Daily briefing: What we know about COVID-19 immunity

What little we know about COVID-19 immunity, what we can intelligently guess at — and how decision makers can work with it. Plus: the United States halts funding to the World Health Organization, and mathematician and ‘Game of Life’ designer John Conway has died from COVID-19.

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Methane gas flare and pump jack at an oil well in North Dakota

Methane gas flare and pump jack at an oil well in North DakotaRichard Hamilton Smith/Getty

Atmospheric methane reaches all-time high

The concentration of methane in the atmosphere has reached an all-time high. Data from a network of sampling stations operated by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show concentrations of the potent greenhouse gas are rising, with an accelerating rate of increase. Methane comes from natural sources, such as wetlands, and from human activities, including oil and gas extraction and livestock farming. “Here we are. It’s 2020, and it’s not only not dropping. It’s not level. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growth rates we’ve seen in the last 20 years,” says climate scientist Drew Shindell.

Scientific American | 4 min read

Read more: Methane leaks from US gas fields dwarf government estimates (Nature, from 2018)

Reference: NOAA report

Chemists embrace NMR shortcut

Open-source machine-learning can now cut the time it takes to complete certain chemical analyses from eight hours to one minute. The software tool, called DP4-AI, takes nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) data and automatically suggests the most probable structure from a set of candidates. The tool’s creators say chemists shouldn’t worry that automation will lead them to lose their skills in teasing out what their spectra show. “Calculators have not stopped people doing arithmetic, but rather have allowed people to perform complex arithmetic more quickly and accurately,” says synthetic-chemist Jonathan Goodman.

Chemistry World | 4 min read

Reference: Chemical Science paper

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

A policeman walks past barricades in front of the Vikasa Soudha building, Bengaluru, India.

India has been in lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic since 25 March.Credit: Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty

People power: How India will curb outbreak

• India plans to use people power to control the coronavirus outbreak. It cannot test the majority of its 1.3 billion people, so the country has sent thousands of public-health workers into villages, towns and cities to trace and quarantine those who might have had contact with infected people. Epidemiologists say India’s approach could be relevant for countries facing similar challenges — but widespread testing is needed to suppress the virus, or cases will be missed. (Nature | 6 min read)

• US President Donald Trump has criticized the World Health Organization (WHO) for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and said the United States will halt its funding pending a review. The US has contributed more than US$400 million per year to the WHO over the past two years, making it the largest contributor to its roughly US$2.8-billion yearly budget. (Nature | Continuously updated)

• Bats are a key source of human viruses — the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus probably jumped to humans from bats — but not because of anything unusual about the cave cuties. There are just a lot of types of bat. A statistical analysis found that animal groups with more species tend to have more viruses, and consequently, a larger number of viruses that can jump to people. Rodents were the most species-rich order of mammals in the study; they also had the largest number of viruses that had moved to people. (Nature | 4 min read)

• “Immunity after any infection can range from lifelong and complete to nearly nonexistent,” notes epidemiologist and infectious-disease researcher Marc Lipsitch. He lays out the current understanding of how our immune systems respond to other coronaviruses, and how decision makers can work with what little we know about COVID-19 immunity. (The New York Times | 8 min read)

• Online scams, hoaxes and lies are overwhelming valid recommendations and crucial health information on social media, says social-scientist Joan Donovan. She argues for researchers to demand that tech companies become more transparent, accountable and socially beneficial. (Nature | 5 min read)

• Mathematician John Conway, who designed the iconic Game of Life, died aged 82 on 11 April, reportedly of complications arising from COVID-19. His work transcended the boundary between recreational and ‘serious’ maths, turning play into research and vice versa. (Nature | Continuously updated)

Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature.

Read Nature’s continuously updated selection of the must-read papers and preprints on COVID-19.

Counting Deaths: chart showing rise in Covid-19 related deaths in US, Italy, UK, Germany and China.

Source: Our World in Data; European CDC - Situation Update Worldwide.

Notable quotable

“We’ve managed to get to the life raft. But I’m really unclear how we will get to the shore.”

Some nations have managed to slow the spread of COVID-19, but our exit strategy remains unclear, says epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch. Decision makers will have to find the right mix of isolating people with SARS-CoV-2 and tracing their contacts, border restrictions and social distancing. (Science | 5 min read)

Image of the week

Animated sequence from BepiColombo as the spacecraft zoomed past the planet during its Earth flyby.

BepiColombo snapped these images as it swung past Earth on 10 April. The spacecraft is using Earth’s gravity to slow down en route to Mercury. Coronavirus precautions meant that most of BepiColombo’s mission-control team had to watch from home. (Nature | 4 min read)ESA/BepiColombo/MTM, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Quote of the day

“My wife and I have nearly managed to synchronize my son’s naps with my class schedule, although we are not always successful.”

Condensed-matter physicist Seyed Akbar Jafari is one of six scientist-parents who describe how they juggle science and childcare from home. (Nature | 12 min read)

If you find yourself stuck inside with a lot of extra time (and toilet paper), get inspired by this epic TP-powered Rube Goldberg machine built by engineer Mathieu Carillat.

I don’t support toilet-paper hoarding, but I do love to have a folder full of your feedback. Please send your opinions on this newsletter to

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Nicky Phillips, Smriti Mallapaty and Davide Castelvecchi

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