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Close-up of a young sea otter (Enhydra lutris) floating in the ocean.

Sea otters in California prey on crabs, thereby inadvertently protecting the vegetation that holds creek banks together.Credit: David Hayes/Alamy

Sea otters in Monterey Bay, California are helping to protect salt marshes from erosion by feasting on shore crabs that destabilise these threatened habitats. The crabs eat the roots of the pickleweed plant that helps to hold the sandy banks together. Almost hunted to extinction by the end of the 19th century, the sea otters are making a comeback. In areas where otters had returned, erosion slowed from 30 cm a year to 10 cm a year. “It’s remarkable when you think about it,” says community ecologist Jane Watson. “You can have a single animal, the sea otter, come in and through predation actually mitigate the effects of erosion.”

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: Nature paper

A huge study of mothers and babies in China has uncovered genetic variants that have not been observed in other populations and new links between mothers and their baby’s growth. The study is among the first to look at the genetic profiles of East Asian people, a largely under-represented population in genomic research. Researchers observed a multitude of links between maternal health and foetal development; for example, mothers with higher blood pressure give birth to lighter and shorter babies than do mothers with lower blood pressure.

Nature | 4 min read

Get the expert view from genetic epidemiologist Nicholas John Timpson in the Nature News & Views article (4 min read, Nature paywall)

Reference: Nature paper

For nearly half of the world’s population, it’s an election year — and with it come worries about online misinformation. Yet scientists who study social media’s political reach find themselves in the worst position they’ve been in for years. For example, Twitter has stopped providing free research access to its data. Many hope that new legislation in Europe will change that; others are exploring workarounds such as interviewing people who use the platforms. “We have to learn how to get insights from more limited sets of data,” says computer scientist Kate Starbird.

Nature | 7 min read

Measles cases are rising in Europe because fewer children are protected with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Last year, European nations reported 42,200 measles cases, a dramatic jump from fewer than 1,000 cases in 2022. Health authorities are sounding the alarm and facilitating the most vulnerable — usually young children — to get both doses of the MMR jab. In the United Kingdom, vaccination coverage for children under five is the lowest it has been in 10 years. “It’s considered to be one of the most infectious respiratory infections there is,” says population-health researcher Helen Bedford. “The only thing that you can do to stop measles spreading is get vaccinated.”

Nature | 5 min read

JABS NEEDED. Chart shows the proportion of people globally who have received their first and second doses of measles-containing vaccines

Source: WHO

Features & opinion

Good news for public trust in science: according to a new poll, scientists are among those most trusted by 32,000 respondents from 28 countries to tell the truth on innovations. At the same time, people are concerned that governments are interfering in science and lack the competence to regulate emerging technology. A Nature editorial calls on social scientists — economists, ethicists, legal scholars and sociologists — to help develop the evidence-based policies and regulations needed to earn public confidence in the competence of policymakers. And scientists should push back against governments who overly politicize science.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Edelman Trust Barometer 2024

Growing human neurons in the laboratory can be a time-consuming process. Some cortical cells take years to reach maturity — many times slower than the equivalent cells in a mouse. Researchers have been exploring some of the mechanisms that could be behind these very different timescales of growth and have found a kind of epigenetic ‘braking’ effect that slows maturation. Manipulating this ‘brake’ could allow scientists to speed up the study of older brain cells in a dish.

Nature | 3 min video

Reference: Nature paper

Image of the week

Front view of the great white shark Sternes and Gauna observed.

Wildlife filmmaker Carlos Gauna and biologist Phillip Sternes used a drone to film what could be the first-ever sighting of a newborn great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). They spotted the 1.5-metre-long pup shedding its white coating into the water. “I believe it was a newborn white shark shedding its embryonic layer,” says Sternes. (The Guardian | 3 min read) (Carlos Gauna/The Malibu Artist)

Quote of the day

Chemistry Nobel laureate Frances Arnold is realistic about her recent creation, the first enzyme known to break silicon-carbon bonds — opening people’s minds, she hopes, to what biological systems can do to tackle the persistent pollutants found in many hair conditioners and lotions. (Chemical & Engineering News | 3 min read)

Please join me in celebrating the safe return of a Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata) who spent four days on the run in the Scottish Highlands after escaping from a Royal Zoological Society of Scotland wildlife park. “In the end the bird feeder saved the day,” said monkey-seeker Keith Gilchrist, after a local lady spotted Honshu scoffing peanuts in her garden.

On that note, I think I’ll go look for a snack. I’d love to return to an inbox stuffed with your feedback on this newsletter; your e-mails are always welcome at

Thanks for reading,

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Katrina Krämer, Smriti Mallapaty and Sarah Tomlin

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