Daily briefing: Fertilize oceans or seed clouds? No one knows

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Earth’s seed plants are disappearing 500 times faster than they would without human influence. Researchers analysed a global data set of more than 330,000 species and found that 571 are presumed extinct since they were recorded in Carl Linnaeus’s compendium Species Plantarum in 1753. To make matters worse, the number of recorded extinctions is an underestimate of the real tally, and doesn’t count species that are extinct in the wild or whose populations are too small to survive.

Nature | 4 min read

Read more: Botanist Rafaël Govaerts writes about why he documents every extinct plant – and spends his holidays travelling the world to rediscover them. (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew blog)

Reference: Nature Ecology & Evolution paper

By the numbers

Molecular biologist Denis Rebrikov wants to become the second scientist ever to edit the genes of embryos that will develop into babies – possibly before the end of the year. Rebrikov heads a genome-editing laboratory at Russia’s largest fertility clinic. Biophysicist He Jiankui prompted an international outcry when he claimed last November that he had used CRISPR to edit the genes of embryos that developed into twin girls.

Rebrikov plans to disable the same gene, CCR5, which offers protection from HIV infection. He argues that his approach would be more ethically justifiable because the embryos have HIV-positive mothers who are at risk of passing the virus to their baby. (He Jiankui modified the gene in embryos with HIV-positive fathers, with a low risk of transmission.) “I think I’m crazy enough to do it,” says Rebrikov.

Nature | 6 min read

Sudan’s universities are shut, flights have been suspended and the Internet remains almost entirely blocked after a brutal crackdown in which paramilitaries are thought to have killed some 100 people and arrested opposition politicians. Nevertheless, protesters – including several prominent academics – say they will continue a campaign of civil disobedience to secure democracy and to free universities from government influence.

Nature | 4 min read

FEATURES & OPINION

It’s impossible to predict the ecological and social effects of the various ocean-based schemes to fight global warming – because there’s just not enough evidence behind any of them. That’s the argument made by two marine scientists who co-chaired a United Nations working group that tried to do just that. Philip Boyd and Chris Vivian call on advocates of marine geoengineering to urgently build a body of basic scientific evidence that can help decide which methods to rule out and which hold potential.

Nature | 9 min read

In January, a biostatistics professor at Duke University in the United States chastised students for speaking in Chinese, sparking a conversation about the dominance of English as the language of science. Six researchers who didn’t grow up speaking English – and one who studies how it came to be the dominant language of research – explore how language barriers affect lives and careers, and how to overcome them.

Nature | 11 min read

A new book by technology writer and researcher Arthur Holland Michel tells the incredible story of how a nightmarish surveillance satellite in the 1998 thriller Enemy of the State has inspired defence researchers to create the real thing. The US Air Force project ‘Gorgon Stare’, which puts an ultra-powerful camera on a plane, eventually mutated into a privately-funded plan to watch the United States’ own citizens.

Nature | 6 min read

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Fancy an 11-minute version of ‘Paranoid Android’? It’s just one of the “not v interesting” unreleased Radiohead recordings being sold in support of climate activism in lieu of paying a hacker’s US$150,000 ransom demand. While you queue that up on the office speakers, why not drop me a line with your feedback about this newsletter at briefing@nature.com.

Thanks for reading!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing Sign up for the daily Nature Briefing email newsletter

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