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Image showing tons of glimmering spots representing stars and galaxies taken by Euclid's VIS instrument

Infrared instruments on board the Euclid space telescope can measure how much light galaxies emit, which gives clues about how far away they are. (ESA/Euclid/Euclid Consortium/NASA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

Euclid, Europe’s space telescope launched on 1 July, has returned its first sample images. In a patch of the sky that is one-quarter of the width and height of the full moon as seen from Earth, Euclid’s instruments have revealed countless stars and galaxies. Over the next six years, the telescope will build a 3D map of the cosmos that will include the element of time to show how galaxies evolved as the Universe matured. Scientists hope this will help them to gain clues about the nature of dark matter and dark energy. | 10 min read

The Cuatro Ciénegas basin in northern Mexico will lose its main researcher: ecologist Valeria Souza, who has fought for 25 years to protect the scientifically unique wetlands. The isolated landscape has preserved microorganisms for hundreds of millions of years. The more than 300 turquoise pools at the basin are “perhaps the most diverse place on the planet in terms of bacteria and archaea”, says Souza. Despite her efforts, local farmers have been draining water from the area for their crops, and many of the basin’s pools are drying up. Souza says that it’s now time to leave the task of protecting the area to a new generation of scientists and advocates.

Nature | 7 min read

Researchers have created a molecule that turns a type of blood cancer against itself in laboratory experiments. The molecule targets a mutated protein that promotes aggressive growth in cancer cells and connects it to another protein that activates cell-death genes. “It turns something the cancer cell needs to stay alive into something that kills it,” says chemist Jason Gestwicki.

The New York Times | 5 min read

Get the expert view from cancer researchers James Phelan and Louis Staudt in the Nature News & Views article (7 min read, Nature paywall)

Reference: Nature paper

Features & opinion

Anna Atkins was a pioneer of botany at a time when women were largely excluded from scientific discussions. In 1843, she started using a then-brand-new technique called cyanotype to produce hundreds of ghostly white-on-blue photos of algae and ferns. Her book, which became the first to contain photographic illustrations, is now among the rarest of rare. Historian Peter Walther’s print compilation Anna Atkins reveals more than 500 of her images. ‘To leaf through them is to rediscover an era of painstaking observation and preparation, far removed from a casual snap with a smartphone,” says science writer and reviewer Georgina Ferry.

Nature | 6 min read

The microorganisms that live in, on and with us could cause, or be a potential treatment for, a wide range of diseases. The increased interest in the human microbiome has brought with it many unsupported statements that have become ‘fact’, suggest microbiologists Alan Walker and Lesley Hoyles. The duo is busting 12 common misconceptions, including that “the human microbiota weighs 1 to 2 kg” (it’s more likely to be less than 500 grams) and that “the microbiota outnumbers human cells by 10:1” (the ratio is probably closer to 1:1).

Nature Microbiology | 16 min read

Planned changes to the United Kingdom’s research assessment system, the Research Excellence Framework (REF), contain a welcome move to recognize outputs beyond papers and books. But policymakers ignore the realities of academia and risk causing more problems than they solve, write three higher-education specialists. In practice, shifting the REF burden from individuals to institutions is impossible because universities are made up of individuals. And even if the REF allows contributions from more researchers, universities will still probably focus on the individuals who produce the most ‘REF-able’ results. “Until the voices of the majority of academics are heard and responded to, modernizing the REF will be no more cultural reform than retrogression,” the trio writes.

Nature | 5 min read

Where I work

Fernanda Avelar Santos studies plastic rocks on a lab bench

Fernanda Avelar Santos finished her PhD in geology at the Federal University of Paraná in Curitiba, Brazil, in March 2023.Credit: Rodrigo Fonseca/AFP via Getty

“I feel curiosity and sadness when I study them,” says geologist Fernanda Avelar Santos about the 130 ‘plastic’ rocks — natural rocks with incorporated plastic litter — that she found at Trindade Island in Brazil. Santos analyses the rocks to find out how they will break down and whether they will harm wildlife on the island, which is one of the world’s most important conservation spots for marine life. Santos says her research is definitive proof that we are living in the Anthropocene. “Human pollution is now part of the Earth’s geological cycles.” (Nature | 3 min read)

Quote of the day

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein says she felt both relief and sorrow when she became the first Black woman in the United States to earn tenure in cosmology. (The 19th | 9 min read)

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