Daily briefing: First coronavirus vaccine clinical trials begin in United States

The phase I trial of the vaccine from drug company Moderna is just the beginning of a long process to test safety and efficacy. Plus: a ‘completely accidental’ discovery hints at how to use standard silicon microchips in a quantum computer and a year without conferences raises the question of whether we need them at all.

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A study to prod an antimony nucleus (buried in the middle of this device) with magnetic fields became one with electric fields when a key wire melted a gap in it.S. Asaad et al./Nature

Chance discovery hints at quantum leap

Researchers have discovered “by complete accident” a way to control the nucleus of a single atom using only electric fields. Theorists predicted in 1958 that an oscillating electric field could flip a nucleus, but it had never been observed. The finding hints that it might be possible to use standard silicon microchips as the quantum bits, or qubits, in a quantum computer without messing around with difficult-to-constrain magnetic fields.

Science | 6 min read

Reference: Nature paper

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

A 3D print of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2


First US vaccine clinical trial begins

• The first phase I clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccine has begun in Seattle, Washington. Over the next 6 weeks, 45 participants will receive varying first doses of the vaccine, followed by a second dose 28 days later. They will then be assessed over a 14-month period. The experimental vaccine relies on messenger RNA, which directs the body to make a protein found on the new coronavirus's outer shell — hopefully eliciting an immune response that protects against infection. (Nature | Continuously updated)

Read more: Safety must come first in the rush to develop vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus, argues virologist Shibo Jian. (Nature | 5 min read)

• The decision to close schools to slow the spread of COVID-19 weighs heavily on the shoulders of governments who must consider the risk to teaching staff, the impact on students and how childcare needs might hinder essential workers or expose older family members to infection. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that evidence from other countries shows that places where schools were closed, such as Hong Kong, “have not had more success in reducing spread than those that did not”, such as Singapore. (The Washington Post | 8 min read)

• The COVID-19 virus isn’t ‘airborne’ in the sense that it lingers infectiously in the air for some time, like measles. But the extent to which the coronavirus can be spread through the air, in the form of droplets from a sneeze or cough, is not yet known — and there is some disagreement among scientists about the very definition of airborne. (Wired | 10 min read)

Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature.


The number of new domestically acquired cases of COVID-19 reported today by China. The country also reported 20 new cases imported from abroad. (AFP)

Notable quotable

“At some point, we need to be having conversations about ‘What is the point of a conference now?’”

Planetary scientist Sarah Hörst is among the researchers rethinking how they network in a year without conferences. (Nature | 5 min read)

Features & opinion

Exactly how bad is a small nuclear war

As geopolitical tensions rise in nuclear-armed states, scientists are modelling the global impact of nuclear war. It’s the most comprehensive effort yet to understand how a nuclear conflict would affect the entire Earth system — from the initial firestorm and the spread of its smoke, to the impact on oceans, the atmosphere and wildlife.

Nature | 9 min read

How to keep your surveys bot-free

A barrage of fake responses to her online questionnaire prompted quantitative psychologist Melissa Simone to learn how to quash survey-ruining bots. Her tips for protecting your own survey includes using unique, personalized links and including ‘honeypot’ questions that only bots can see.

Nature | 3 min read

Image of the week

Close up of a researcher's hands as they weave extracellular matrix sheets into a yarn.

Credit: Nicolas L'Heureux

Researchers weave a yarn out of human extracellular matrix (ECM), the supportive network that normally surrounds cells in a living tissue. Scientists extracted ECM from lab-grown human cells and used it to make strands of tough yarn that can be knitted or woven into ‘human textiles’ that could someday be used for medical textiles. (Acta Biomaterialia paper)

See more of the month’s best science images, selected by Nature’s photo team. (Nicolas L'Heureux)

Quote of the day

“The full extent of its durability was even a surprise to us.”

Lego bricks washed up on British beaches indicate that they could survive in the ocean for up to 1,300 years, says environmental scientist Andrew Turner. (Independent)

Reference: Environmental Pollution paper

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has kicked off a campaign to share #SongsOfComfort on Twitter with performances including Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 dedicated to healthcare workers. If pop is more your thing, here’s a BBC round-up of online ad-hoc concerts from bands including Christine and the Queens.

Tell me your favourite working-from-home tunes — and any other feedback on this newsletter —at And if you are not so comfortably ensconced, or you are facing difficulties, you have my very best wishes.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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