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An ancient human relative, Sahelanthropus tchadensis, might have walked on two legs seven million years ago. S. tchadensis could be the earliest known member of the hominin lineage, the evolutionary branch that includes the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees and ends with modern humans. The theory is based on a battered fossil leg bone that was discovered in Chad more than 20 years ago. But some scientists are not convinced that the femur’s traits prove the creature stood tall.
Nature | 5 min read
Reference: Nature paper
The most powerful rocket ever built will soon launch, carrying the Orion capsule that NASA hopes will soon transport astronauts back to the Moon. If all goes as planned, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) will launch on 29 August, fly around the Moon — farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever gone — and return to Earth 42 days later. The mission will host a trove of satellites and radiation experiments and a tiny lander from Japan. The flight, dubbed Artemis 1, is a test run for the series of Artemis missions that NASA hopes will echo the successes of the Apollo missions. Artemis 2 will fly astronauts around the Moon, no earlier than 2024. And Artemis 3 will land a crew on the surface — including, for the first time, a woman — in 2025 or later.
Nature | 7 min read
Features & opinion
“This food crisis is not the last crisis the world will face, but it should be the last one in which women and girls carry this grossly unequal burden,” write food-policy analysts Elizabeth Bryan, Claudia Ringler and Nicole Lefore. Aid programmes tend to favour men, because they target male-dominated commercial agriculture over home food plots, and have application requirements — such as the need for a bank account — that are barriers for some women. The authors outline concrete strategies, built on lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2007–08 global food-price crisis, to ensure gender equity in interventions now.
Nature | 12 min read
A year after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, a generation of ambitious and capable young people are in an existential fight to stop their country going back in time, argues a Nature editorial. “They, especially the girls and women among them, need the world’s full support — in cash, in other resources, in whatever way possible,” it says. It calls for the academic and research community outside Afghanistan to assess which approaches are working — and whether isolating the country is the right response.
Nature | 5 min read
To break the vicious cycle of patchy understanding and poor virus control, we need to talk about privacy, argues epidemiologist Adam Kucharski. “I’ve lost track of how many times someone has said we should copy East Asia’s responses — but once they hear the details, they conclude these measures are an unacceptable invasion of privacy,” he writes. In South Korea, for example. mobile-phone and credit-card data linked individuals to COVID-19 hotspots. “Midway through a pandemic is not the time to debate how to balance data and privacy, or which control measures and trial designs are appropriate,” writes Kucharski. “These are decisions that countries need to plan for now, before the next pandemic.”
Nature | 5 min read
Congratulations to the southern bent-wing bat (Miniopterus orianae bassanii), which has won Cosmos magazine’s hard-fought contest to be named the 2022 Australian Mammal of the Year. The bat went head-to-head with the iconic dingo to win the public vote. The teeny creature is only 5 centimetres long and is critically endangered.
Let me know your favourite Australian mammal, your favourite type of bat, or any other feedback on this newsletter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading,
Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing
With contributions by Nicky Phillips