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Daily briefing: Meet the unsung virologist who discovered the first coronavirus

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View of photomultiplier tubes arranged at the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector facility

View of photomultiplier tubes arranged at the Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector facilityThe Asahi Shimbun via Getty

Neutrino clue to antimatter mystery

Physicists have found the strongest evidence yet that neutrinos are fundamentally different from their antimatter counterparts. Researchers produced neutrinos and antineutrinos at an accelerator in Tokai, Japan, and shot them 295 kilometres through the Earth’s crust to the Super-Kamiokande detector. The team found that one flavour of neutrino — muons — morphed into different types of particle at a different rate than did their antimatter twins. If confirmed, the results could help to solve the Universe’s greatest mystery: why there is more matter than antimatter.

Quanta | 5 min read

Go deeper with the expert perspective from physicists Silvia Pascoli and Jessica Turner in the Nature News & Views.

Reference: Nature paper

Melting ice offers archaeologist’s feast

Ice retreating from a Norwegian mountain pass has uncovered a wealth of artefacts dating back to the Viking era or earlier.Local archaeologists first took note of the pass in 2011, when an ancient woollen tunic was found that could be more than 1,700 years old. The thaw intensified in 2019, revealing everything from stone-built cairns and the remains of a small shelter, to dairy products and reindeer pelts. The ice left many of the items in an exquisite state. “One might find arrows with the fletching perfectly preserved, with the sinew still in place, the glue that glued the feathers to the shaft,” says medieval and environmental archaeologist James Barrett.

The Guardian | 5 min read

Reference: Antiquity paper

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

Staff members talk beside the virus culture/inactivation area of a vaccine-production plant in China.

Research from China is crucial to understanding the COVID-19 pandemic.Credit: Xinhua News Agency/Shutterstock

China tightens grip on COVID-19 research

• Scientists in China say COVID-19 papers are being vetted by universities and that studies on the origin of the virus need government approval before being published. Some scientists welcome this process, saying it could stop poor-quality studies getting attention. But others fear China is trying to control information about the pandemic’s source, and that the vetting process could delay the release of valuable insights to help to control the virus. Documents obtained by Nature suggest that the Ministry of Education told universities early last month that they needed government approval before announcing results related to COVID-19. (Nature | 6 min read)

• Staff of 27 US Major League Baseball teams — “all the way from general managers to hot dog vendors” — have volunteered for a study of COVID-19 antibodies. The teams offer scientists the opportunity to gather data quickly from a wide demographic and geographic spread of people in the United States. Viral immunologist Daniel Eichner spotted the potential of the cohort because of his other gig: running a testing laboratory for performance-enhancing drugs. (NPR | 6 min read)

• More than 180 clinical trials of proposed COVID-19 drugs are already recruiting participants, and another 150 are registered to start soon. John-Arne Røttingen, the chair of the steering group of the World Heatlh Organization’s SOLIDARITY mega-trial, says a more collaborative approach is needed. “It's encouraging in the sense that it is really important to do trials,” says Røttingen, but “the scale of these trials is too small, and the variation in terms of how they are being run is too large. They aren’t really designed to answer the questions that need to be answered.” (Nature Reviews Drug Discovery | 7 min read)

• The first coronavirus was discovered in the 1960s by virologist June Almeida, who grew up in a Glasgow tenement in the UK and left school at age 16. Almeida mastered electron microscopy as a lab technician and went on to a PhD programme and storied career. Her discovery could have been recorded even sooner: an earlier paper featuring her images was rejected as “just bad pictures of influenza”. (BBC | 4 min read)

• Sociologist Alondra Nelson has gathered a crowdsourced list of resources dubbed the #CoronavirusSyllabus. “This exact thing hasn’t happened before, but something not dissimilar has happened before,” says Nelson. “These are some resources to help you contextualize this moment even if it is in some ways unprecedented.” (Institute for Advanced Study blog | 8 min read)

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.

More than 2 million

Total confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide as of 15 April. The milestone comes just two weeks after one million infections were recorded. The United States has the most cases — more than 600,000 — followed by Spain and Italy. Because many people are not tested, the true number of cases is probably much higher. (Nature | Continuously updated)

Notable quotable

“Scientists like us said lock down earlier; we said test, trace, isolate. But they decided they knew better.”

Infectious-disease epidemiologist Helen Ward, of the influential Imperial College London School of Public Health, argues that decision makers in the United Kingdom must learn from past mistakes. (The Guardian | 8 min read)

Features & opinion

The novelist who loved soil

An engaging biography uses the journey of Louis Bromfield from Pulitzer-prizewinning novelist to farming pioneer to reinforce growing calls to rebuild healthy, fertile soil around the world.

Nature | 4 min read

Quote of the day

“Demographically underrepresented students innovate at higher rates than majority students, but their novel contributions are discounted and less likely to earn them academic positions.”

There is a diversity–innovation paradox in science, finds an analysis of US PhD recipients and their dissertations across three decades. (PNAS paper)


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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Nicky Phillips and Davide Castelvecchi

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