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Daily briefing: Short-statured giraffes surprise scientists

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Democratic candidates for Senate Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock bump elbows.

Democratic candidates for Senate Jon Ossoff (left) and Raphael Warnock (right) bump elbows during a 4 January rally in Atlanta.Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

The results of a run-off election in Georgia mean that the balance of power in the US Senate will shift towards the party of president-elect Joe Biden. Control of the Senate — albeit by a wafer-thin margin — means that Biden will more likely be able to make good on his ambitious climate agenda. The swing will also make it easier for the Biden administration to restore environmental regulations and overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial ‘transparency’ rule. And the new Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, has supported increased federal research spending.

Science | 7 min read

Researchers have used gene editing to repair a mutation that causes a premature-ageing syndrome in mice. The results are “beyond anyone’s wildest expectations”, says gene-editing researcher Fyodor Urnov: treated mice lived more than twice as long as untreated ones. The research offers promise for children with the lethal disease Hutchinson–Gilford progeria. Base editing is a cousin of the gene-editing technique CRISPR, but it cuts just one strand of DNA instead of two, and swaps out a single base. “We will find a way to get this done for these kids,” says physician and study co-author Leslie Gordon, whose son died from progeria.

Science | 5 min read

Go deeper into the research with pediatric oncologist Wilbert Vermeij and molecular geneticist Jan Hoeijmakers in the Nature News & Views article.

Reference: Nature paper

Meet Nigel. At just 2.6 metres tall, the giraffe is significantly shorter than most members of his species, which typically measure about 5 metres. Scientists report that he is one of two adult giraffes identified with dwarfism, or skeletal dysplasia, which affects bone growth. Although skeletal dysplasia is observed in people and domestic animals such as dogs, the condition has been rarely documented in wild animals.

New York Times | 3 min read

Reference: BMC Research Notes paper

Dwarf giraffe in Namibia with adult male, March 2018

A giraffe with skeletal dysplasia, right, with an adult compatriot in Namibia.Emma Wells/Giraffe Conservation Foundation

Features & opinion

Trailblazing Earth scientist Linda Zall is lauded for leading a programme that gathered unprecedented data on the global environment. But you won’t find her name on many academic papers: most of her work was secret, done while she worked at the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Now retired, Zall is speaking out about her work repurposing spy satellites for science. “You have to decide if you’re going to break down the wall or climb over it, and she did a little bit of both,” says former colleague Jeffrey Harris.

The New York Times | 10 min read

Quote of the day

Ecologist Terry McGlynn shares the turmoil felt by many scientists in response to the violence in the US capital yesterday. (Small Pond Science blog)

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