NATURE BRIEFING

Genetic modification to enable industrial-scale production of cannabinoids, how scientists are investigating a deadly Russian explosion and an ambitious plan to improve mental-health support for graduate students.

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Worker at a Russian nuclear reactor

A nuclear reactor was probably involved in a blast at a Russian naval base on 8 August. The explosion killed five scientists and caused a short, unexplained spike in γ-radiation. Russia’s weather agency, Roshydromet, says that air and rain samples contained the same isotopes that are created in the core of a nuclear reactor: strontium-91, barium-139, barium-140 and lanthanum-140. With answers thin on the ground, Nature explores how scientists are looking for clues about what caused the event.

Nature | 5 min read

The Australian government says it will establish an expert committee to detect and respond to cyberattacks, intellectual-property theft and other strikes against universities by foreign governments or groups. Although no specific country has been named, recent incidents have raised concerns about China’s influence. Hackers in China have been blamed for a data breach at Australian National University in Canberra. There are also worries that research on surveillance and facial recognition being done at Australian universities is making its way to China and is being used in systems that violate human rights.

Nature | 4 min read

Researchers from 26 nations will come together next week to hammer out a new international agreement to govern scientific ocean drilling. The practice of boring holes in the sea floor has revolutionized earth science, helping researchers to confirm the theory of plate tectonics, discover microbes deep in the ocean crust and probe the hidden risks of earthquakes and tsunamis. But to keep the field alive for years to come, scientists must now convince international funding agencies that there are discoveries yet to be made.

Nature | 4 min read

FEATURES & OPINION

A consortium of US and Canadian universities has launched an ambitious research project that aims to assess the state of mental-health resources and support for graduate students. “We want to create a road map for moving forward,” says Suzanne Ortega, the project’s principal investigator.

Nature | 4 min read

Researchers are turning to genetic modification to enable industrial-scale production of cannabinoids that have pharmaceutical potential. Some projects hope to replace cannabis plants with microorganisms that have been genetically altered to spit out psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), non–psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) and myriad other cannabinoids of pharmaceutical interest. Others are aiming to modify chemical synthesis in the cannabis plant by genetically altering its cells to make the desired molecules from shoot to tip, rather than just in the little hairy ‘trichome’ outgrowths.

Nature | 11 min read

This article is part of Nature Outlook: Cannabis, an editorially independent supplement produced with the financial support from Auxly.

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