Nature Podcast


COVID deaths: three times the official toll

In this episode:

00:47 Estimating pandemic-associated mortality

This week, a team of researchers working with the World Health Organization have used statistical modelling to estimate the number of excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The work estimates that there were almost 15 million deaths either directly or indirectly attributed to the pandemic, almost three times higher than the official toll.

Research article: Msemburi et al.

News and Views: Global estimates of excess deaths from COVID-19

Editorial: Missing data mean we’ll probably never know how many people died of COVID

08:35 Research Highlights

Why dinosaurs' tail clubs may actually have been used to battle rivals, and the ancient images that make up the earliest known narrative scene.

Research Highlight: Dinosaurs bashed each other with built-in tail clubs

Research Highlight: Prehistoric carvings are oldest known story sequence

10:55 Understanding the lack of diversity in UK academia

Stark figures show that the representation of scientists from minority ethnic groups dwindles at each stage of UK academia. To get a sense of the issue and what can be done to tackle it, we spoke to Mahrukh Shameem, a PhD student and an advocate for equity, diversity and inclusion.

News Feature: How UK science is failing Black researchers — in nine stark charts

19:43 Briefing Chat

We discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, how the text-generating AI OpenGPT could spell the end for student essays, and what the successful test of NASA’s Orion capsule means for the Artemis programme.

Nature News: AI bot ChatGPT writes smart essays — should professors worry?

Nature News: NASA’s Orion Moon capsule splashes down! Here’s what’s next

Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.

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How the Australian wildfires devastated the ozone layer

00:47 Wildfire smoke’s chemical composition enhances ozone depletionSmoke from the devastating Australian wildfires of 2019-2020 led to a reduction in ozone levels in the upper atmosphere, but it’s been unclear how. Now, a team proposes that smoke’s particulate matter can enhance the production of ozone depleting chemicals, matching satellite observations during the Australian fires. The results spark concerns that future wildfires, which are set to grow more frequent with ongoing climate change, will undo much of the progress towards restoration of the ozone layer.Research article: Solomon et al.News & Views: How wildfires deplete ozone in the stratosphere08:27 Research HighlightsA global analysis of bats reveals the species most likely to be hunted by humans, and the stem cells that allow deer antlers to regrow.Research Highlight: Big bats fly towards extinction with hunters in pursuitResearch Highlight: Mice grow ‘mini-antlers’ thanks to deers’ speedy stem cells10:53 Modelling food systems with ‘digital twins’Recent global crises have highlighted the fragility of the interconnected systems involved in getting food from farm to fork. However, siloed datasets have made it hard to predict what the exact impacts of these events will be. In a World View for Nature, researcher Zia Mehrabi argues that precise virtual models like those used in the aerospace industry should be developed for food systems. These so-called ‘digital twins’ could inform global food policy before emergencies unfold.World View: Sims-style ‘digital twin’ models can tell us if food systems will weather crises18:17 Briefing ChatWe discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, what the stray dogs of Chernobyl could reveal about the effects of chronic radiation exposure, and the debate surrounding the fate of Pablo Escobar’s ‘cocaine hippos’.News: What Chernobyl’s stray dogs could teach us about radiationNews: Pablo Escobar’s ‘cocaine hippos’ spark conservation rowSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.

How an increased heart rate could induce anxiety in mice

00:47 How a racing heart could trigger anxietyAnxiety can make the heart beat faster, but could the reverse be true as well? That question has been much debated, but hard to test. Now, a team has shown that artificially increasing a mouse’s heart rate can induce anxiety-like behaviours, and identified an area in the brain that appears to be a key mediator of this response. They hope that this knowledge could help to improve therapies for treating anxiety-related conditions in the future.Research article: Hsueh et al.News & Views: How an anxious heart talks to the brain08:32 Research HighlightsThe chance discovery of the smallest rock seen so far in the Solar System, and the first brain recording from a freely swimming octopus.Research Highlight: Asteroid photobombs JWST practice shotsResearch Highlight: How to measure the brain of an octopus10:57 How NASA’s DART mission beat expectiationsIn September 2022, NASA’s DART spacecraft smashed into a space rock known as Dimorphos, which orbits a near-Earth asteroid. The aim of the mission was to test whether asteroids could be redirected as a method to protect Earth against future impacts. This week, multiple papers have been published describing what researchers have learnt about the impact and its aftermath. Reporter Alex Witze joined us to round up the findings.News: Asteroid lost 1 million kilograms after collision with DART spacecraftResearch article: Thomas et al.Research article: Daly et al.Research article: Li et al.Research article: Cheng et al.Research article: Graykowski et al.Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.