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Artists impression of two fighting male Discokeryx xiezhi giraffoids.

An artist’s impression of the ancient giraffoid Discokeryx xiezhi, which had a thick headpiece adapted for fighting.Credit: Y. Wang and X. Guo

A newly described species of giraffoid that lived millions of years ago in China suggests how the giraffe might have got its long neck. Discokeryx xiezhi, named after a mythical unicorn-like creature, had a thick headpiece optimized for high-speed, head-bashing fights. Its discovery adds more weight to the theory that giraffes evolved longer necks for sexual competition, with male giraffes engaging in violent neck-swinging fights and longer necks attracting mates.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Science paper

Life is growing increasingly unbearable for academics in Afghanistan, almost a year into the Taliban’s rule. University faculty members say they have no time or funding to do research. And, on top of a humanitarian crisis, they face shrinking salaries and vanishing academic freedoms. The environment has become particularly tough for female scholars and students. “In the previous government, even though we had a lot of problems… at least we had hope,” says a former professor in Kabul, who fled after the Taliban’s ascent. “Now we have lost our hope.”

Nature | 5 min read

Japan has become the latest country to open an online preprint repository, in a bid to boost international exposure to the country’s research. But so far, researchers haven’t rushed to post on Jxiv: fewer than 40 papers have been uploaded since it launched in March. Some researchers say the platform isn’t necessary, but supporters counter that researchers will warm to it because it is backed by the government.

Nature | 4 min read

More than 15 months after landing in Jezero Crater on Mars, the Perseverance rover has finally begun its hunt for ancient life in earnest. The rover will spend the next few months exploring the Jezero delta, which formed billions of years ago when an ancient river flowed into the crater. It started its campaign by clearing a 5-centimetre-wide circular test patch on 28 May. Images of the freshly ground spot show small sediment grains, which scientists are hoping will contain chemical or other traces of life. It will drill and extract rock samples, which NASA and the European Space Agency plan to bring back to Earth for study, no earlier than 2033, in the first-ever sample return from Mars.

Nature | 6 min read

Live-cell imaging of the eye’s transparent cornea has revealed a surprising resident — specialized immune cells that circle the tissue, ready to attack pathogens. “We thought that the central cornea was devoid of any immune cells,” says clinician-scientist Esen Akpek. The cornea has a dampened response to infection, in part because aggressive immune cells could damage the clear layer of tissue and obstruct vision. But microscopes reveal that long-lived immune cells, known as T cells, do reside there.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Cell Reports paper

Features & opinion

Mental-health specialists are facing up to cracks in the US health-care system that have widened because of the pandemic. “It wasn’t just death” that increased when COVID-19 hit, says health-equity researcher Madhuri Jha, who has worked with unhoused people with mental illness in New York City. “It was accidental overdose, suicide, incarceration. It was people going missing and no way to account for it.” Key to rethinking mental-health provisions are improving access to care and addressing the foundational drivers of health, such as availability of nutritious food and secure housing.

Nature | 11 min read

This article is part of Innovations In Health Equity, an editorially independent supplement produced with the financial support of Takeda.

On 28 May, NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft resumed operations after a gruelling three months out of commission. The Mars orbiter studies the Martian atmosphere and serves as a key communications link between NASA’s landers and rovers on the planet. But in February, problems emerged in the systems responsible for keeping MAVEN at the right orientation in space, putting the spacecraft on the brink of disaster. The team fixed the problem by developing a system that allows the craft to navigate using the stars. During the outage, the orbiter couldn’t observe several solar flares that propagated past Mars and put a strain on the science output of the InSight lander and Curiosity and Perseverance rovers. NASA hopes to use MAVEN during its Mars sample-return mission, targeted for 2033.

Space.com | 11 min read

Where I work

Julián Fernández, in protective clothing, works on a satellite system at his own company Fossa Systems in Spain.

Julián Fernández Barcellona is the co-founder of Fossa Systems in Madrid.Credit: Guillermo Gutierrez Carrascal for Nature

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Climate scientist Kate Marvel ponders the act of having children while facing a future severely affected by global warming. (The New York Times | 10 min read)



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