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The Borg have landed – or, at least, researchers have discovered their counterparts here on Earth. Scientists analyzed samples from muddy sites in the western United States and found DNA structures that appear to pick up and “assimilate” genes from microorganisms in their environment, much like the Star Trek ‘Borg’ aliens who assimilate knowledge and technology from other species. These extra-long DNA strands, which scientists named after aliens, join a diverse collection of genetic structures – circular plasmids, for example – known as extrachromosomal elements.
Nature | 8 minutes to read
The US government has appointed a new director to lead the country’s next big climate assessment: Allison Crimmins, who has worked on climate issues for the past decade at the US Environmental Protection Agency. She will work with environmental toxicologist Mike Kuperberg, who was reinstated in May as head of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which coordinates the climate activities of 13 federal agencies. By law, the United States must produce its influential assessment of the latest climate science every four years. The finalized list marks the end of an eventful period for the government’s climate team. “We are late and we have to get to work,” says climate scientist Donald Wuebbles.
Nature | 5 minutes to read
Astronomers are investigating whether the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space might raise the topic of satellite “mega-stellations” at its next meeting, which begins on August 25. They say the goal is not to pit astronomers – who worry about how satellites interfere with their sky observations – against satellite companies, but to develop a vision of how to use equitably the shared domain of outer space. Aerospace companies have launched around 2,000 Internet satellites into orbit around Earth in the past 2 years, with tens of thousands more expected.
Nature | 6 minutes to read
Today England faces what has been dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ – the end of almost all measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. About 68% of the adult population is fully vaccinated, and these advances have weakened the link between infections and hospitalizations or deaths. But the UK infection rate, driven by the rise of the Delta variant, is among the highest in the world – nearly 40,000 new cases per day. Nature‘s Coronapod explores an unprecedented public health experiment that could provide the perfect breeding ground for vaccine-resistant variants.
Coronapod Nature Podcast | 21 minutes of listening
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Features & Reviews
Physicist Ettore Majorana notoriously disappeared in 1938 without a trace. His favorite elementary particles, neutrinos, might be capable of a similar act of disappearance. Several new or improved experiments around the world are rushing to show that an extremely rare type of nuclear decay that normally produces two neutrinos can sometimes produce none. Physicists have searched for these endangered “Majorana neutrinos” for decades, but now they “have a very good chance” of detecting them with the next generation of devices, says experimental physicist Michelle Dolinski. Experiments that are now online or under construction in Japan, South Korea, Italy, Canada and the United States are an order of magnitude more sensitive than the previous generation, and planned future detectors would improve. that of two other orders of magnitude.
Nature | 12 minutes to read
In 2018, the detection of unwanted emissions of banned ozone-depleting chemicals shocked scientists. The discovery was based on a happy coincidence, write atmospheric chemists Ray Weiss, AR Ravishankara and Paul Newman. “The emissions came from regions upstream of the monitoring stations which frequently collect data,” they note. “Next time around is unlikely. They describe how the world can take a systematic and coordinated approach to monitoring gases that destroy the ozone layer and cause climate change.
Nature | 8 minutes to read
Deaf scientists are developing conceptually accurate American Sign Language (ASL) signs for scientific terms. So, for example, an ASL sign for “electron” – a single finger wiggling through air – is updated to represent an electron orbiting an atom’s nucleus: a finger circling a closed fist. There can even be several signs for the same concept: three signs for “molecule” are based on large biomolecules such as proteins, another symbolizes an atomic group as it is analyzed in physics, and a fifth suggests molecules. undergoing a chemical reaction. As with any language, ultimately the ASL language community will decide which signs will establish themselves in regular use.
Chemistry and Engineering News | 16 minutes to read