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The dental remains of a male whose teeth have been worn down by a clay pipe

Researchers found ancient herpes DNA in the teeth of a man from the eighteenth century who was a fervent pipe smoker.Credit: Dr Barbara Veselka

DNA extracted from ancient human teeth indicates that herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) — the cold-sore virus — arose in what is now Europe around 5,000 years ago. Changing cultural practices during the Bronze Age — including the emergence of romantic kissing — could have factored into HSV-1’s meteoric rise. Teeth are treasure chests for ancient DNA because of their ability to protect biological molecules from degradation. In June, a different group of researchers used teeth to trace the origin of the Black Death to a fourteenth-century outbreak in what is now Kyrgyzstan.

Nature | 6 min read

Reference: Science Advances paper

Promising signs from small trials are sparking fresh enthusiasm for induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell research in Japan. iPS cells are adult cells that have been coaxed into an embryonic-like state and can develop into any cell type in the body. The studies involved repairing the cornea and treating heart disease, macular degeneration and Parkinson’s disease. Japan has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into iPS research, partly because it was discovered by a Japanese scientist, Shinya Yamanaka. But that funding is set to end next year, making these results particularly timely.

Nature | 6 min read

Reference: medRxiv preprint

The James Webb Space Telescope has imaged the most distant star ever discovered, which is 8.5 million parsecs away. The star was first identified by the Hubble Space Telescope earlier this year. WHL0137-LS — or ‘Earendel’, meaning ‘morning star’ in old English — is thought to have formed just 900 million years after the Big Bang. It is visible thanks to gravitational lensing: the massive Sunrise Arc galaxy cluster in its foreground warps spacetime so much that the star is magnified thousands of times.

Forbes | 7 min read

Read more: A star from the dawn of the Universe (Nature News & Views | 5 min read, Nature paywall, from May)

Reference: arXiv preprint (not peer reviewed) & Nature Astronomy paper

Features & opinion

Scientists are debating an as-yet-unproven hypothesis that long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms could be because of tiny, persistent clots that constrict blood flow to vital organs. Some researchers, and an increasing number of people with long COVID, are pushing for trials of anticoagulant treatments. But many haematologists and COVID-19 researchers worry that enthusiasm for the clot hypothesis has outpaced the data.

Nature | 11 min read

Chemist Robert Curl shared the Nobel Prize for his discovery of ‘buckyballs’ — the carbon-60 molecule buckminsterfullerene — and the class of all carbon molecules known collectively as the fullerenes. His work proved to be foundational in the fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Curl, who died in July, “was genuinely modest about his own accomplishments and always ready to celebrate those of others”, write colleagues James Heath and R. Stanley Williams. When his university’s president asked what recognition he might like for winning the Nobel, he asked for a bike rack near his office.

Nature Nanotechnology | 5 min read

Low water levels in the Danube River in Serbia have exposed the remains of warships from the Second World War. The Nazi vessels were scuttled in 1944 while fleeing Soviet forces and still contain tonnes of dangerous ammunition and explosives. In Spain, a prehistoric stone circle known as the Dolmen of Guadalperal — and nicknamed ‘ the Spanish Stonehenge’ — has also been revealed by drought. It normally sits hidden by a reservoir, in the central province of Caceres, where the water level has dropped to 28% of capacity. “It’s a surprise, it’s a rare opportunity to be able to access it,” says archaeologist Enrique Cedillo. The current drought in Europe “appears to be the worst since at least 500 years”, according to a statement from the European Commission Joint Research Centre. Two-thirds of Europe is under some sort of drought warning.

“Reuters | 3 min read & Reuters | 3 min read & BBC | 3 min read

Infographic of the week

Daily briefing: Do tiny blood clots cause long COVID? 1

Simulations of Earth’s shifting crust that span the past 540 million years — longer than any previous effort — suggest that the configuration of the continents has a big impact on how much oxygen is in the ocean. This is important, because variations in ocean oxygen levels during Earth’s history have been linked to evolution and mass extinctions. Sluggish ocean circulation during the early Palaeozoic era, 540 million to 460 million years ago, led to very low oxygen levels (anoxia) in the deep ocean. By contrast, circulation in more recent periods — such as a mere 420 million years ago — could be vigorous, oxygenating the deep ocean. Higher rates of biomass production at the surface might have produced larger low-oxygen regions during some periods. (Nature News & Views | 8 min read, Nature paywall)Credit: Nature paper

(Nature News & Views | 8 min read, Nature paywall)


Weather historian Maximiliano Herrera says the intensity, duration and extent of China’s current heatwave makes it the most severe heatwave recorded anywhere. (New Scientist | 3 min read)

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