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More Australian mammals have gone extinct than on any other continent

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The ancestors of modern mammals developed the ability to regulate their own body temperatures, which might have been useful in cool climates.Credit: Luzia Soares

Fossilized inner-ear canals suggest that the moment mammals evolved to be warm-blooded — the timing of which is highly contested — occurred around 230 million to 200 million years ago. A team of researchers hypothesized that hotter, more active bodies would have less viscous fluid in their vestibular system, which maintains balance and spatial orientation — and the inner ear’s shape would adapt in turn. After calibrating their understanding on the basis of 50 living vertebrate species, they analyzed the inner ear canals of 56 extinct synapsid species — the reptile-like ancestors of mammals — and found that the shape of the canals had changed abruptly in the Late Triassic period.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Nature paper

A 2,000-page report concludes that the state of Australia’s environment is “poor and deteriorating”, owing to coinciding pressures of climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, mining and pollution. Australia now has more non-native plant species than native species, and more mammal species have gone extinct in Australia than on any other continent. Nineteen of its ecosystems are on the verge of collapse. The report, which is published every five years, also finds that the regulatory framework for managing the environment is inadequate and federal spending on biodiversity has dropped. Hints of hope come from areas in which investments and the hard work of many Australians have made a difference, say the chief authors of the report. They emphasize the benefits gained from Indigenous knowledge, management and perspectives on the interconnectedness of the environment and people’s well-being.

BBC | 3 min read & The Conversation | 8 min read

Reference: Australia State of the Environment 2021 report

Ohio State University (OSU) investigations have identified misconduct by two scientists in the laboratory of prominent cancer researcher Carlo Croce. The university has cleared Croce of misconduct, but disciplined him over management problems and removed his endowed chair from him. For years, Croce has faced allegations of plagiarism and falsified images in studies from his group of him. All told, 11 papers that he has co-authored have been retracted — but not most of the ones in which OSU found plagiarism, data falsification or other errors. Croce is suing the university’s board of trustees to try to regain the chair, and is claiming more than US$1 million in damages over his actions from him. “My lab has always done great work,” he says.

Nature | 9 min read

Thousands of researchers and university staff members in Japan are at risk of losing their jobs next year because of employment laws that limit fixed-term contracts to ten years. The rules were intended to improve job security because employees have the right, in principle, to request a permanent position. Instead, many are getting fired. Researchers warn that if the potential job losses come to pass, the effect could devastate Japanese science. “I worked hard but I realize I will never get a permanent job in Japan. I feel disposable,” says one foreign researcher, who requested anonymity. “This was a lost decade for my career.”

Nature | 5 min read

Mendel at 200

Mendelian inheritance of color of flower in the culinary pea, 1912.

Mendel showed that flower color in pea plants can be inherited. The flower in the center is a cross between the pink flower and the white flower.Credit: Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty

Gregor Johann Mendel, who laid the groundwork for genetics, was born 200 years ago today (or maybe two days from now). Many of the details of his work have been lost to history, because notes on his experiments, including his interim observations and his working methods, were burned after his death. From what’s left, it’s clear that Mendel was a careful scientist: cautious, patient and committed to data. “In science’s current age of hyper-competitiveness, it is worth pausing for just a moment to celebrate his absolute commitment to careful observation, rigor in analysis and humility in interpreting the results,” he says to Nature editorial.

Nature | 5 min read

How did a friar with no knowledge of genes, chromosomes or genomes, whose work was generally ignored during his lifetime, become a founder of genetics? Historical sources discovered in the past few years — including two newspaper articles from 1861 about his work, while Mendel’s experiments were ongoing — suggest some possible answers. Mendel’s fundamental research on the inheritance of traits emerged from an applied plant-breeding programme, aided by the backing of a supportive abbot and a friendship with a fellow scientist, write geneticists Peter van Dijk, Adrienne Jessop and Noel Ellis.

Nature Genetics | 4 min read

The misuse of Mendelian genetics to justify racism and eugenics is not just a relic of the past — eugenic myths and scientific racism are factors in hate crimes perpetrated to this day. An editorial in Nature Reviews Genetics argues that geneticists have a particular responsibility to engage with the field and public to build genetic literacy, addressing misconceptions about race, ethnicity and ancestry, to ensure the responsible use of genetic and genomic information now and in the future.

Nature Reviews Genetics | 4 min read

infographic of the week

Line chart showing the introduction of COVID-19 vaccine in higher and lower income countries since December 2020.

Source: Our World in Data

Low-income nations are too often the last to receive life-saving vaccines, as these charts show. Huge delays in the global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines mean that many fewer people have received a dose in poorer countries than in richer ones. Other shots have also been much slower to reach low- and middle-income nations. Fifteen countries are seeing whether an open-science model can end the dangerous legacy of dependency on big pharma, with an initiative called the mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub, which aims to build manufacturing capacity throughout Africa, South America, Asia and Eastern Europe. (Nature | 22 min read)

See more of the week’s key infographics, selected by Nature‘s news and art teams. (Source: Our World in Data, UNICEF)

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