Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here
Some viruses that infect bacteria have ‘Z-DNA’, which uses a genetic alphabet different from the As, Ts, Cs and Gs in the DNA of nearly all other organisms. Dozens of these bacteriophages (or ‘phages’) write their genomes using a chemical base called 2-aminoadenine, Z for short, instead of adenine. Now, two teams have spelled out how the system works. These phages use specialized enzymes to make genes with an alternative nucleobase. “It represents the first discovery of a ‘shadow biosphere’ since [Carl] Woese identified the Archaea a half century ago,” says synthetic biologist Steven Benner.
Nature | 6 min read
An easier way to identify non-hallucinogenic psychedelics could aid treatment for illnesses such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers have designed a fluorescent sensor to predict whether a molecule is hallucinogenic, based on the structure of a brain receptor targeted by psychedelics.
Features & opinion
Reruns of old science-fiction series help pass the time for the lone conscious passenger on a ship full of sleeping crew in the latest short story for Nature’s Futures series. But a catch-phrase turns out to be a passphrase — with humorously disastrous consequences.
Nature | 4 min read
Researchers looked at individual fruit-fly neurons to better understand how energy use and information processing are linked — which might have important implications for brain imaging in humans.
The Nature Podcast’s special three-part series, Stick to the Science: when science gets political, has been shortlisted for a Webby award. It’s well worth a listen — and, if you liked it, please consider casting your vote in our favour.
Nature Podcast | 17 min listenSubscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.Reference: Nature paper
In California, low wages, weak labour protections and precarious immigration status are among the reasons that food and agricultural workers had an almost 40% increased risk of dying last year, compared with the risk for the state’s general population. A growing number of public-health researchers are saying it’s time to move on from simply identifying the social determinants of health, and start pushing for leaders to address them. “The pandemic has turned up the dial, and to me it brings out a sense of urgency,” says medical geographer Arrianna Marie Planey. “I see a study saying COVID is higher in farmworkers, and I’m not interested — I want to know what’s next.”
Nature | 23 min read