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Coronavirus outbreak

Coloured transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of three coronavirus particles

Coronaviruses cause respiratory infections in humans.Credit: Dr Linda Stannard/UCT/Science Photo Library

Labs worldwide clamour for live samples

• On Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that the interim name of the disease causing the current outbreak should be “2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease” (where ‘n’ stands for novel and ‘CoV’ for coronavirus). It might not roll off the tongue, but there is a good reason for the choice. Disease names that point to a landmark or region — such as ‘Spanish flu’ — can cause harm. “We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals,” said the WHO’s Keiji Fukuda in a 2015 statement on naming new diseases. (Forbes | 3 min read)

• Genome sequences of 2019-nCoV have been available since early January, but these are no substitute for live samples of the virus, which are needed to study it in depth. With samples expected to be disseminated widely within days, meet the virologists drawing up plans to test drugs and vaccines, develop animal models of the infection and investigate how the virus spreads. (Nature | 4 min read)

• Although emphasizing that the risk to most people outside China is very low, The New York Times offers a quick, infographic-driven overview of what we know about 2019-nCoV compared to other diseases: how contagious it is (moderately), how deadly (we don’t know, but probably less than 3% of infections are fatal) and how long it will take to develop a vaccine (probably a year, at least). (The New York Times | 11 min read)

• The United States, Australia and Singapore are among the countries that are denying entry to foreign nationals who have travelled in China in the previous 14 days. Several other countries have ceased flights to China or closed their borders to the country, against the advice of the WHO. “Travel restrictions can cause more harm than good by hindering info-sharing, medical supply chains and harming economies," says WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The WHO recommends screening at border crossings instead. (BBC | 6 min read)

Stay up to date with the latest news on the outbreak on Nature. (short reads, continuously updated)

Notable quotable

Major HIV vaccine study fails

An ambitious HIV vaccine trial in South Africa has been halted early after the treatment was deemed to have no efficacy compared to a placebo. The study examined the ‘prime boost’ strategy, in which participants received a pair of complementary HIV vaccines. A smaller study in Thailand a decade ago showed lacklustre results, but researchers still held out hope based on results in monkeys. “It’s a huge disappointment,” says physician-scientist Glenda Gray, who headed the curtailed study. “I was catatonic.”

Science | 6 min read

Features & opinion

Tech tools for open and inclusive labs

Apps and software tools are helping many inclusivity-minded group leaders to transform research from an isolated pursuit into a more open, collective exercise. Messaging platforms to make discussions more transparent, video conferencing for offsite lab members and software to support people with learning differences can all contribute. Plus, there are lower-tech solutions, such as posting your lab’s code of conduct on a public-facing website.

Nature | 8 min read

Design your own doctoral project

Instead of looking for PhD positions, why not design your own, suggests fisheries researcher Jesko Becker. He reveals how he created his dream doctoral project in his perfect location — and outlines hurdles to watch out for.

Nature | 6 min read

How to master the art of prioritization

Business researcher Carsten Lund Pedersen has come up with a simple tool to help scientists pick, prioritize and pursue the right research project. The project-management triangle measures three key constraints that researchers should consider: ambition, time and energy. "We need to be making clever choices on tricky trade-offs," says Pederson.

Nature Index | 5 min read

Quirks of Nature

A ‘Haemato-poetic stem cell’ waxes lyrical.