NATURE BRIEFING

Daily briefing: Coronavirus stopped before reaching ice-locked Arctic research vessel

Research on a vessel that has been intentionally frozen in Arctic sea ice will be affected after a team member on land tested positive. Plus: Iron rain falls on an ultra-hot giant exoplanet and the emotional and professional toll of long, drawn-out peer reviews.

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Artist’s impression of the night side of WASP-76b

Artist’s impression of the night side of WASP-76bESO/M. Kornmesser

Iron rain falls on ultra-hot giant exoplanet

A gas-giant exoplanet orbits so close to its star that liquid iron might rain in its skies. Astronomers glimpsed the tell-tale signal of gaseous iron in the spectrum of light observable on the planet at the boundary where day turns to night. When night turns to morning, the signal is gone — hinting that the iron condenses into rainfall at night.

New Scientist | 2 min read

Reference: Nature paper

Why scientists review for predatory journals

Scientists who post their peer-review activity on the website Publons say they’ve reviewed papers for journals termed ‘predatory’, an analysis has found. The researchers who review most for predatory journals tend to be young, inexperienced and affiliated with institutions in low-income nations in Africa and the Middle East. Many of the titles have some editorial oversight, but the quality of reviews is in question. “Clearly I was naively deluded in thinking if you had proper reviews the quality of publications would rise,” says entomologist Ian Burgess.

Nature | 4 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

A large ship surrounded by ice. People are walking on the ice floe.

The ship Polarstern is locked in Arctic ice for the MOSAiC mission.Credit: Sebastian Grote/Alfred-Wegener-Institut (CC-BY 4.0)

Infection affects ice-locked Arctic expedition

• Research on a vessel that has been intentionally frozen in Arctic sea ice since last October will be affected after a team member on land tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The rotating crew of some 300 polar scientists on the Polarstern get tested for coronavirus before they arrive on the ship. For now the missions leaders are confident that the infection was caught before it reached the vessel — but it will delay some research. (Nature | 4 min read)

• “Aim to create a sweet spot between complacency and anxiety, as well as moderate disgust.” That’s just one of the behaviour-change principles — create the right level and type of emotion — that four behavioural-health researchers give in their guide to slowing down COVID-19. The other principles are: make a mental model of transmission, create new social norms, replace one behaviour with another (don’t touch your face — instead keep your hands below shoulder level) and make behaviours easy (grab your tissues when you grab your keys). (BMJ blog)

• Pressure to rush out a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) risks making matters worse for some people. There is evidence, from decades of efforts to produce a vaccine against other types of coronavirus, of ‘vaccine enhancement’ — in which some vaccinated people experience worse-than-usual symptoms if they do become infected. The mechanism is not fully understood, and the risk is usually mitigated by extensive testing in animals. (Reuters | 7 min read)

Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature.

Notable quotable

“You can’t, even for a million dollars, get a drug for the coronavirus — but your grandmother’s bar of soap kills the virus.”

Chemist Palli Thordarson explains how good old soap and water dissolves the fat membrane of viruses to make them fall apart like a house of cards. (The Guardian)

Features & opinion

Freeman Dyson’s long view of humanity

Nuclear physicist and polymath Freeman Dyson’s influence spanned physics, disarmament, politics, culture and even science fiction. While still a student, he provided the mathematical grounds for quantum electrodynamics, or QED, to explain the interactions of elementary particles. The design of a safe, popular nuclear reactor, the adaptive optics used in many telescopes and 50 years of US government advice were among his many legacies — as well as a contrarian view of the impact of climate change.

Nature | 4 min read

Huntington’s disease pioneer: I have it, too

Neurophysiologist Nancy Wexler spent her career chasing down the gene, discovered in 1993, that causes Huntington’s disease — the genetic condition that killed her mother, uncles and grandfather. Now Wexler has gone public with the fact that she has Huntington’s herself. Much of the reason is to raise awareness of the poverty and stigma faced by some extended families in Venezuela with high rates of the disease. Thousands of people from these groups contributed samples that led to the discovery of the gene and to the promising treatments in the clinical pipeline — and Wexler wants these people to benefit, too.

The New York Times | 11 min read

The costs of drawn-out peer reviews

The peer-review process can sometimes take years. During that time, lines of research are abandoned, grants are harder to win, and researchers feel unable to compete for fellowships and jobs. Four researchers across different fields share the emotional and professional cost of drawn-out peer reviews and how things could improve.

Nature Index | 6 min read

Flattening the curve — slowing the rate of coronavirus infections so that the health-care system can cope — is super important. Cattening the curve is super important and includes added cats! Thanks to epidemiologist Anne Marie Darling for meme-ifying a graph we all need to see.

Like many of you, efforts to slow COVID-19 mean I’m working from home. Let me know your favourite video conference backdrop — and guess which Nature editor prefers a life-sized cardboard cutout of Idris Elba — by email at briefing@nature.com. And if you’re in less cosy surroundings, or facing difficulties, you have my very best wishes.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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