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Daily briefing: Hundreds volunteer for controversial coronavirus vaccine study

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A picture of planet Proxima c?

It’s far from certain, but astronomers might have captured an image of the exoplanet Proxima c, thought to orbit the red dwarf star Proxima Centauri in our nearest neighbouring planetary system. Researchers analysing data from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope identified infrared images that seem to show the planet appearing across several years of routine observations. If genuine, the detection could tell us Proxima c’s size and the angle at which it orbits its star. However, some say it could be the result of random noise unwanted light from artefacts or background stars — in the data .

Scientific American | 7 min read

arXiv preprint

2019: Europe’s hottest year

A series of summer heatwaves made 2019 Europe’s hottest year on record, according to new data from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. These show a ‘clear warming trend’ in the region over the last four decades. High temperatures caused drought in several countries over the summer months. Others experienced flooding and landslides in November and December, which brought unusually heavy rainfall.

Bloomberg | 4 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

An employee from Beaumont Laboratory has her blood drawn

Several laboratories in the US are offering antibody tests for COVID-19, but the results require nuanced interpretation.Credit: Beaumont Health

Researchers take a gamble with antibody tests

Laboratories across the United States have launched initiatives to test hundreds of thousands of people for antibodies against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. And researchers are telling those people the outcomes — despite uncertainty about what they mean. They’re couching the results in careful terms, but because of the urgent need to stem the outbreak, to prevent more deaths and to reopen businesses, they argue that it’s important to just get going. “One thing we have learned is that we can’t let perfect be the enemy of good — we need to act,” says virologist Keith Jerome. (Nature | 6 min read)

1,500 people volunteer for controversial vaccine study

A grassroots movement has attracted nearly 1,500 volunteers prepared to take part in controversial ‘human challenge’ trials — which involve intentionally infecting healthy, young volunteers with the coronavirus to test potential vaccines. The effort is not affiliated with vaccine-developing groups or companies, but co-founder Josh Morrison hopes to show them that there is broad support for this kind of trial. “We want to recruit as many people as possible who want to do this and pre-qualify them as likely to be able to participate in challenge trials should they occur,” he says. (Nature | 3 min read)

The untapped potential of US testing labs

A survey of more than 4,000 researchers suggests that better coordination could make hundreds of thousands more tests for coronavirus available across the United States. Nearly 1,600 of those polled said they had the necessary tools and biosafety conditions, but were not testing. About 95% of labs not currently testing said they needed more information on protocols and regulations. The survey was prompted by a Nature investigation revealing that several top US university labs approved to process coronavirus tests are operating at half their potential capacity. (Nature | 3 min read)

Transplants on hold owing to COVID-19 concerns

People are having to wait longer for life-saving organ transplants because hospitals are concerned about putting both donors and recipients at risk of coronavirus infection, and need to prioritize the use of intensive-care beds and ventilators for critical patients with COVID-19. (STAT | 6 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.

Notable quotable

Features & opinion

COVERING CLIMATE NOW

This week, Nature joins media outlets around the world in a week of intensive reporting called Covering Climate Now. For the second year running, we aim to focus attention on the need for urgent climate action. So in the Briefing this week, you’ll see more than the usual number of climate-change stories, although not exclusively.

This year, the focus is on climate solutions.

To read more about why we are uniting with colleagues and competitors around the world to highlight the issue of climate change, read the Nature editorial from last year.

How hot will Earth get by 2100?

Climate scientists are studying a fresh set of socio-economic scenarios to model the future of the planet. The simulations range from optimistic worlds — in which governments join forces to advance low-carbon technologies — to bleak ones, with countries ramping up their use of cheap fossil fuels to pursue economic growth at any cost. The research could have a key role in the negotiations around a new set of commitments to reduce emissions. “We need these model results to give us insights into the impacts of our choices,” says environmental-health researcher Kristie Ebi. “This is not science fiction.”

Nature | 9 min read

Bringing hope to endangered amphibians

Habitat loss, climate change and fungal disease are conspiring to threaten many amphibians: 41% of those species are estimated to be at risk of imminent extinction. But some hope that in vitro fertilization could help. Last year, researchers created the first amphibian born from sperm that had been frozen, a tiny Puerto Rican crested toad (Peltophryne lemur) named Olaf. The team fertilized an egg from a captive mother with sperm from a wild father. Both parents had died. “We were able to recover a genetic lineage that had disappeared,” says ecologist Andy Kouba.

The Guardian | 9 min read

Deep learning takes on tumours

Cancer biologists are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to deal with an explosive growth of data. The latest machine-learning techniques can find patterns that researchers might have missed. And increasingly, researchers are able to use off-the-shelf tools, rather than having to develop them in their labs. Applications range from predicting drug responses on the basis of a person’s cancer-genome sequence to assessing protein localization.

Nature | 10 min read

Quote of the day

“Millions of people, especially those living in cities, have experienced for the first time what it’s like to breathe fresh air and to see the stars at night.”

Ahead of this year’s Earth Day, primatologist Jane Goodall shares her hopes that lockdowns will help people to appreciate the natural world. (Scientific American | 2 min read)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-01199-7

Has lockdown left you wondering why video chats are so exhausting? Researchers Gianpiero Petriglieri and Marissa Shuffler offer some insights on ‘zoom fatigue’ and how to reduce it.

Let’s stay connected! Send your feedback on this newsletter to briefing@nature.com.

Emma Stoye, news editor, Nature

With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty and Davide Castelvecchi

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