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A lone Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii)Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Some populations of Baird’s Tapir — pictured here in Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park — have declined by 99.9%.Minden Pictures/Alamy

A new analysis suggests that wildlife trade is unlikely to ever be sustainable, despite some conservationists arguing that it can be in certain cases. Researchers compared 31 research papers charting the fate of individuals from 133 species of mammals, birds and reptiles to show that wildlife trade nearly always drives population declines, even in protected areas. Global wildlife trafficking generates an estimated US$5 billion–$20 billion a year, but has massively detrimental impacts on biodiversity.

Science | 5 min read

Reference: Nature Ecology and Evolution paper

Many human genome studies ask participants to sign a form that gives them little direct control over how their data will be used. But a panel of researchers in Africa says this can fuel distrust between researchers and participants, and needs to change. “Transparent and honest informed-consent processes, as well as fair benefit-sharing, will do much more to enhance research participation and to further scientific discovery than large-scale appropriation of samples and data without consent,” says bioinformatician Nicki Tiffin.

Nature | 6 min read

Destination, Mars!

Illustration of a rover on a desert landscape, surrounded by outcrops.

Perseverance will explore Jezero Crater (shown in this artist’s impression), the oldest terrain yet explored on the red planet.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On 18 February, NASA plans to land its latest rover inside Mars’s Jezero Crater. The goal is to explore an area of the planet that was once much warmer and wetter, and perhaps even liveable. Scattered throughout the crater are geological formations hinting at its watery past, including the remains of a lake and a river delta. Studying the make-up of these rocks — in a region where no spacecraft has gone before — will offer the best chance yet at answering the age-old question of whether life ever existed on Mars.

Nature | 7 min read

Backstory: from the Nature reporter’s perspective

Getting to Mars isn’t easy. In 25 years as a science journalist, I’ve covered missions that have failed spectacularly, from crashing into the planet to mysteriously vanishing in space. (Who could forget the ill-fated Mars Climate Orbiter, doomed on arrival in 1999 because of a mix-up between metric and non-metric units?) On Thursday, however, NASA faces decent odds of landing its Perseverance rover in Mars’s Jezero Crater. Fingers crossed for a safe landing.

Alexandra Witze, Nature senior reporter

Mars missions have allowed us to create detailed maps of the planet’s surface. But people were trying to map Mars long before the advent of spacecraft. In the nineteenth century, astronomers would peer at the red planet through telescopes and try to sketch its features by hand. Fierce competition between map-makers fuelled decades of frenzied observations that have inspired our fascination with Mars over the years.

National Geographic | 10 min read

Image of the week

The United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission has returned its first picture of Mars, after entering into orbit around the Red Planet a week ago. The shot was snapped from an altitude of 24,700 kilometres above the Martian surface. Read more: How a small Arab nation built a Mars mission from scratch in six years (Nature | 13 min read)UAESA/MBRSC/LASP/EMM-EXI

Features & opinion

In January, Nature asked more than 100 immunologists, infectious-disease researchers and virologists working on SARS-CoV-2 whether it could be eradicated. Almost 90% of respondents think that the coronavirus will become endemic — meaning that it will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population for years to come. But failure to eradicate the virus does not mean that death, illness and social isolation will continue on the scales seen so far. The future will depend heavily on the type of immunity people acquire and how the virus evolves.

Nature | 11 min read

ENDEMIC FUTURE. Nature poll shows 89% of scientists felt that SARS-CoV-2 was likely to become an endemic virus.

Source: Nature survey

US mathematician Isadore Singer, known for unifying large areas of mathematics and physics, has died aged 96. His work helped to lay the foundations for areas of theoretical physics such as gauge theory and string theory, which have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the structure of the Universe. Singer “changed how people viewed mathematics by showing that seemingly different areas have deep connections”, says mathematician Jeff Cheeger. “It opened up a whole new world that’s expanded and expanded.”

The New York Times | 5 min read

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