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Nuclear war could spark global famine

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Many warehouses around the world would empty of crops such as wheat after a small nuclear war.Credit: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg via Getty

Even a small conflict in which two nations unleash nuclear weapons on each other could lead to worldwide famine, research suggests. Soot from burning cities would encircle the planet and cool it by reflecting sunlight back into space. This, in turn, would cause global crop failures that — in a worst-case scenario — could put five billion people on the brink of death. The research is the latest in a decades-long thought experiment about the global consequences of nuclear war. It seems especially relevant today as Russia’s war against Ukraine has disrupted global food supplies, underscoring the far-reaching impacts of a regional conflict.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Nature Food paper

Cooperation between the United States and China on global warming has been dealt a major blow after China’s foreign ministry suspended climate talks with the United States. The decision came in response to the high-profile trip to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, earlier this month, which China says violated its sovereignty. Researchers say a temporary freeze in discussions will probably affect only high-level political engagements, but that a longer stand-off could have a chilling effect on academic collaborations. “Chinese research institutions and their leaders will wonder whether or not they are inviting trouble by continuing on,” says Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct.

Nature | 5 min read

Some parents are considering delaying their children’s second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the hope of increasing its potency — but this might be a bad idea. Although the United States and Canada have approved two mRNA vaccines for use in children, these have proven less effective against the Omicron variant. Previous studies have found that waiting longer than the three to four weeks typically recommended between the first two shots might boost immunity. But with a new variant, BA.5, sweeping the globe, many scientists think that it is better to fully vaccinate young children sooner. “You’re delaying the vaccine for a theoretical benefit in the midst of a surge that can do actual harm to children,” says paediatric infectious-disease specialist Jessica Snowden.

Nature | 6 min read

Features & opinion

Researchers are studying the ageing process in dogs to find ways to extend the canines’ lives. They hope to identify biological markers associated with increased risk of diseases such as dementia, and lifestyle choices that might help to extend their quality of life. The dogs are also being enrolled in trials for anti-ageing drugs, and could be used as models for prolonging the lives of people. “I would love if I could slow ageing in my dog,” says Matt Kaeberlein, who studies ageing.

MIT Technology Review | 11 mins read

In this first episode of our new podcast series, we gather four Nature staffers around the microphone to get their expert take on preprints. The number of these pre-peer-review open-access articles has spiked in recent years, and they have cemented themselves as an integral part of scientific publishing. Could preprints help democratize science, or will their continued popularity contribute to a loss of trust in scientists? Our experts tackle these issues, and ask what the future holds for preprints.

Nature Podcast | 28 min listen

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Where I Work

Gianluca Torta’s work involves recycling rare-earth metals that he extracts from industrial waste. These metals are in short supply, yet are crucial for manufacturing electric motors for cars, bikes and scooters. At the moment, discarded electric motors get shredded, and the precious elements in them often end up in landfills. As a PhD student at the University of Bologna in Italy, Torta is working to find ways to prevent the waste of rare-earth metals, which are hard to source in the first place: “My goal is to find the most efficient way to recycle these metals,” he says. “[It] is challenging, but provides an opportunity to reduce the environmental damage of further extraction.” (Nature | 3 min read)

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We have no choice. I mean, it will lead to our own extinction if we lose 50% of biodiversity on Earth in the next 50 to 100 years.”

Andrew Pask, an epigeneticist at the University of Melbourne, on plans to attempt to ‘de-extinct’ the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus). In the face of the rapidly advancing biodiversity crisis, fresh approaches such as bringing extinct animals back to life are needed, he says. (The Guardian | 5 min read)


Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here

A small pile of wheat in a warehouse for grain storage in Australia.

Many warehouses around the world would empty of crops such as wheat after a small nuclear war.Credit: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg via Getty

Even a small conflict in which two nations unleash nuclear weapons on each other could lead to worldwide famine, research suggests. Soot from burning cities would encircle the planet and cool it by reflecting sunlight back into space. This, in turn, would cause global crop failures that — in a worst-case scenario — could put five billion people on the brink of death. The research is the latest in a decades-long thought experiment about the global consequences of nuclear war. It seems especially relevant today as Russia’s war against Ukraine has disrupted global food supplies, underscoring the far-reaching impacts of a regional conflict.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Nature Food paper

Cooperation between the United States and China on global warming has been dealt a major blow after China’s foreign ministry suspended climate talks with the United States. The decision came in response to the high-profile trip to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, earlier this month, which China says violated its sovereignty. Researchers say a temporary freeze in discussions will probably affect only high-level political engagements, but that a longer stand-off could have a chilling effect on academic collaborations. “Chinese research institutions and their leaders will wonder whether or not they are inviting trouble by continuing on,” says Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct.

Nature | 5 min read

Some parents are considering delaying their children’s second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the hope of increasing its potency — but this might be a bad idea. Although the United States and Canada have approved two mRNA vaccines for use in children, these have proven less effective against the Omicron variant. Previous studies have found that waiting longer than the three to four weeks typically recommended between the first two shots might boost immunity. But with a new variant, BA.5, sweeping the globe, many scientists think that it is better to fully vaccinate young children sooner. “You’re delaying the vaccine for a theoretical benefit in the midst of a surge that can do actual harm to children,” says paediatric infectious-disease specialist Jessica Snowden.

Nature | 6 min read

Features & opinion

Researchers are studying the ageing process in dogs to find ways to extend the canines’ lives. They hope to identify biological markers associated with increased risk of diseases such as dementia, and lifestyle choices that might help to extend their quality of life. The dogs are also being enrolled in trials for anti-ageing drugs, and could be used as models for prolonging the lives of people. “I would love if I could slow ageing in my dog,” says Matt Kaeberlein, who studies ageing.

MIT Technology Review | 11 mins read

In this first episode of our new podcast series, we gather four Nature staffers around the microphone to get their expert take on preprints. The number of these pre-peer-review open-access articles has spiked in recent years, and they have cemented themselves as an integral part of scientific publishing. Could preprints help democratize science, or will their continued popularity contribute to a loss of trust in scientists? Our experts tackle these issues, and ask what the future holds for preprints.

Nature Podcast | 28 min listen

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Where I Work

Gianluca Torta’s work involves recycling rare-earth metals that he extracts from industrial waste. These metals are in short supply, yet are crucial for manufacturing electric motors for cars, bikes and scooters. At the moment, discarded electric motors get shredded, and the precious elements in them often end up in landfills. As a PhD student at the University of Bologna in Italy, Torta is working to find ways to prevent the waste of rare-earth metals, which are hard to source in the first place: “My goal is to find the most efficient way to recycle these metals,” he says. “[It] is challenging, but provides an opportunity to reduce the environmental damage of further extraction.” (Nature | 3 min read)

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“We have no choice. I mean, it will lead to our own extinction if we lose 50% of biodiversity on Earth in the next 50 to 100 years.”

Andrew Pask, an epigeneticist at the University of Melbourne, on plans to attempt to ‘de-extinct’ the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus). In the face of the rapidly advancing biodiversity crisis, fresh approaches such as bringing extinct animals back to life are needed, he says. (The Guardian | 5 min read)

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