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News at a glance: Bringing children to field sites, restricting trawling in the EU and calling the pandemic ‘over’ | Sciences


Bacterial naming method is based on DNA

A controversial new system for naming bacteria and other prokaryotes relies solely on their DNA, rather than laboratory cultures, to identify them. The approach, called SeqCode and described this week in microbiology of nature, promises to alleviate a backlog created because many microbial species are being revealed through DNA analysis. Under an existing protocol, the scientific community accepts a bacterium, or a prokaryote known as an archaeon, as real only if microbiologists grow the species in the lab and ship a pure “type” culture to at least two of the world’s facilities that maintain bacteria. microbes. in perpetuity instead, SeqCode accepts a full or complete set of genome sequence data from a bacterium as its “type” material and describes a protocol for assigning a Latin name. SeqCode software verifies that the DNA sequence is unique, and scientists assess whether the name was chosen according to guidelines. But it’s not clear if the method will take hold. Some microbiologists refuse to accept a genome as sufficient proof of the existence of a species.


Disputed Botany Paper Holders

The newspaper BMC Medicine announced this month that will not retract an influential but controversial 2013 article by botanist Steven Newmaster from the University of Guelph (UG) who questioned the purity of herbal remedies. In 2021, eight scientists signed a complaint alleging that Newmaster was responsible for “missing, fraudulent, or plagiarized data” in three papers, including this one, which helped make him a highly sought-after industry expert and consultant. Independent specialists supported those concerns, as detailed in a Sciences research. A UG investigation acquitted Newmaster of wrongdoing in June, although it cited his failure to “apply reasonably expected standards of investigation” for her work supporting the investigation. BMC Medicine article and others, including one that was retracted. Despite not retracting the article on herbal remedies, BMC Medicine withheld a story published in February alerting readers that doubts had been raised about the reliability of the paper’s data. Newmaster did not respond to a request for comment.

You’re counting votes. Many of us are just counting bodies.

  • Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at Yale University
  • tweeting about President Joe Biden’s comment that the pandemic is “over” even though some 400 Americans are still dying daily from the disease.

Parole math teacher

An applied mathematics professor at Southern Illinois University (SIU), Carbondale, will avoid prison and instead serve 1 year of probation in the latest resolution of a case related to the US government’s controversial China Initiative. , which targeted American academics, most of them Chinese. ancestry. In May, a jury found Mingqing Xiao not guilty of making a false statement to the government about her ties to Chinese institutions in a grant application. But Xiao was found guilty of filing incorrect tax returns and failing to report a foreign bank account, charges that were added to his original indictment. At Xiao’s sentencing this week, District Court Judge Staci Yandle said it would do no good to jail him and that he did not pose a threat of recidivism. Xiao, who has been on paid administrative leave since his arrest in April 2021, told the judge that he hopes to be reinstated by SIU and resume teaching and research. In February, the US Department of Justice removed the name China Initiative after concluding that the phrase has “fueled a narrative of bigotry and prejudice.” The department has not announced any new indictments from academic researchers since the name change.


King of the hill: 20 quadrillion ants

ants form a bridge
army ants (Eciton hamatum) in Panama form a bridge during a raid.PHOTOS BY CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER/MINDEN

Ants were already estimated to be the most numerous insects. Now, a research team has developed the most comprehensive estimate to date of the number of individual ants, one that puts a new perspective on the “crowded anthill.” Combining data from 489 studies around the world, the team pegged that figure at 20 quadrillion, or 20 followed by 15 zeroes. Although individual ants are lightweight, that astronomical figure translates into a collective dry weight — the weight with all fluids removed, which makes up the total carbon biomass — of 12 megatons, more than all wild birds and mammals combined, reports the equipment. week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The estimate is two to 20 times higher than previous ones, which varied because many were extrapolated from studies of ants in a single location or calculated based on an estimated percentage of ants relative to all insects. The new study was based on actual counts of ants trapped above ground, but may be incomplete because it did not include studies covering ants hiding in nests and lacked studies from boreal forests, much of central Africa and parts of Asia.


Europe protects more seabed

To prevent damage to sensitive marine habitats, the European Commission will close more than 16,000 square kilometers of shallow coastal waters in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean to bottom trawling next month. When fishing boats drag heavy nets across the sea floor to catch bottom dwellers like pink prawns, they also kill other species and cloud the water with sediment. In 2016, the Commission banned bottom trawling below 800 meters in an area covering more than 4.9 million square kilometers to protect cold-water coral reefs and the ecosystems where they live. The Commission’s announcement last week extends protections to EU waters between 400 and 800 meters off the coasts of four member states: France, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. Scientists working on behalf of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea relied on existing data to predict areas that could contain vulnerable species, such as glass sponges and tube-dwelling anemones. Environmental groups welcomed the announcement, but fishing groups warned it would cost jobs.

3 questions

Take your children to the field

Yale University paleoanthropologist Jessica Thompson has been towing her three children with her to field sites in Malawi for years. Her experiences, both challenging and rewarding, have led her to reflect on how fieldwork-intensive disciplines pose unique questions for researchers, especially mothers, with families. Should you bring children with you? What if they trample on brittle fossils or get sick? She and her colleagues have been surveying other scientists about the professional imperatives for doing fieldwork and their decisions about child care. She hopes the responses will support changes in practices to make fieldwork more manageable for researchers with families.

Q: How have childcare issues affected your ability to do fieldwork?

A: When I was just starting out, my oldest son was 1 and my parents would take him to me for the summer so I could focus on what I had to do. Without that family support, there would be no way I would have been able to do that. Since my partner works in the fields with me, it means that my parents help me or we bring [the children]. No choice. … The most obvious obstacle is funding. Airfare costs to bring several children to Central Africa, where I work, are rising rapidly… The local community loves the fact that we are bringing our children. It opens doors in ways that are otherwise completely closed to you, because it humanizes this group of scientists coming in.

Q: How do the children on the site affect the work?

A: I am concerned about the morale of the other people at the field site. If there is a child who is bothering them for some reason, will they feel like they don’t want to be there? Or that they are not part of this family unit? … If you all live in the camp sharing housing and food, and your fellowship pays for all of that, how do you separate personal expenses from people? [for the children]?

Q: How are these challenges affecting your area of ​​science?

A: We believe that being a mother is one of the reasons women are underrepresented among leaders in our field. I think it’s taking a lot of people out of the line of field research and directing them to lab work instead.


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