Daily briefing: Pangolins suspected as source of coronavirus 2019-nCoV

Preliminary genetic evidence points to pangolins. Plus, spider-paper retractions rattle behavioural ecology and a European probe joins the run for the Sun.

Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here

Two spacecraft in front of the Sun.

The Solar Orbiter (left) and NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will be able to observe the Sun simultaneously (artist’s impression).Credit: Solar Orbiter: ESA/ATG medialab; Parker Solar Probe: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

European probe joins run for the Sun

A European Space Agency mission that will take the closest-ever pictures of the Sun launched yesterday. The Solar Orbiter will take about two years to journey to Mercury’s orbit, where it will spend four years taking pristine measurements of the solar wind. If the mission is extended as hoped, the spacecraft will then alter its orbit to give scientists their first-ever images of the Sun’s poles. The Solar Orbiter will join NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which launched in August 2018, and the brand-new Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope to create what astronomers are calling “the golden age of solar and heliophysics research”.

Nature | 4 min read

‘Avalanche’ of spider-paper retractions

Behavioural ecologists are reeling from allegations that a spider-behaviour researcher fabricated data in at least 17 papers on which he was a co-author. The scientific community has identified seven papers that have been retracted or are in the process of being retracted; another five retractions that have been requested by Pruitt’s co-authors; and at least five studies containing possible data anomalies. Behavioural ecologist Jonathan Pruitt denies that he fabricated or manipulated data in any way.

Nature | 6 min read

2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak


Pangolins are scaly mammals often used in traditional Chinese medicine.Credit: Getty

Pangolins suspected as vector of coronavirus

• Parasitologists have suggested that pangolins spread the 2019-nCoV coronavirus to humans — although the research is yet to be published in full. Two researchers from the South China Agricultural University in Guangzhou say that coronaviruses present in pangolins are genetically similar to 2019-nCoV. Scientists have already suggested that the virus originated in bats, then probably transmitted to humans through another animal. (Nature | 4 min read)

• The death toll in China from 2019-nCoV has surpassed that from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). More than 900 people in China have died from the new virus. SARS, which also originated in China, killed 774 people worldwide in the 2002–03 epidemic. (Nature | continuously updated)

Features & opinion

The ‘Uber for scientists’

In 2015, Ashmita Das started Kolabtree, a website that connects freelance researchers with companies looking for scientists. “It’s really hard to get in touch with a scientist if you want something done,” says Das about the seed of her idea. “Nowadays, you can’t sell a cupcake without the help of a researcher.”

Nature | 4 min read

Nature trials publication of peer-review reports

Authors of new submissions to Nature will now be offered the option to have anonymous referee reports published, along with their own responses and rebuttals, once a manuscript is ready for publication. Referees can also choose to be named. Making peer review public will reveal “the often fascinating and important discussions between authors and reviewers” and shed light on how science is really done, says a Nature editorial.

Nature | 4 min read

Research highlights: 1-minute reads

CRISPR gene editing proves safe in a clinical trial

Immune cells whose genomes have been altered with CRISPR are well-tolerated by three people with cancer.

Babies benefit when parents are fluent in baby talk

Coaching parents in ‘parentese’ — slow, melodic speech featuring exaggerated vowels — can boost infants’ language skills.

Fishing for fun takes a massive bite out of marine life

The volume of fish caught recreationally more than tripled in the 60 years to 2014, and a recent uptick in recreational shark hunting is damaging fragile populations. Catch-and-release is no solution: a previous study of hammerhead sharks found the animals died anyway.

Nixing bad gut bacteria cuts stomach cancer risk

Ridding the gut of the ulcer-causing bacterium Helicobacter pylori could prevent stomach cancer in people with a family history of the disease. H. pylori infects more than half of all people, and has been linked to peptic ulcers and gastric cancer

Get more of Nature’s research highlights: short picks from the scientific literature.

Participants at the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses present their best-argued and thoroughly researched, but completely incorrect, scientific theory. The prize? Nothing less than a statuette of chemist Hennig Brand boiling his own urine in the hopes of obtaining gold.

Help keep this newsletter on the right side of alchemy — please send your feedback to

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

Nature Briefing

An essential round-up of science news, opinion and analysis, delivered to your inbox every weekday.

Sign up to Nature Briefing

An essential round-up of science news, opinion and analysis, delivered to your inbox every weekday.

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing