Dino’s puny arms resemble T. rex‘s
For dinosaurs, tiny arms may have been the price of a giant, carnivorous head, according to a study of a new species. In Argentina’s Patagonian Desert, paleontologists discovered a halfcomplete, 11-meter-long skeleton that’s a Tyrannosaurus rex doppelgänger, with stubby arms and a cartoonishly big cranium, but is only distantly related to the tyrannosaurids. The team named their “lucky strike” discovery Meraxes gigas after a Targaryen dragon from Game of Thrones. Because researchers determined the head and arms went together, they could compare the fossil with other known members of its family, the carcharodontosaurids. They found that over time, the dinosaurs’ heads became larger and forearms shrank. Two other families of giant dinosaurs—tyrannosaurids and abelisaurids—independently exhibit similar trends. The big crania supported big jaws that helped the carnivores capture large prey, researchers say, whereas the forelimbs likely shrank to keep the bipedal creatures in balance or as a developmental compensation for a larger skull, not for any adaptive advantage of their own, the team reported in the 7 July issue of Current Biology.
Beijing flips on vaccine mandate
City authorities in Beijing announced China’s first large-scale COVID-19 vaccine mandate on 6 July, only to scrap the plan a day later after social media posts questioned the measure’s legality and the vaccines’ effectiveness. (China’s censors have allowed citizens to vent complaints about the handling of COVID-19 outbreaks as long as they don’t question the government’s overall “zero COVID” strategy.) The mandate called for those entering libraries, museums, movie theaters, gyms, and other public facilities to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a policy enacted by many countries during the pandemic. Instead, Beijing reverted to require proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken in the previous 72 hours and a temperature check to visit facilities that attract crowds. Roughly 90% of China’s population has gotten vaccinated voluntarily, but only half of those older than 80 were vaccinated as of March, the last time national details were released. Many unvaccinated seniors fear side effects of inoculation, making the national government reluctant to relax its zero COVID strategy, which relies on contact tracing, mass testing, and lockdowns.
EU’s ‘sustainable’ power knocked
EU lawmakers last week voted 328 to 278 to define natural gas and nuclear power as “sustainable” energy sources, drawing strong objects from environmental groups. The designation, proposed earlier this year by the European Commission, is aimed at easing private investment in energy sources that some see as less polluting than coal and oil. But critics say the policy ignores scientific evidence, will only complicate efforts to curb climate change, and could end up diverting funding from solar and wind projects to relatively expensive nuclear plants. Opponents are urging EU member nations to stop the policy from going into effect next year and say they will go to court if that strategy fails. In 2020, natural gas provided about 24% of the European Union’s total energy, whereas nuclear provided 13%.
Let’s hope that some fresh political faces can move the situation forward.
- Research policy scholar Graeme Reid
- in Times Higher Educationon on prospects that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation will help UK researchers access the European Union’s flagship science funding program.
Embattled spider biologist resigns
A behavioral ecologist under fire for more than 2 years for data irregularities or possible fabrication in dozens of publications resigned this week from a prestigious, tenured position at McMaster University. Jonathan Pruitt’s work on social behavior in spiders had earned international acclaim, and their willingness to share data drew many eager collaborators. In a statement, McMaster confirmed it has reached a “confidential” settlement with Pruitt, but said it is not ready to release the findings of its probe into possible research misconduct. Pruitt told Science they are not yet able to speak publicly about any allegations. Some scientists who co-authored papers with Pruitt criticized McMaster for acting too slowly on the misconduct concerns, first made public in 2020, and urged the university to unveil its findings now.
Marburg virus hits Ghana
Two people infected with the Marburg virus have died in Ghana, the first ever detected cases of the deadly hemorrhagic fever in the country, health authorities report. Tissue samples collected from the people, in the Ashanti region in the south, have been sent to the Pasteur Institute in Senegal for confirmation, the World Health Organization announced last week. Marburg is closely related to the Ebola virus, but outbreaks are rare and typically smaller; the biggest one, in Angola in 2004–05, ended after 252 cases. There are no approved vaccines or treatments. It is only the second time a Marburg infection has been detected in West Africa. A single case was confirmed in Guinea in 2021, but no further cases were found and the outbreak was declared over after 5 weeks.
US aims to tame quantum threat
The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced last week it will add to its standards four encryption algorithms that are supposed to be immune to hacking by a quantum computer. One algorithm is for general encryption and three are for digital signatures. The standards are part of a 6-year push to internet safeguard communications from quantum computers, which manipulate bits of information dubbed qubits that can be set to 0 or 1 simultaneously. Scientists expect a large quantum computer will be able to crack the current “public key” encryption algorithms. NIST will consider four other algorithms for general encryption for inclusion in its standards, which the agency expects to finalize in 2 years.
United Nations calls use of wild species unsustainable
One in five people depends directly on wild animals, plants, and other organisms for their food or livelihood practices, but many of them consume the resources unsustainably, according to the first global evaluation of these practices. Billions of people are tapping 55,000 wild species, and some uses are intensifying as the population grows, according to a report issued on 8 July by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The body spent 4 years gathering input from researchers, policymakers, and Indigenous groups for its Assessment Report on the Sustainable Use of Wild Species. Fixes include stepping up regulation of supply chains and curtailing illegal trade of heavily consumed organisms such as fish or the use of timber for cooking; one in three people globally relies on wood this way, the report found. It also emphasizes the need for policies to be inclusive, equitable, and tailored to ensure indigenous people continue to survive and manage their resources.
Teaching program boosts voting
A US program that trains recent college graduates to teach in high-needs schools also makes them more likely to vote, a study has found. Political scientists Cecilia Mo of the University of California, Berkeley, and John Holbein of the University of Virginia examined the impact of Teach for America (TFA) on political engagement by an statistical tool to create a group of trainees and a control group of rejected applications; the two groups’ demographic characteristics differ minimally. The TFA alumni vote at rates up to nine percentage points higher, the researchers report in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in the first such study of a US national service program. Serving in TFA was 14 times more effective in promoting voting by eligible young people than get-out-the-vote campaigns or other direct appeals. It’s not clear why TFA improves the dismally low voting record of those under age 30, but the authors say possible reasons include prolonged exposure to social inequalities.
Satellite, sailors spot bright ocean
Scientists have known unusually high concentrations of bioluminescent bacteria occasionally light up large swaths of ocean. The phenomenon is rarely witnessed by people or, when it is, scientifically verified. That changed after researchers combing through images from the Joint Polar Satellite System discovered a 100,000-square-kilometer “milky sea” off Java in 2019. The find drew media coverage seen by crew members who had sailed a 16-meter private yacht through the glowing waters but hadn’t known bioluminescence was the cause. “It gives the impression of sailing through snow,” they recorded in the ship’s log. The sailors also took video and cellphone photos, as Steven Miller, a remote sensing expert at Colorado State University, reports this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.