Daily briefing: Some ‘non-lethal’ crowd-control weapons can cause serious harm

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Cryo-EM map of apoferritin at atomic resolution

A Cryo-EM map of the protein apoferritin.Credit: Paul Emsley/MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology

See proteins’ individual atoms for first time

A game-changing technique for imaging molecules has produced its sharpest pictures yet — and, for the first time, has discerned individual atoms in a protein. The cryo-electron microscopy breakthrough, reported by two laboratories late last month, will ultimately help researchers to understand how proteins work in health and disease, and will lead to better drugs with fewer side effects. “It’s really a milestone, that’s for sure. There’s really nothing to break anymore. This was the last resolution barrier,” says biochemist and electron microscopist Holger Stark.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: bioRxiv preprint 1 & bioRxiv preprint 2

Science after the COVID-19 pandemic

Cartoon showing people in a clinical trial taking pills next to a similar trial but virtually using computers

Illustration by The Project Twins

Outbreak could ease drug trials

Some researchers and companies in the drug-development field say the system might never be the same again. Companies that are usually competitors are now collaborators, and many are strengthening their supply chains to deal with disruption. And virtual clinical trials, in which consultations are done online and as much paperwork and data as possible are collected remotely, are among the few that haven’t had to be put on hold.

Nature | 6 min read

Scientists’ worlds will shrink

The pandemic has forced researchers to grapple with how restrictions on their movement will affect the way science is conducted. Some fear that these limitations could lead to a world that favours elite scientists and established teams with less need to network, while other groups lose collaborators and become marginalized, and that fieldwork will become a luxury. Or, the opposite could turn out to be true: travel restrictions could help to democratize science, if virtual working allows access to more connections for people who cannot easily travel.

Nature | 6 min read

Read more in our series on science after the pandemic:

Universities will never be the same (9 min read)

How scientific conferences will survive (5 min read)

The pandemic will make or break research funding (5 min read)

The risk to China’s race to the top of science (5 min read)

Is this scientific publishing’s new normal? (6 min read)

COVID-19: Hydroxychloroquine news update

India doubles down on controversial drug

India’s government has extended its recommendation that frontline workers take the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to prevent coronavirus infections. Scientists have criticised the government for issuing advice on the basis of unpublished data and a published study that was not designed to test whether the drug actually prevents infection. Doctors point to cases where the government’s advice has contributed to widespread use of hydroxychloroquine, despite possible side effects.

Nature | 5 min read

WHO restarts hydroxychloroquine trial

The World Health Organization (WHO) has resumed testing hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment. The drug was temporarily removed from the WHO’s global Solidarity trial because of safety concerns raised by a large observational study published in The Lancet. Yesterday, the journal issued an expression of concern, and noted that an independent audit of the data has been commissioned.

(Time | 5 min read)

No evidence for hydroxychloroquine protection

A large clinical trial has found no evidence that hydroxychloroquine protects people from COVID-19. The gold-standard trial randomly assigned 821 people to take either hydroxychloroquine or a placebo within 4 days of exposure to SARS-CoV-2. There was no statistically significant difference between the two groups in the number of people who developed COVID-19 within two weeks, but those taking the drug did report more side effects than did those taking the placebo. People were not tested unless they showed symptoms, so the study doesn’t take asymptomatic cases into account.

NPR | 4 min read

Reference: New England Journal of Medicine paper

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

Features & opinion

The CDC: what happened?

A new pandemic was not unexpected to scientists at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). What shocked many observers was how poorly the organization coordinated its response. “Here is an agency that has been waiting its entire existence for this moment,” said public-health researcher and policymaker Peter Lurie. “And then they flub it. It is very sad. That is what they were set up to do.”

The New York Times | 29 min read

The risks of crowd-control weapons

Some ‘non-lethal’ weapons, such as those that have been used by police against Black Lives Matter protesters in the United States, can cause serious injury, permanent disabilities or death. “Calling tear gas and rubber bullets non-lethal weapons is flat-out wrong,” says emergency-medicine physician Rohini Haar. Rubber bullets are often not made from rubber — but from metal and other hard materials. And irritants in pepper spray or tear gas can cause bouts of sneezing and coughing, which can speed up the spread of virus particles from people infected with COVID-19.

Wired | 7 min read

Read more: chemical-weapons expert Dan Kaszeta calls on lawmakers to restrict the use of riot-control chemicals. (Nature, from September)

Let Penrose help you to visualize maths

No, not Roger Penrose — the mathematical physicist who helped to establish the theory of black holes — but a software tool named after him. The tool automatically creates diagrams from a formula. Users can choose the type of visualization they want, such as 3D geometry or a Venn diagram, and can tweak the output to make it clearer to read and easy on the eyes. The authors hope that their tool will encourage writers to include more diagrams: because making figures is time consuming, typical maths papers have around only one figure every ten pages, they write.

Popular Mechanics | 3 min read

Source: SIGGRAPH preprint

Quote of the day

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Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Nicky Phillips, Smriti Mallapaty, David Cyranoski and Davide Castelvecchi

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