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Countries have been building villages, towns and cities in areas with high flood risk faster than in areas less likely to be inundated by rising rivers, torrential rain, storm surges and sea-level changes. “This is a concerning trend, especially as climate change is intensifying flood disasters worldwide,” says economist and study co-author Jun Rentschler. The East Asia and Pacific region had the highest proportion, more than 18%, of settlements in areas that are prone to flooding. Development in flood plains is mainly driven by scarcity of land in safer areas.
Nature | 4 min read
Reference: Nature paper
South Korea’s scientists have been left reeling after the government proposed substantial cuts to next year’s research budget. The country’s spending on research — more than 4.5% of its gross domestic product — is among the highest in the world. Scientific unions and associations are joining together for the first time to protest the plan. Even if the cuts do not go ahead, the proposals have already hurt morale, says physicist Doochul Kim.
Nature | 5 min read
Domestic cats’ (Felis silvestris catus) voice boxes contain pads of fatty tissue that slow down the vibrations of their vocal cord. This allows the cats to purr at a lower frequency than would be expected for such a small animal — something that puzzled researchers for a long time. Sustaining the sound doesn’t seem to require input from muscles or the brain. Pumping air through surgically removed cat larynxes produced self-sustaining vibrations, which challenges the common explanation that purring is produced through fast, repeated muscle contraction.
Science | 5 min read
Reference: Current Biology paper
Features & opinion
Table of Contents
RNA-based vaccines were the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their success has revved up interest in ring-shaped RNA, which is more resilient to being chewed up by enzymes in the body than is the usual linear form. This could increase its potential in vaccines, rare-disease treatments and anti-cancer agents. The first human trial, of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine containing circular RNA, kicked off in August. Next year could see more circular RNA enter clinical trials, including in two cancer therapeutics.
Nature | 11 min read
Artificial-intelligence (AI) programs can speed up monotonous tasks such as data and image analysis — and the learning curve is not too steep. Here are some things to consider when taking the leap:
• Some tools require little to no coding expertise, for example CellProfiler, ilastik, QuPath and CDeep3M
• Learn basic coding skills with tutorials on Coursera, edX and Udacity, or live courses such as those by the European Bioinformatics Institute
• Don’t worry about chasing the latest technology
• Connect with the community on forum.image.sc, BioStars.org or GitHub
Nature | 10 min read
A quiet revolution is taking place to incorporate the costs of biodiversity loss into economic planning. Decades of painstaking work led to a standard for measuring it all, used by 92 countries and rising. It’s one bright spot in the progress towards reversing the looming crisis on land — the 15th of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by the United Nations. Otherwise, SDG 15 is nowhere near on track. Scientists can help by sharing their expertise with the UN Statistics Division, which is revising the international statistical standard used to measure economic activity. Have your say by 9 October.
Nature | 5 min read — part of a series of editorials about how scientists can help with a rescue plan for the SDGs
Have you got a good grasp on our progress when it comes to the world’s biggest problems? Take this quiz, based on the SDGs, to test your knowledge.