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Plan S, a major push by some science agencies to make the research they fund open-access on publication, has been delayed by a year. Funders now don’t have to start implementing the initiative until 2021, to give researchers and publishers more time to adapt to the changes the bold plan requires. The funders, together called Coalition S, say they are also now prepared to give publishers more flexibility in how they transform paywalled or part-paywalled journals into fully open-access titles to become compliant with Plan S. They will also not necessarily place a cap on journals’ open-access publishing fees, as they’d previously stated.
A committee of researchers in India has recommended scrapping a policy that requires PhD students to publish an academic paper before they can be awarded their doctorates. India is unusual in having a national publication policy for PhD students; in many other countries, institutions set their own requirements. Some scientists say the rule fuels poor-quality journals, but others think it is a good way to scrutinize students’ thesis results.
A young woman with an aggressive, early-onset form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that has already killed her twin sister is poised to receive a cutting-edge form of gene therapy. The treatment, which is yet to be approved for use, involves designing a molecule to bind to and disable mutated strands of genetic code in the woman’s cells to prevent them from producing a protein that causes the neurological damage underlying her ALS. The woman would become the second-ever person to try the approach. The first use, for a rare neurodegenerative condition called Batten disease, halted the progress of the condition.
FEATURES & OPINION
After an unorthodox career in science that has included setting up a national park in an active war zone in Afghanistan, Alex Dehgan is betting his retirement on hacking the field of conservation. Borrowing a page from Silicon Valley, he has launched a non-profit technology start-up called Conservation X Labs. The first commercial product to be spun out of the start-up is slated for release by the end of the year: a cheap, hand-held portable DNA scanner to help spot illegal plant and animal products.
Researchers unexpectedly discovered a family with a mutation that causes early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in the same region of Colombia as another well-studied extended family with a totally different mutation that causes the same condition. Analysis revealed that one gene variant had its roots in Europe and the other in Africa. The discovery revealed the complex racial history of the area: European colonists and enslaved Africans brought new mutations to the genetically isolated Indigenous population, which was then almost wiped out, causing a genetic bottleneck that allowed rare mutations to become dominant. Whereas the previously known gene variant “may have come in with a conquistador, this one had arrived with a slave, or arisen in his or her descendants”, reports Undark.
A league table of gender in science, the closure of the Sanger animal facility and why researchers are starting a forest fire are all discussed in a special extended news chat in this week’s Nature Podcast. Plus, remembering the controversial claim of the discovery of cold fusion, 30 years on.
BOOKS & ARTS
“The future is uncertain, but the science of uncertainty is the science of the future,” says mathematics writer Ian Stewart in his new book, Do Dice Play God?. Applied statistician Andrew Gelman enjoys the sweeping connections the book makes between the different “ages of uncertainty”, but argues that it relies too much on its assumption that mathematical models apply directly to real life.
Barbara Kiser’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes the world of addiction, zen cosmology and the impending aquacalypse.
INFOGRAPHIC OF THE WEEK
Although disappointing, the failure of a scientific start-up need not be the end of the road. Nature explores why start-ups fail and gets advice from co-founders on how to learn mistakes and rise from the ashes.
Three communication PhD students describe how they used peer-to-peer research — research undertaken without the direction of a faculty member — to support each other, increase their professional competence and boost productivity.
Western nations claim much of the attention when it comes to biotechnology, but scientists elsewhere are making substantial progress. Scientists working in Jamaica, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia and South Africa explore the advantages of their locations — and how to overcome the challenges.
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
This incredible fossil shows an entire school of fish, somehow caught together roughly 50 million years ago. The shoal of hundreds of now-extinct fish (Erismatopterus levatus) from the western United States reveals that they formed schools by combining sets of simple behavioural rules — just like modern fish do today.
“Our study highlights the possibility of exploring the social communication of extinct animals, which has been thought to leave no fossil record,” say the study authors, Nobuaki Mizumoto, Shinya Miyata and Stephen Pratt.
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