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Daily briefing: What the Henrietta Lacks settlement means for ethical research 1

Members of Henrietta Lacks’s family walk with attorney Ben Crump (centre) ahead of announcing their lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific in 2021.Credit: Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News/Getty

The family of Henrietta Lacks and the biotech company Thermo Fisher Scientific have reached a confidential settlement over the unethical use of Lacks’s cells. The company profited from products containing a cell line that was started in 1951 using cancer tissue taken from Lacks and used without her consent. The cell line has been instrumental in many scientific discoveries and continues to be widely used, but the family was never compensated. “It does open up a conversation about needing to know, where do things come from initially, and what if terrible and awful, horrific things happen?” says legal specialist Caprice Roberts. The Lacks family’s lawyers indicated that similar lawsuits might follow.

Nature | 6 min read

Over the past year, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has outstripped astronomers’ expectations in terms of the number of black holes it has observed. JWST captured roughly ten times as many faint black holes — which hail from a time when the Universe was about 1 billion to 1.5 billion years old — as expected. The discovery could help scientists to probe questions about how black holes formed in the early Universe, and how they grow into cosmic vacuums that devour everything around them.

Nature | 6 min read

Rapid urban development and poor drainage planning have exacerbated this week’s deadly floods in China. More than 20 people died, and roads and power lines were destroyed, after a fierce storm dumped up to 745 millimetres of rain on Beijing over 5 days. “China’s rapid urbanization has led to a proliferation of impermeable surfaces,” says climatologist Shao Sun. With fewer green spaces to absorb the rainfall, drainage systems were overwhelmed — a situation that is expected to occur more frequently in China as a result of climate change.

Nature | 5 min read

Features & opinion

Table of Contents

Ignaz Semmelweis radically reduced rates of death in childbirth in the middle of the nineteenth century — by introducing hand washing. Yet, at the time, his ideas about infectious agents were rejected by the wider community. A play about Semmelweis now showing in London focuses on why his ideas failed to catch on. Although Dr Semmelweis acknowledges that the medical establishment was at fault for its resistance to change, it seems to place most of the blame on Semmelweis’s character, says reviewer and writer Georgina Ferry. Amid his struggle to save women’s lives, he offended his critics and fell out with even devoted supporters.

Nature | 6 min read

A warehouse worker finds a way to circumvent the rules in the latest short story for Nature’s Futures series.

Nature | 6 min read

Too many people assume that the problem of gender inequality in science has been solved. “The reality is, absolutely not,” says physicist Athene Donald. “No one is consciously sitting down and saying: ‘Let’s make it harder for women’,” she says. “But somehow systemically we have these issues.” On this week’s Nature Podcast, Donald talks about why Marie Curie isn’t a great role model, why we need to change the way we teach science and other themes from her new book Not Just for the Boys.

Nature Podcast | 32 min listen

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Quote of the day

Pioneering nineteenth-century zoologist Charles Henry Turner viewed his work on animal behaviour as a way to understand the connections between all living things. His groundbreaking research into the cognition of bees and spiders, which he conducted in a shed behind his house, was largely forgotten after his death in 1923. (Knowable Magazine | 10 min read)

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