News at a glance: Bringing children to field sites, restricting EU trawling and saying the pandemic is ‘over’ | Science


The method of naming bacteria relies 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, dubbed SeqCode and described this week in Natural microbiology, promises to ease a backlog created because so many microbial species are revealed by 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 laboratory and subject a pure “type” culture to at least two global facilities that keep germs away. for life. In place, SeqCode accepts a full or complete set of genome sequence data from a bacterium as “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 is not clear whether the method will prevail. Some microbiologists refuse to accept a genome as sufficient proof of the existence of a species.


Contested Botanical Paper Stands

The newspaper BMC Medicine announced this month that he 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 Newmaster was responsible for “missing, fraudulent, or plagiarized data” in three papers, including this one, which helped make him a sought-after expert and industry consultant. . Independent scholars have supported these concerns, as detailed in a Science investigation. A UG investigation cleared Newmaster of misconduct in June, although it cited his failure “to apply the standards reasonably expected in research” for his work supporting the BMC Medicine article and others, including one that was retracted. Although he did not retract the article on herbal remedies, BMC Medicine preserved a note published in February alerting readers that doubts had arisen about the reliability of the newspaper’s data. Newmaster did not respond to a request for comment.

You count the votes. Many of us are just counting bodies.

  • Gregg Gonsalves, epidemiologist at Yale University
  • tweeting about President Joe Biden’s remark that the pandemic “is over”, although around 400 Americans continue to die from the disease each day.

Math teacher put to the test

A professor of applied mathematics at Southern Illinois University (SIU), Carbondale, will avoid prison and instead serve 1 year of probation in the most recent resolution of a case involving the US government’s controversial China Initiative, which targeted American academics, most of them of Chinese descent. ancestry. In May, a jury found Mingqing Xiao not guilty of making a false statement to the government about his ties to Chinese institutions while applying for a grant. But Xiao was found guilty of filing incorrect tax returns and failing to declare a foreign bank account, charges added to his original indictment. During Xiao’s sentencing this week, District Court Judge Staci Yandle said there would be no point in incarcerating him and that he posed no threat of reoffending. Xiao, who has been on paid administrative leave since his arrest in April 2021, told the judge he hoped to be reinstated by the SIU and resume teaching and research. In February, the US Department of Justice dropped the name China Initiative after concluding that the phrase had “fueled a narrative of intolerance and bias”. The department has not announced any new indictments of 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.IMAGES CHRISTIAN ZIEGLER/MINDEN

Ants were already estimated as the most numerous insects. Now, a research team has developed the most comprehensive estimate yet of the number of individual ants, which gives a new perspective to the “swarming anthill”. Combining data from 489 studies from around the world, the team pegged that figure at 20 quadrillion, or 20 followed by 15 zeros. Although individual ants are light, this astronomical figure translates to 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 wild mammals combined. the team reports this 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 at a single location or calculated based on an estimated percentage of ants to all the insects. The new study relied on actual counts of ants captured above ground, but may be incomplete because it included no studies covering ants hiding in nests and lacked surveys in boreal forests, much of it of central Africa and parts of Asia.


Europe does more to protect the seabed

To prevent damage to sensitive marine habitats, the European Commission will next month close more than 16,000 square kilometers of shallow coastal waters in the northeast Atlantic Ocean to bottom trawling. When fishing boats drag heavy nets along the seabed to catch bottom dwellers, like 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 they support. 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 for the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea have used existing data to predict areas likely to contain vulnerable species, such as glass sponges and tube anemones. Environmental groups welcomed the announcement, but fishing groups warned it would cost jobs.


Bring your kids to the field

Yale University paleoanthropologist Jessica Thompson has been dragging her three children with her to field sites in Malawi for years. Her experiences, both challenging and enriching, have led her to reflect on how labor-intensive disciplines in the field raise unique questions for researchers, especially mothers, with families. Do you have to bring children with you? What if they trample fragile fossils or fall ill? She and her colleagues interviewed fellow scientists about the professional imperatives for doing fieldwork and their decisions about child custody. She hopes the responses will support changes in practice to make fieldwork more manageable for researchers with families.

Q: How have child care issues affected your ability to do field work?

A: When I was just starting out, my eldest son was 1 and my parents would take him in for me during the summer so I could focus on what I needed to do. Without this family support, I would never have been able to do this. Because my partner works with me in the field, that means either my parents help me or we bring [the children]. There is no other option. … The most obvious obstacle is financial. Airfare costs to bring several children to Central Africa, where I work, add up quickly. … The local community likes the fact that we bring our children. It opens doors that would otherwise be completely closed to you, because it humanizes this group of scientists who come in.

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

A: I worry about the morale of the other people on the pitch. If there’s this kid bothering them for some reason, are they going to feel like they don’t want to be there? Or that they are not part of this family unit? …if everyone is living in the field camp sharing accommodation and food, and your research grant is paying for all of that, how do you separate people’s personal expenses [for the children]?

Q: How do these challenges affect your field of science?

A: We believe that being a mother is one of the reasons why women are not highly represented among leaders in our field. I think that takes a lot of people out of the field research pipeline and directs them to lab work instead.