Nature Briefings

Hello Nature readers,
Today we hear that the United States has pledged to cut greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2030, discover early signs of promise for a malaria vaccine and enjoy news from one of the world’s longest-running experiments.
Joe Biden addresses the audience during the US climate summit on 22 April. (Al Drago/Getty)
US pledges to slash climate emissionsThe United States has pledged to halve greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030, compared with 2005 levels, and aim for net-zero emissions by 2050. US President Joe Biden announced the commitment as he opened a virtual climate summit that is being attended by 40 world leaders. The target is roughly in line with recent commitments by the European Union and others. “There’s a long way to go, but I’m more optimistic than I was a few months ago,” says climate analyst Bill Hare.Nature | 5 min read
NOTABLE QUOTABLE“These systems don’t turn on a dime. The goal setting is the easy part…. The tough work is getting it done.”Climate-policy researchers Morgan Bazilian and David Victor dig into how the United States can actually make good on its pledge to slash greenhouse-gas emissions. (The Conversation | 6 min read)
Glimmer of hope from malaria vaccine trialA malaria vaccine called R21 has proved to be 77% effective at preventing the disease in children in a small, early trial. There is one approved malaria vaccine — GlaxoSmithKline’s RTS,S vaccine — but this jab is the first to reach the World Health Organization’s goal of at least 75% efficacy. R21 has been in the works for several years, and it informed the development of the Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which came out of the same group at the University of Oxford. Large-scale phase III trials to prove the vaccine’s safety and efficacy are still to come, but this offers hope for a disease that kills 1,200 people each day, mostly children under 5.BBC | 4 min read
Read more: Building a better malaria vaccine (Nature | 12 min read, from 2019)
Reference: The Lancet pre-print
SKIPPER’S PICKS: NOTES FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEFMagdalena Skipper, <i></img>Nature editor-in-chief” width=”100″>In the year when the United Nations is holding the Food System Summit, the story of Nikolai Vavilov is particularly timely: it is a tale of <a href=a passionate and intrepid biologist who recognized the importance of cataloguing plant diversity for food security. Vavilov died of malnutrition in a Soviet prison for the crime of being a Mendelian geneticist. But his dream to set up a world seed bank to protect the genetic treasure of the world’s crop plants lives on.Magdalena Skipper, Nature | 12 min read
NEWS ROUND-UPTop stories from earlier in the week:
The Ingenuity drone has made the first powered flight on another world. Read about its historic flight and watch a video of how it happened. (Nature | 6 min read and Nature | 6 min video)Forest fires raging in South Africa’s Table Mountain National Park have reached the University of Cape Town and gutted the reading room of its main library, which houses irreplaceable documents and records from the country’s past. (Nature | 4 min read)
COVID-19 coronavirus update
More than 1 million genomes sharedMore than 1.2 million coronavirus genome sequences from 172 countries and territories have now been shared on GISAID — the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. Sequence data have been crucial to scientists studying the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the epidemiology of COVID-19 outbreaks and the movement of viral variants across the planet. “You have a system where we can watch how the virus spreads through the world, and see if control measures and the vaccines still work,” says GISAID scientific adviser Sebastian Maurer-Stroh.Nature | 4 min read
NOTABLE QUOTABLE“Here’s the thing about an inferno: if you hose only one part of it, the rest will keep burning.”World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus exhorts the countries and companies that control the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines to keep their promises and help to end the pandemic. (The New York Times | 6 min read)COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS ROUND-UPTop stories from earlier in the week:
As safety concerns delay the use of the Johnson & Johnson and Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, Nature looks at the five key questions about blood clots that scientists want answered. (Nature | 8 min read)Researchers in India are trying to pinpoint what is behind the country’s terrible surge in infections. It could be due to an unfortunate confluence of factors — including the emergence of infectious variants, a rise in unrestricted social interactions and low vaccine coverage. (Nature | 6 min read)Campaigns to quash tuberculosis, measles and polio have all been set back by the need to divert medical resources to COVID-19. The knock-on effects of the pandemic could be larger than those caused by COVID-19 itself — and they might linger long after the pandemic has ended. (Nature | 12 min read)Scientists are seeking answers to important questions about how safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are in children by launching the first COVID-19 vaccine trials in this age group. (Nature | 7 min read)
Features & opinion
One of the world’s oldest experimentsEvery few years, for 142 years, scientists have dug up a bottle of seeds from a secret location on the campus of Michigan State University. The Beal seed-viability experiment is an effort to find out how long seeds can lie dormant without losing their ability to germinate. Botanist William James Beal started the trial with 20 bottles; there are 4 left. Each generation of botanists at the university has passed the knowledge of the seeds’ hiding place to younger colleagues. “I think Professor Beal’s got the top experiment here,” says plant scientist Carol Baskin. “I wish he’d have buried more bottles.”The New York Times | 8 min read
Futures: Hot buttered grubsWhen space-time gets twisted like a giant rubber band, it affects everyone — even the staff of a backwoods municipal alternate-timeline-transfer station. Author Jordan Price ponders the possibilities in the latest short story for Nature’s Futures series.Nature | 4 min read
Five best science books this weekAndrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes pseudoscience, zero waste, and an action-adventure graphic novel featuring female scientists saving the world.Nature | 3 min read
Video: Origami-inspired structuresDrawing inspiration from the art of origami, researchers have designed self-supporting structures that lock into place after being erected. “What is powerful with origami as an art form is that we know that from a 2D sheet of paper, you can fold any 3D shape,” says applied mathematician David Melancon. “So we have this enclosure made of rigid faces that is folded super, super compact. You inflate it… and then you can remove pressure and it stays there, deployed.”Nature | 6 min watch
Go deeper with engineer Sigrid Adriaenssens in the Nature News & Views article.
Reference: Nature paper
QUOTE OF THE DAY“I don’t want to undersell how tragic this experience has been…. but scientists love to find problems and solve them.”Haematology researcher Alisa Wolberg responds to a ResearchGate survey that found most respondents are finding ways to stay productive despite enormous disruptions to scientific work. (Nature | 4 min read)
Today, our tireless traveller Leif Penguinson is cooling off in a mountain stream in Ghandruk, Nepal. Can you find the penguin?

The answer will be in Monday’s e-mail, all thanks to Briefing photo editor and penguin wrangler Tom Houghton.

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing
With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty, John Pickrell, Ariana Remmel, Freda Kreier, Quirin Schiermeier

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