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An artist’s concept shows what TRAPPIST-1c may look like.

The atmosphere of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1 c (artist’s illustration) might have been blasted away by its star’s radiation.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The James Webb Space Telescope has not found a thick atmosphere on another exoplanet in the TRAPPIST-1 system, a planetary system that could be hospitable to life. Like its neighbour TRAPPIST-1 b, the planet TRAPPIST-1 c probably never had many ingredients for habitability. Because planets of this type are common around many stars, “that would definitely reduce the amount of planets which might be habitable”, says exoplanet researcher Sebastian Zieba. There is still a chance that some of the five other TRAPPIST-1 planets might have atmospheres containing geologically and biologically interesting compounds.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Nature paper

The ‘pandemic treaty’ — a global agreement that nations are hammering out about how to respond to the next massive outbreak — needs guidelines for fair data sharing, researchers say. During the COVID-19 pandemic, countries whose viral-genome sequences enabled vaccine development were sometimes slow to receive those vaccines, if they got them at all. This situation could one day lead disease-affected countries to withhold crucial data. One solution offered by a group of African nations is to create a global fund where 1% of sales from vaccines and diagnostic equipment would be shared with low- and middle-income nations. Pharmaceutical firms have also offered to allocate a portion of their vaccines to these nations in return for sharing data. The committee drafting the treaty has less than one year to come to a consensus.

Nature | 6 min read

Mechanical waves can be put into superposition, the ability of quantum systems to be in multiple states at the same time until they are measured. Superposition has been demonstrated for quantum particles such as electrons and photons. Quantized sound waves called phonons can also live parallel quantum lives when they’re faced with an acoustic beam splitter, a barrier that phonons can either pass through or bounce back from. It’s a step towards building quantum computers that can encode and process information in phonons.

Science News | 4 min read

Reference: Science paper

Features & opinion

Researchers can overcome nature’s limitations by tweaking the cellular apparatus that builds proteins from a genetic blueprint. Most life on Earth runs on just 20 amino acids — the building blocks of proteins — that are specified in the genetic code. By tinkering with the way words in the genetic code are translated into proteins, researchers can insert hundreds of unnatural amino acids to give proteins new abilities. This could, for example, make protein-based drugs more potent or turn living cells into factories for plastic polymers.

Nature | 11 min read

To be productive, people must be able to express their true selves at work, say the trans scientists who recount their experiences of patchy workplace support, clumsy colleagues and administrative policies that overlook them. Many transgender scientists work and live in places with an increasingly hostile political landscape regarding trans rights. In at least 13 countries, being transgender is criminalized. “There’s this mainstream belief that trans people are constantly brand new, and the issues that affect us are also constantly brand new,” says historian Mar Hicks. “That’s just not true.”

Nature | 12 min read

We are all complicit in a global intensive farming industry that puts profit before animal welfare, suggests Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation Now. For most of this update of Singer’s 1975 book, Animal Liberation, ethical commentary takes a back seat to the dispassionate communication of facts, writes reviewer and philosopher of science Jonathan Birch. A valuable addition is the connections between animal welfare and the fight against climate change. Singer rests his arguments on the rejection of ‘speciesism’: discrimination on grounds of species. “I find this way of framing the issues unhelpful, and the new edition is a missed opportunity to take a different tack,” says Birch.

Nature | 8 min read

Where I work

Yuhan Hu in Cornell University's Robotics Laboratory, creating human-robot social interaction models with tactile features.

Yuhan Hu is a PhD student researching mechanical engineering at Cornell University, New York.Credit: Jesse Winter for Nature

Mechanical engineer Yuhan Hu is giving robots goosebumps and forehead wrinkles: “Our robots can communicate through alterations to the shape, size and motion of textures on their skin,” she explains. Through touch, Hu hopes to bring robots and humans closer together. Texture-changing steering wheels could convey different traffic situations, and companion robots that rely on touch could better maintain privacy when used in people’s homes. (Nature | 3 min read)

Quote of the day

After more than 15 years of discussions, the United Nations has adopted the high-seas treaty in what secretary-general António Guterres calls a “historic achievement”. It’s the world’s first treaty to protect international waters, which make up more than 60% of oceans. (AFP | 4 min read)

Today, I’m delving into the urban legend of Cleo, an anonymous mathematics genius who suddenly appeared in an online maths forum in 2013. She became known for dropping solutions to extremely complex integrals without any explanations. She’s been inactive since 2015, yet people are still speculating who she might have been: Stephen Hawking or Maryam Mirzakhani, or maybe an enigmatic figure like Srinivasa Ramanujan?

Thanks for reading,

Katrina Krämer, associate editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Flora Graham

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