Daily briefing: Dozens of mammoths found under the new Mexico City airport

At least 60 mammoths found in excavations for a new airport north of Mexico City probably perished while fleeing prehistoric hunters. Plus: The two very different coronavirus vaccines reporting phase 1 clinical results and how the pandemic will make or break research funding.

Search for this author in:

Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here

The bones of roughly 60 mammoths were discovered north of Mexico City during the construction of a new airport. Here, an archaeologist works on one of the specimens.INAH via AP/Shutterstock

Dozens of mammoths under new airport

At least 60 mammoth skeletons have turned up in excavations for a new airport north of Mexico City — and more are likely to come. “There are too many, there are hundreds,” says archaeologist Pedro Sánchez Nava. The site is on what used to be the shores of a lake called Xaltocan, where a military airport is now being converted to civilian use. The wealth of remains suggests that mammoths died after being chased by prehistoric humans some 15,000 years ago and getting stuck in the mud.

Smithsonian | 5 min read

How circuits simulate hyperspace geometry

Physicists have created a virtual crystal with four spatial dimensions that acts as a topological insulator — a material that conducts electricity on only its outer boundary. To do so, the team wired up connections among electrical circuits to simulate those in a four-dimensional (4D) crystal. (Just as cubes have six square faces, hypercubes have eight cubic ‘faces’ — so when hypercubes are stacked in 4D, each one is in contact with eight neighbours.) A similar scheme could extend to even more dimensions of space, leading to the observation of new phenomena. “There are suggestions that some really cool things could happen in 5D and 6D,” says theoretical physicist Hannah Price. Exotic topological insulators could find applications in future quantum computers.

Physics World | 3 min read

Source: Nature Communications paper

First vaccine results offer muted hope

Last week, Chinese biotechnology firm CanSino Biologics became the first to publish the peer-reviewed results from the phase 1 trial of its COVID-19 vaccine. In their phase 1 study, the vaccine elicited an immune response in 108 people. But the level of response was underwhelming. “It is not great, but it is better than nothing,” says vaccine researcher Hildegund Ertl.

The results follow an announcement by US biotechnology company Moderna that claimed its vaccine has shown tentatively positive results. The vaccines are strikingly different: Moderna’s is a messenger-RNA vaccine based on unproven technology, whereas CanSino’s uses a genetically engineered adenovirus, with better-understood characteristics (and well-known drawbacks). The companies have taken very different approaches when announcing their results to an expectant world: Moderna has not shared its data and it made its results public in a press release.

Chemical & Engineering News | 5 min read

Go deeper into how the two vaccines work, and their hopeful but cautious reception, in Nature Biotechnology. (6 min read)

Reference: The Lancet paper

Coronapod: Chloroquine confusion

Nature’s Noah Baker and Richard Van Noorden explain exactly what we know and don’t know about chloroquine and its cousin hydroxychloroquine, a large observational study that spawned safety concerns and the impact on clinical trials around the world.

Nature Coronapod podcast | 26 min listen

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Science after the COVID-19 pandemic

Cartoon of a person holding a flask containing coins compared with a person with the flask reversed with the coins falling out

Illustration by The Project Twins

Sputnik moment or budget breaker?

In the second of our series on science after the pandemic, Nature explores how the pandemic will alter research funding. Some experts fear it could harm science for decades by putting many thousands of researchers out of work and forcing nations to slash funding as they rebuild societies. Others say it could highlight the importance of science and spur long-term support, especially for basic research, much as the Second World War did.

Nature | 5 min read

How scientific conferences will survive

Virtual meetings are becoming the norm under COVID-19 and are winning over many researchers. Scientists with family responsibilities, those with disabilities and those looking to reduce their carbon footprint are among those who hope we’ll never go back to the old ways of doing things. “If given the option, I think I would almost always choose to do the virtual one,” says physicist Adam Fortais. “It just seems better to me in almost all ways.”

Nature | 5 min read Read more in our series on science after the pandemic: Universities will never be the same (Nature | 9 min read)

Features & opinion

African scientists leverage open hardware

A growing emphasis on do-it-yourself science is helping researchers to equip laboratories in resource-limited areas. “Open-science hardware is not only important in Africa but all over the world,” says bioengineer André Maia Chagas. “If you have the blueprint for a piece of equipment, you can understand how it works. You can repair your equipment if it breaks down, and, even more importantly, adapt it to your local needs.”

Nature | 3 min read

Six tips for virtual job interviews

Conducting full-day interviews online can actually be much less tiring and stressful than onsite visits, says neurovascular biologist Abdelrahman Fouda, who has been job hunting during the pandemic. There can be, of course, some awkward moments. “Often it felt like a choice between interrupting an interviewer or letting dead silence fill the air for a moment. In these moments, I made sure to keep a big smile on my face and talked only after the other side had completely finished and paused for a couple of seconds,” says Fouda.

Nature | 6 min read

Infographic of the week

Getting back to business. Charts show survey results.

Source: reader poll

Quote of the day

“Public health is about minimizing risks, and there are other risks we are thinking about minimizing with these protests, beyond COVID.”

Global-health legal scholar Alexandra Phelan addresses concerns that people gathering across the United States to protest against police brutality are at higher risk of COVID-19. (The Atlantic | 7 min read)

Keep smiling! Emotion researcher Ursula Hess says that people can tell — and tend to smile themselves in response — even if we’re wearing a mask that covers the mouth and nose.

Make me smile by sending me your feedback on this newsletter at And if your situation means you’re in no mood to smile, I send you heartfelt best wishes.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty and Davide Castelvecchi

Nature Briefing

An essential round-up of science news, opinion and analysis, delivered to your inbox every weekday.