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Coloured functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan of a healthy human brain at rest.

Coloured functional magnetic resonance imaging of a healthy brain at rest.Credit: Mark & Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute/Science Photo Library

DIANA struggles with reproduction

A new technique for measuring brain activity in anaesthetized animals, known as direct imaging of neuronal activity (DIANA), has been difficult for neuroscientists to reproduce. The DIANA technique offered the exciting prospect of tracking neuronal firing on millisecond timescales. But two new studies suggest that the original results might have arisen from experimental error or subjective data selection. The lead researcher on the original paper stands by the results: “I’m also very curious as to why other groups fail in reproducing DIANA,” says physicist Jang-Yeon Park.

Nature | 6 min read

What India’s election might mean for science

On 19 April, 970 million people in India will head to the ballot box to vote in a general election that polls predict will see Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party win a third five-year term. Many scientists in India are hopeful that the period could bring greater spending on applied science. Some have also expressed concerns that funding is not increasing in line with India’s booming economy, and that the government’s top-down control of science, as some researchers see it, allows them little say in how money is allocated.

Nature | 6 min read

How to supercharge cancer-fighting cells

Bioengineered immune cells have been shown to attack and even cure cancer, but they tend to get exhausted if the fight goes on for a long time. Now, two separate research teams have found a way to rejuvenate these cells: make them more like stem cells. Both groups found that the bespoke immune cells called CAR T cells gain new vigour if engineered to have high levels of a particular protein. These boosted CAR T cells have gene activity similar to that of stem cells and a renewed ability to fend off cancer. The papers “open a new avenue for engineering therapeutic T cells for cancer patients”, says immunologist Tuoqi Wu.

Nature | 4 min read

Is ChatGPT polluting peer review?

Alongside using AI tools for writing research papers, academics might now be using ChatGPT to assist in peer review, according to a preprint (itself not peer reviewed). The study looked at conference proceedings submitted to four computer-science meetings and identified buzzwords typical of AI-generated text in 17% of peer review reports. The buzzwords included positive adjectives, such as ‘commendable’, ‘meticulous’ and ‘versatile’. It’s unclear whether researchers used the tools to construct their reviews from scratch or just to edit and improve written drafts. “It seems like when people have a lack of time, they tend to use ChatGPT,” says computer scientist and study co-author Weixin Liang.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: arXiv preprint (not peer reviewed)

Features & opinion

The rise of eco-anxiety

There is growing evidence that climate change worsens mental health in multiple ways. These include the trauma and distress caused directly by extreme weather and a more general ‘eco-anxiety’: a chronic fear of environmental doom. Negative news about the climate crisis — along with inaction by world leaders — is itself a source of eco-anxiety and frustration. And it’s not just a problem in rich nations. More than 55% of young people in a global 2021 survey said that climate change made them feel powerless, and 58% felt betrayed by their government. On the flip side, studies suggest that individuals who take action to combat climate change can also help to curb their eco-anxiety: a double win.

Nature feature | 11 min read & Nature editorial | 4 min read

Climate anxiety around the world: chart showing the results of a 2021 global survey of 10,000 people aged 16–25 years old.

Source: Ref. 1

AI-fuelled election campaigns are here

Malicious deepfakes aren’t the only thing we should be concerned about when it comes to content that can affect the integrity of elections, says US Science Envoy for AI Rumman Chowdhury. Political candidates are increasingly using ‘softfakes’ to boost their campaigns — obviously AI-generated video, audio, images or articles that aim to whitewash a candidate’s reputation and make them more likeable. Social media companies and media outlets need to have clear policies on softfakes, Chowdhury says, and election regulators should take a close look.

Nature | 5 min read

Gender-diverse youth deserve better

A lack of evidence is hindering health care for young people with gender dysphoria or incongruence, finds a much-anticipated report in England. Clinical guidelines used around the world “are built on shaky foundations”, writes the chair of the report, Hilary Cass, who was president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. In particular, the rationale for early puberty suppression is weak and there is next-to-no research specifically relevant to non-binary people. To add to the challenge, intense politicization makes recruiting clinicians difficult. The medical pathway might not be right for everyone, says the report, and young people need holistic mental-health and social support. “The problem arises when the right thing is too medicalized,” says Cass in an interview with the BMJ. “Medication is binary, but gender expressions are often not.”

BMJ | 8 min read & Hilary Cass summarizes the report’s findings in the BMJ | 7 min read & Interview with Cass in the BMJ | 32 min watch

Reference: The Cass review: Independent review of gender identity services for children and young people

The social intelligence of animals

“I’ve brought apes a little closer to humans but I’ve also brought humans down a bit,” said primatologist Frans de Waal in 2014. Building on careful observations of primates’ unfettered behaviour, de Waal’s research suggested that the biggest intellectual challenge for chimpanzees lay in their complex social lives, leading to the study of social intelligence in apes and other species. His and others’ studies of aggression, reconciliation, imitation and learning have progressively narrowed the perceived gap between humans and other animals, writes psychologist Andrew Whiten. de Waal was equally comfortable with peer-reviewed research, popular science books and TED talks, and he was unafraid to tackle thorny topics like sex and gender. de Waal has died, aged 75.

Nature | 5 min read


“I feel devastated. I’ve been working on the reef since 1992 but this [event], I’m really struggling with.”

Marine biologist Selina Ward shares her distress over the severe and widespread mass bleaching of corals in the Great Barrier Reef — the worst on record — during the Australian summer of 2024. (The Guardian | 5 min read or 2 min watch)