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A large moth flutters around a bright white strip light. The image’s long exposure shows the animal’s movement as it twists its back towards the light source.

Nocturnal insects aren’t attracted to artificial lights because they confuse them with the Moon. (Sam Fabian)

Nocturnal insects appear drawn to artificial lights because they instinctively twist their backs towards bright objects. The instinct to tilt their backs towards the brightest thing available at night — the sky — allows insects to quickly figure out which way is up. Researchers who tracked insects’ flight patterns with motion-capture cameras found that this even leads the animals to flip upside down and crash into the ground when the light source is underneath them. The researchers suggest reducing upward-facing lights and ground reflections to avoid confusing flying insects at night.

Nature | 7 min video

Reference: Nature Communications paper

A new online resource shows off the best of research-assessment and career-development policies. The Reformscape database, launched by the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), aims to show university administrators practical, actionable ways to improve their own policies. “It can be difficult to convince people from a standing start that change is possible,” says DORA’s programme director Zen Faulkes. “This is a tool to help them get unstuck.”

Nature | 4 min read

Donald Trump has promised to limit the authority of federal agencies and employees, including scientists, if he wins in the upcoming US elections. His plan, known as Schedule F, would allow the government to more easily fire federal employees and appoint politically-aligned replacements regardless of their scientific expertise. If the plan gets the green light, “you would have nobody to report scientific-integrity violations, because anybody who objected would be fired”, says Betsy Southerland, a former environmental scientist at the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Nature | 3 min read

Playing a musical instrument is associated with a sharper mind later in life. And the instrument matters: in a study of people over 40 in the United Kingdom, “keyboard and, to a lesser extent, brass instrument play was strongly associated with better working memory, with executive function favoured in woodwind players”. “Our brain is a muscle like anything else and it needs to be exercised,” says dementia researcher and co-author Anne Corbett.

BBC | 5 min read

Reference: International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry paper

Features & opinion

Researchers are parsing the many ways in which cancer co-opts the nervous system for its own benefit — even outside the brain. In much the same way as tumours recruit blood vessels to feed themselves and grow, cancer relies on the nervous system for everything from initiation to spread. These initial discoveries are already pointing to potential cancer treatments, using therapies already known to be safe. Beta blockers, for instance, can disrupt signals from sympathetic nerves that drive cancer progression in the breast, pancreas, prostate and elsewhere.

Nature | 11 min read

An international treaty to prepare for future pandemics could offer the opportunity to ensure that life-saving vaccines and treatments are available to all who need them, argues a Nature editorial. To make it happen, public funders could agree that their money comes with strings: they could, for example, require grantees to openly share study results. They could also require that products arising from those studies be priced affordably and retain certain intellectual property to facilitate access in low- and middle-income countries.

Nature | 6 min read

Infographic of the week

Figure 1

Figure 1 | Previously unknown microbial gene families. The large-scale analysis of DNA sequences captured from microbial samples as reported by Rodríguez del Río et al. and by Pavlopoulos et al. has revealed hundreds of thousands of previously unknown gene families. These data — which were gathered from microbes in the wild and across different habitats, and include species that have not been cultivated in the laboratory — provide a starting point for gaining insights into unexplored aspects of the biology of bacterial and archaeal microorganisms.

DNA sequences captured from microbial samples — which were gathered from microbes in the wild and across different habitats, and include species that have not been cultivated in the laboratory — have revealed hundreds of thousands of previously unknown gene families. “By delving deeper into the microbial dark matter, these two studies unlock a wealth of previously hidden knowledge, paving the way for future discoveries in diverse fields from medicine to biotechnology,” write biomedical researchers Jakob Wirbel and Ami Bhatt. (Nature News & Views Forum | 8 min read, Nature paywall)

Reference: Nature paper (free-to-read link)

Quote of the day

The entire field of maths has been excluded from Clarivate’s highly-cited-author rankings following a damning analysis by mathematician Domingo Docampo. (Science | 5 min read)

Are you or a colleague working to enhance research reliability and build trust in science? The €500,000 Einstein Foundation Award recognizes outstanding efforts to meet these challenges, and nominations and applications are now open. Visit the Einstein Foundation Berlin’s website for more information — it’s free to nominate or apply and there are awards for individuals, institutions and early-career researchers.

Thanks for reading,

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Gemma Conroy and Katrina Krämer

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