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On Monday, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in a dispute over rights to therapeutic antibodies that are used to treat high cholesterol in people at risk of cardiovascular disease. The US biopharmaceutical giant Amgen is appealing against a federal court ruling that struck down a key patent on the company’s drug Repatha (evolocumab), which the Food and Drug Administration approved in 2015. The court’s decision — expected by the end of June — could affect how specific patents must be when they describe an invention, and how broad they can be, says legal scholar Sean Tu. “Today we’re talking about antibodies, tomorrow we might be talking about CRISPR or CAR-T-cell therapies.”
The brightest γ-ray burst ever detected is defying theoretical expectations. Since the blast of radiation was first spotted in October 2022, astronomers have been studying its afterglow to learn more about the mechanisms behind it. In two new studies, researchers report that the evolution of the radio waves emitted by the enormous burst was much slower than models predicted, says astronomer James Leung. “This means we have to refine and develop new theoretical models to understand these most extreme explosions in the Universe.”
Reference: The Astrophysical Journal Letters paper & arXiv preprint (not peer reviewed)
A search for justice by the victims of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters has come to an abrupt end. India’s supreme court has rejected a petition that demanded extra compensation from Dow Chemical, which now owns the company responsible for leaking 40 tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate gas in Bhopal in 1984. Official figures say 3,500 people died within days and more than 15,000 in the years since, although survivors’ groups estimate the death toll to be closer to 23,000. Injured people got maximum compensation of 100,000 rupees (US$1,200 today) and families who lost a loved one were paid 200,000 rupees. In 2010, seven former plant managers were given minor fines and brief prison sentences, which were never served.
Features & opinion
Brain–computer interfaces could one day allow people with severe paralysis to control robotic arms or generate synthetic speech solely by thinking. One of the major stumbling blocks for the technology is detecting brain activity — it looks as if this can’t be done at high-enough resolution with electrodes on the scalp. Electrodes implanted right into the brain can pinpoint activity to a few dozen neurons, but that comes with safety concerns. Last year, those concerns led the US Food and Drug Administration to reject a human-trials application from Elon Musk’s company Neuralink.
Nature Electronics | 19 min read
Building work in Charleston, South Carolina — once a hub of the trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved people — revealed the remains of 36 people who had been buried with care and then lost to history. Working closely with community members, scientists used DNA to confirm that the remains probably belonged to enslaved people of African descent who were buried in the second half of the eighteenth century. Researchers also offered DNA tests to African Americans living in the area today, although they identified no direct relations of the buried people. The project has become a powerful link between past and present for a community that has seen much of its history neglected and destroyed. “To be able to know all of this, it’s still mind-blowing to me,” says Gullah community leader La’Sheia Oubré, who took a DNA test herself. “It still just warms my heart that we’re able to find out where we come from — where we really come from.”
Reference: PNAS paper (from 2022)
Ten years after a landmark study on life expectancy in the United States, the news is grim: the number of years a person can expect to live has dropped for the second year in a row, down to 76 years. Maternal mortality and child mortality are rising. And many of the myriad causes of shortened life expectancy are more likely to affect younger people: death from guns, cars and opioids, for example. One thing that might help, say public-health researchers, is for people to open their minds to what works in other countries. “You look at these healthier countries, they’re free countries — England, France, Italy — they’re not banning delicious foods. They’re not chaining people to treadmills,” notes Ravi Sawhney, a co-author of the landmark report.
Reference: US Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health report (from 2013)
Infographic of the week
Average global temperatures will reach 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels in the 2030s, according to estimates in a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that United Nations secretary-general António Guterres has called a “how-to guide to defuse the climate time bomb”. In its summary of the IPCC report, the World Resources Institute highlights achievable ways to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. (World Resources Institute, based on IPCC AR6)
Mitotic bookmarking by SWI/SNF subunits – Nature
Does brain stimulation boost memory and focus? Mega study tries to settle debate
Daily briefing: Why orcas are attacking boats in Spain