Daily briefing: Disease-resistant genetically modified banana is first to be approved to eat

Daily briefing: Disease-resistant genetically modified banana is first to be approved to eat

The variety is resistant to a devastating banana disease for which there is currently no treatment or cure. Plus, RNA-editing therapies pick up steam and just 5 women have won a top maths prize in the past 90 years.
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Agricultural scientist James Dale (centre) and his team created QCAV-4 (right) by swapping a gene found in a wild banana variety, Musa acuminata ssp malaccensis, into the ubiquitous fruit-bowl favourite, the Cavendish (left). (Queensland University of Technology)

First GM banana approved as food

For the first time, food-safety regulators have given the green light for a genetically engineered banana. The variety, QCAV-4, is resistant to the devastating fungal disease Panama Tropical Race 4, which has spread worldwide and for which there is currently no treatment or cure. It has been approved in Australia and New Zealand as a "safety net" in case biosecurity efforts fail to restrict the spread of the disease.

ABC News | 4 min read

RNA-editing therapies pick up steam

The first few treatments using RNA editing have entered clinical trials or have gained approval to do so, raising hopes for safer and more flexible gene-editing therapies. One treatment involves swapping a single base to correct a mutation that causes alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD), which can damage the lungs and the liver. Another changes thousands of genetic letters in anRNA molecule at once to treat the group of mutations that cause Stargardt disease. Unlike CRISPR genome editing, RNA editing doesn't change genes. Nor does it introduce permanent changes, because RNA molecules are transient. Both characteristics could cut the risks associated with genome editing, but could mean treatments have less lasting effects.

Nature | 5 min read

Just 5 women have won a top maths prize

The handful of female mathematicians who have won top prizes have all done so within the past decade. "Awards are one mechanism by which work and thinkers are promoted in the broader community," says mathematician Kathryn Leonard. "If women and people from other excluded groups continue to be excluded, their work is not being celebrated and shared." There are ways to close the gender gap, says Carolina Araujo, chair of the International Mathematical Union: actively promote the visibility of female researchers, diversify the committees that make prize decisions and extend award age limits for people who take career breaks to care for children.

Nature | 4 min read

Features & opinion

What the EU's AI law means for research

The European Union's new AI Act will put its toughest rules on the riskiest artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, but will exempt models developed purely for research. "They really don't want to cut off innovation, so I'd be astounded if this is going to be a problem," says technology ethics researcher Joanna Bryson. Some scientists suggest that the act could bolster open-source models, while others worry that it could hinder small companies that drive research. Powerful general-purpose models, such as the one behind ChatGPT, will face separate and stringent checks. Critics say that regulating AI models on the basis of their capability, rather than use, has no scientific basis. "Smarter and more capable does not mean more harm," says AI researcher Jenia Jitsev.

Nature | 6 min read

How to balance farming and solar power

Last year, France passed a law to prevent fertile land being used to harvest lucrative solar energy at the expense of crops. To comply with the new rules, solar projects must provide some sort of service to agriculture — such as putting panels above crops to provide temporary shade or shelter from hail and night frosts. "Crops don't use all the Sun's rays. Their needs depend on life cycle, and some stages need less light than others," says agronomist Christian Dupraz. Researchers have been investigating 'agriphotovoltaic' approaches for decades, but the systems still trigger debate about the right balance between electricity yields and crop yields.

Nature | 7 min read

This article is part of Nature Spotlight: France.

Is 'urban greening' just gentrification?

Two books make the case for and against 'green cities'. In The Living City, sociologist Des Fitzgerald declares himself against greening, seeing it as a symptom of gentrification promoted by elites. But in arguing so passionately against green cities, Fitzgerald dismisses thousands of scientific papers that have shown the benefits of urban nature to city dwellers, writes reviewer Timon McPhearson, an urban ecologist. The authors of Age of the City, development scholar Ian Goldin and journalist Tom Lee-Devlin, are also wary of gentrification, but point to access to green spaces as key to more equal, inclusive and fair cities. "Greening shouldn't be done in isolation," writes McPhearson, "but as part of a wholesale agenda of urban transformation, with equity and inclusion at its centre."

Nature | 7 min read

Where I work

Phil Korngut is an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.Credit: Rocco Ceselin for Nature

"One of the best things about my job is physically building something that will allow us to ask grand existential questions," says astrophysicist Phil Korngut. Korngut is the instrument scientist for NASA's SPHEREx mission (the snappy name stands for the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer) — a telescope that will stay in space for 25 years, spectroscopically surveying the entire sky. Getting it ready means some rigorous testing. "The lab has a gold-coated, sapphire window, which you can see behind me in this photograph. Unlike glass, sapphire is clear in the infrared range, and this helps us to control how much light goes in and out of the room." (Nature | 3 min read)

Quote of the day

"If such botched illustrations can pass peer review so easily, more realistic-looking AI-generated figures have likely already infiltrated the scientific literature."

A paper illustrated with garbled and sometimes eyebrow-raising figures shows how easily generative artificial-intelligence (AI) tools can pollute the scientific record, writes image-integrity consultant Elisabeth Bik. (Science Integrity Digest blog | 4 min read)

Reference: Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology paper (retracted)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-024-00527-5

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Katrina Krämer, Smriti Mallapaty and Sarah Tomlin

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