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This diagram depicts connectivity in the fruit fly brain. Each point represents a neuron. Neurons with more-similar connectivity are plotted closer together. Lines show the connections between neurons. The border shows examples of different neuron structures and shapes.Credit: Benjamin Pedigo

Scientists have mapped all 3,016 neurons and 548,000 connecting synapses in a young fruit fly’s (Drosophila melanogaster) brain. It’s the first complete brain map of a complex animal that can learn, and weigh the risks and benefits of its action. The only other animals whose brains have been completely mapped are two worm species and the larva of a sea squirt. The neural circuit diagram will help researchers to study how the brain works, including understanding neurological diseases.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Science paper

Genome-editing techniques are still not safe enough to be used in human embryos that are destined for reproduction, said the organisers of the Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing following a day of discussion and debate. At the meeting, several researchers highlighted how their attempts to edit human embryos’ genomes using the popular CRISPR-Cas9 system led to errors or loss of genetic information at the editing site. “These results are really a warning,” said reproductive geneticist Dagan Wells.

Nature | 6 min read

Latin American governments’ decades-long campaign of killing vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) to fight outbreaks of rabies has the opposite effect. When bats were poisoned before rabies was detected in an area, researchers found that the culling could slow the spread of rabies. But reactive culling had little benefit and even increased disease spread, probably because it prompts bats to flee the area. “It’s a little bit like a forest fire, where you’re working on putting out the embers but not realizing that another spark has set off a forest fire in a different location,” says ecologist and study co-author Daniel Streicker.

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: Science Advances paper

For the first time, the Indian government will allow foreign universities to set up campuses in the country. Two Australian universities will set up operations in Gujarat, offering a handful of technology and business courses. Some academics have welcomed the development. Others wonder whether the community would be better served by focusing on joint ventures and dual-degree programmes, so that resources are not diverted from Indian institutions.

Nature | 4 min read

Researchers in Singapore have discovered a previously undescribed cockroach species and named it after the Pokémon character Pheromosa (which was itself inspired by a freshly-moulted cockroach). Nocticola pheromosa — the first of its genus to be found in the island nation — has elongated antennal and delicate appendages, much like its leggy cartoon namesake.

The Straits Times | 3 min read

Reference: Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology paper

Features & opinion

Table of Contents

Hundreds of videos posted on social media since late last year show high-school girls in Iran reporting sudden fatigue, burning throats, nausea, headaches and numbness — symptoms that many attribute to poisoning. Iran’s government has arrested more than 100 people that it says are responsible for releasing “smelly and harmless” substances. The interior minister said that “suspicious samples” were being analysed, but no details have been released. If a chemical was involved, a candidate would be chloramine, which is also responsible for the distinctive smell of swimming pools. Some scientists have suggested mass psychogenic illness as students fear for their safety. Iran has seen nationwide protests since Mahsa Amini died while in custody in 2022.

Nature | 6 min read

The pandemic forced ecologist Matthias Rillig to become adept at filming his lectures for his students. Now he’s got his own YouTube channel, Life in Academia. “It provides an alternative to the circle of delayed gratification that academic work provides,” says Rillig. “Feedback from video creation is measured in days or hours.” And making videos full of advice for others has helped him to sharpen his own skills, document his group’s best practice and connect with other scientists.

Nature | 6 min read

Quote of the day

Computational linguist Emily Bender, who engages with the most serious pitfalls of artificial intelligence, jokes that life might be more fun if we had adopted an alternative name for the technology proposed by a former member of the Italian Parliament: Systematic Approaches to Learning Algorithms and Machine Inferences. (New York Magazine Intelligencer | 28 min read)

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