biomolecules are in constant motion, and capturing this action can help scientists to unravel dynamic processes such as how a muscle protein generates force or how a plant virus infects a cell to release its genetic material. There are various ways of creating these movies, for example freezing samples and using laser pulses to reanimate them for a few microseconds before they refreeze. The technique is “fussy and hard to control”, says structural biologist Bridget Carragher. But there is no shortage of interesting questions for scientists to tackle with it right now

Nature | 9 min read

How to not get hacked

A cyberattack can mean losing precious or sensitive files, such as health records, or having to pay a ransom to regain access to them. To prevent this from happening, “update your software regularly; implement firewall and antivirus solutions; control access and permissions to your systems; encrypt sensitive data”, says information-technology specialist Ildeberto Aparecido Rodello. If you’ve been hacked, “pull out the plugs and shut it down”, advises information-security expert Sarah Lawson. “Close it and then seek advice.”

Nature | 8 min read

Quote of the day

“I thought, ‘Woah, this is affecting me’ — I’m the eldest of four brothers. And not just me, but my community.”

Olugbenga Samuel Oyeniyi explains how he went from a clinical scientist dreaming of finding a cure for malaria to working in public health with a focus on prostate cancer. (Nature | 6 min read)