‘Pangenome’ aims to capture the breadth of human diversity
In this episode:
00:45 Making a more diverse human genome
The first draft of the human genome ushered in a new era of genetics research. Since its publication, researchers have constructed ever more accurate ‘reference genomes’ – baselines against which others are compared. But these are based on the DNA of a small number of people, and don’t represent the genetic variation known to exist across human populations. To address this, a consortium of researchers have published the first draft of a ‘pangenome’, which combines the genomes of 47 genetically diverse individuals. This draft provides a more complete picture of the human genome, and is the starting point for a project that aims to include sequences from 350 individuals.
Research article: Liao et al.
Research article: Vollger et al.
Research article: Guarracino et al.
News and Views Forum: Human pangenome supports analysis of complex genomic regions
08:33 Research Highlights
A wearable sensor that lets users see infrared light, and how a vulture’s culture can influence its dining habits.
Research Highlight: Wearable sensor gives a glimpse of ‘invisible’ light
Research Highlight: What drives a scavenger’s diet? Vulture culture
11:06 Briefing Chat
We discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, a new phosphate-storing organelle found in fruit fly cells, and how extracted DNA revealed who held a deer-tooth pendant 20,000 years ago.
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Audio long read: These animals are racing towards extinction. A new home might be their last chance20:05Australia's swamp tortoise is one of the most endangered species in the world. This species lives in wetlands that are under threat due to rising temperatures and a reduction in rainfall.In an effort to save the tortoise, researchers are trialling a controversial strategy called assisted migration. This approach has seen captive-bred tortoises released in other wetlands some 330 kilometres south of where they are naturally found. The aim is to see whether the animals can tolerate cooler climates, and whether this new habitat might ensure the species’ future as the planet warms.While many conservation biologists and land managers have long resisted the idea of assisted migration, attitudes are changing and other projects are beginning to test whether it can protect protect animals at risk from climate change.This is an audio version of our Feature: These animals are racing towards extinction. A new home might be their last chance
This isn't the Nature Podcast — how deepfakes are distorting reality30:55In this episode:00:45 How to tackle AI deepfakesIt has long been possible to create deceptive images, videos or audio to entertain or mislead audiences. Now, with the rise of AI technologies, such manipulations have become easier than ever. These deepfakes can spread misinformation, defraud people, and damage economies. To tackle this, researchers and companies are developing tools to find and label deepfakes, in an attempt to rob them of their potential to wreak havoc.News Feature: How to stop AI deepfakes from sinking society — and science11:17 Research HighlightsUltra-accurate measurement of Earth’s day-length using lasers, and the insect that amputates its own legs to survive the cold.Research Highlight: How lasers detect day-length changes of a few millisecondsResearch Highlight: Snow-loving flies amputate their own legs for survival14:04 Stacked timbers might be evidence of ancient woodworkingAncient stone tools are well preserved in the archeological record, and are used by researchers to understand the lives of ancient hominins. But other materials like wood are less common, since they will only preserve under specific conditions. Now researchers have found a trove of wooden artefacts in Zambia dated to be around 476,000 old. In particular, stacked timbers from the site could be the earliest known wooden structure, perhaps implying that ancient hominins had a greater capacity for woodworking than previously thought.Research article: Barham et al.News & Views: Hominins built with wood 476,000 years agoNature News: These ancient whittled logs could be the earliest known wooden structure22:00 OSIRIS-REx brings haul of asteroid dust and rock back to EarthThis week, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx successfully landed a capsule containing rocks and dust from the asteroid Bennu. We talk with reporter Alex Witze, who was on the ground in Utah when the samples landed, to find out what these ancient rocks could reveal about the origins of the Solar System.Nature News: Special delivery! Biggest-ever haul of asteroid dust and rock returns to EarthSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
Why does cancer spread to the spine? Newly discovered stem cells might be the key23:42In this episode:00:45 A new insight into cancers' selective spreadCancer cells can spread to bones in the late stages of disease and in many cancers, cells actually preferentially metastasise to the spine. The reason for this has been a puzzle to researchers for years, but now a team has found a new kind of stem cell that may be involved in this process. The stem cell is found in mice and humans and could represent a clinical target in the treatment of cancer.Research article: Sun et al.News and Views: Stem cells provide clues to why vertebrae attract tumour cells09:55 Research HighlightsA preference for certain percussion instruments among palm cockatoos, and modelling where people wait on train platforms.Research Highlight: This parrot taps out beats — and it custom-builds its instrumentsResearch Highlight: The maths of how we wait in crowded places12:29 Briefing ChatThis time, a second trial shows the effectiveness of using MDMA to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, and how an upgrade to an X-ray laser will let researchers make ultra-crisp ‘molecular movies’.Nature News: Psychedelic drug MDMA moves closer to US approval following success in PTSD trialNature News: World’s most powerful X-ray laser will ‘film’ chemical reactions in unprecedented detail
A mussel-inspired glue for more sustainable sticking33:42In this episode:00:46 A sustainably-sourced, super-strong adhesiveThe modern world is held together by adhesives, but these fossil-fuel derived materials come at an environmental cost. To overcome this, a team have developed a soya-oil based adhesive, which also takes inspiration from the proteins that marine animals like mussels use to stick firmly to rocks. The researchers say their glue is strong, reversible, and less carbon intensive to produce than existing adhesives.Research article: Westerman et al.07:43 Research HighlightsWhy chemicals derived from wood could be sustainable alternatives to a common plastic building block, and how historical accounts helped researchers estimate the brightness of a 1859 solar flare.Research Highlight: Wood component yields useful plastics — without the health risksResearch Highlight: A historic solar flare’s huge intensity is revealed by new tools10:08 New insights into childhood stunting and wastingAround the world, millions of children are affected by malnutrition, which can result in stunting or wasting, both associated with serious health issues. Despite a widespread recognition of the seriousness of stunting and wasting, there are still questions about their extent, causes and consequences. To answer these, a team have pooled data from previous studies, and show that nutritional interventions targeting the earliest years of life could have the greatest impact.Research article: Benjamin-Chung et al.Research article: Mertens et al.Research article: Mertens et al.Nature Collection: Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals20:29 Briefing ChatThis time, what rejoining the Horizon Europe research-funding programme means for UK research, and the 1.4-million-year-old stone balls that are mystifying scientists.Nature News: Scientists celebrate as UK rejoins Horizon Europe research programmeScience: Were these stone balls made by ancient human relatives trying to perfect the sphere?Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
Our ancestors lost nearly 99% of their population, 900,000 years ago13:34In this episode:00:30 Early humans pushed to brink of extinctionAround 900,000 years ago the ancestors of modern humans were pushed to the brink of extinction, according to new research. Genetic studies suggest that the breeding population of our ancestors in Africa dropped to just 1,280 and didn’t expand again for another 117,000 years. This population crash would likely have had an impact on human genetic diversity, and may have driven the evolution of important features of modern humans, such as brain size.Nature News: Human ancestors nearly went extinct 900,000 years ago3:49 The pollution legacy of Antarctica’s research stationsPoor historical waste practices have left high levels of pollution around Antartica’s research facilities. By surveying the seafloor near Australia’s Casey research station, researchers have revealed high concentrations of hydrocarbons and heavy metals.This pollution is likely to be widespread, but its impact on the continent is unknown.Nature News: Antarctic research stations have polluted a pristine wilderness07:43 Melting sea-ice causes catastrophic penguin breeding failurePersistently low levels of sea-ice around Antarctica have caused emperor penguins to abandon their breeding colonies early, resulting in the death of large numbers of chicks. Although the affected populations only represent a small number of the total emperor penguins on the continent, it’s unclear how they’ll fare if trends in sea-ice melt continue.Science: Emperor penguins abandon breeding grounds as ice melts around them09:23 The AI trained to describe smellsResearchers have developed an artificial-intelligence that can describe how compounds smell by analysing their molecular structures. The system’s description of scents are often similar to those of trained human sniffers, and may have applications in the food and perfume industries. Currently the AI works on individual molecules, and is unable to identify the smells associated with complex combinations of molecules, something humans noses do with ease.Nature: AI predicts chemicals’ smells from their structuresSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
Physicists finally observe strange isotope Oxygen 28 – raising fundamental questions29:05In this episode:00:47 First observation of oxygen 28Oxygen 28 is an isotope of oxygen with 20 neutrons and eight protons. This strange isotope has long been sought after by physicists, as its proposed unusual properties would allow them to put their theories of how atomic nuclei work to the test. Now, after decades of experiments physicists believe they have observed oxygen 28. The observations are at odds with theory predictions, so they imply that there’s a lot more physicists don’t know about the forces that hold atomic nuclei together.Research article: Kondo et al.News and Views: Heaviest oxygen isotope is found to be unbound10:06 Research HighlightsHow venus fly traps can protect themselves from wildfires, and a ball-point pen that can ‘write’ LEDs.Research Highlight: Venus flytraps shut their traps when flames approachResearch Highlight: A rainbow of LEDs adorns objects at the stroke of a pen12:39 An AI for Drone RacingAIs have been beating humans at games for years, but in these cases the AI has always trained in exactly the same conditions in which it competes. In chess for example, the board can be simulated exactly. Now though, researchers have demonstrated an AI that can beat humans in a place where simulation can only take you so far, the real world. The Swift AI system is able to race drones against champion-level humans, and beat them most of the time. The researchers hope this research can help improve the efficiency of drones in general.Research article: Kaufmann et al.News and Views: Drone-racing champions outpaced by AIVideo: AI finally beats humans at a real-life sport - drone racing19:51 Briefing ChatThis time, the Indian Space Research Organization’s successful moon landing, and the low level of support offered to researchers whose first language isn’t English by journals.Nature News: India lands on the Moon! Scientists celebrate as Chandrayaan-3 touches downNature News: Scientists who don’t speak fluent English get little help from journals, study findsSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
Audio long read: Medicine is plagued by untrustworthy clinical trials. How many studies are faked or flawed?26:28Investigations suggest that, in some fields, at least one-quarter of clinical trials might be problematic or even entirely made up. Faked or unreliable trials are dangerous, as they could end up being included in the reviews that help inform clinical treatments. However, the extent of the problem in unclear, and many researchers urge stronger scrutiny.This is an audio version of our Feature: Medicine is plagued by untrustworthy clinical trials. How many studies are faked or flawed?
Brain-reading implants turn thoughts into speech29:28In this episode:00:47 The brain-computer interfaces that help restore communicationPeople with certain neurological conditions can lose the ability to speak as a result of facial paralysis. This week, two teams demonstrate the potential of devices called brain-computer interfaces to help people in these situations communicate. These interfaces work by identifying the brain activity associated with the intent to say words, and converting this activity into speech-related outputs, such as text or audio. Both devices show marked improvements compared with previous interfaces, and show that the technology could represent a way to help restore communication to people with severe paralysis.Research article: Metzger et al.Research article: Willett et al.News and Views: Brain implants that enable speech pass performance milestones11:46 Research HighlightsHow wind-tunnel experiments could help athletes run the fastest marathon ever, and an analysis that could help explain why birds are the colours they are.Research Highlight: Physicists find a way to set a new marathon recordResearch Highlight: Which birds are drab and which dazzle? Predators have a say14:06 How much heat can tropical leaves take?As the climate warms, tropical forests around the world are facing increasing temperatures. But it’s unknown how much the trees can endure before their leaves start to die. A team has combined multiple data sources to try and answer this question, and suggest that a warming of 3.9 °C would lead to many leaves reaching a tipping point at which photosynthesis breaks down. This scenario would likely cause significant damage to these ecosystems’ role in vital carbon storage and as homes to significant biodiversity.Research article: Doughty et al.21:01 Briefing ChatThis time, a reexamination of Ötzi the iceman’s DNA suggests he had a different appearance, and the failure of a Russian mission to the moon.Nature News: Ötzi the Iceman has a new look: balding and dark-skinnedNature News: Russian Moon lander crash — what happened, and what’s next?Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
Fruit flies' ability to sense magnetic fields thrown into doubt31:47In this episode:00:49 The search for animals’ magnetic sense sufferers a potential setbackExactly how animals sense Earth’s magnetic field has long eluded researchers. To understand it, many have turned to the fly model Drosophila melanogaster, long thought to be able to detect magnetic fields. However, a recent Nature paper has raised questions about this ability, a finding that could have repercussions for scientists’ efforts to understand the mechanism behind magnetic sensing, one of the biggest questions in sensory biology.Research article: Bassetto et al.News & Views: Replication study casts doubt on magnetic sensing in flies10:53 Research HighlightsThe world’s first filter feeder, and human-caused climate change in the Bronze Age.Research Highlight: This ancient reptile wanted to be a whaleResearch Highlight: Bronze Age deforestation changed Europe’s climate13:03 An iconic observatory shuts downThis week the famed Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico shut down. The facility’s main telescope collapsed in 2020 and the site has since been battered by storms and pandemic-related shutdowns. Now, with funding exhausted and no clear plan in place, scientists are wondering what will become of the site.Nature News: Closing down an icon: will Arecibo Observatory ever do science again?20:28 Briefing ChatThis time, the Standard Model of physics still isn't dead according to new measurements of muons' magnetic moment, and finding the most diverse habitat on Earth under your feet.Nature News: Dreams of new physics fade with latest muon magnetism resultThe Guardian: More than half of Earth’s species live in the soil, study findsSubscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.