NATURE BRIEFING

Daily briefing: The gargantuan task of getting labs back up and running

Scientists return to work and an uncertain future. Plus: the month’s most spectacular science images and a call for a sea change in ocean data.

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A new species of scaleworm, Peinaleopolynoe orphanae, one of several new species nicknamed Elvis worms

Credit: Greg Rouse, Scripps Oceanography

The month’s best science images

Meet Peinaleopolynoe elvisi, a newly described species of species of deep-sea worm whose iridescent scales evoke glittery-jumpsuit-era musical icon Elvis Presley. Four such stunning species were collected from the bottom of the eastern Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and an area near Costa Rica, using a crewed research submarine and remotely operated vehicles. Researchers used DNA sequencing to place all four in the Peinaleopolynoe genus, a group of scale worms distantly related to earthworms.See more of the month’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature’s photo team.

Nature | Leisurely scroll

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Two lab workers wearing gloves, surgical masks and lab coats work at distant benches

As labs reopen, researchers must navigate technical issues alongside new requirements for social distancing and personal protective equipment.Credit: Misha Friedman/Getty

Frozen cells and empty cages

Coronavirus-related closures have forced researchers to make the painful decision to downsize Drosophila colonies, kill laboratory animals and freeze delicate stem-cell lines and patient-derived samples. Getting those experiments up and running again — while maintaining social distancing — will take time. And the knock-on effects on supplies and long-term projects are myriad. “I’ve been surprised at the number of things we take for granted in terms of lab maintenance,” says microbiologist Ami Bhatt. “It’s daunting to think of bringing all that back up.”

Nature | 10 min read

China struggles to rein in animal markets

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, China vowed to curb the consumption of wild animals, thought to be a likely source of the virus. But as animal purveyors struggle to make ends meet, the government has made compromises. Dogs have been removed from the menu, but emus and muscovy duck were added. The government has also made exceptions for the use of controversial animal products, such as bear bile and scales from endangered pangolins, in traditional Chinese medicine.

New York Times | 8 min read

Hope wanes for hydroxychloroquine

Hydroxychloroquine does not help people survive COVID-19, according to results that have not yet been peer-reviewed. The findings come from the Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial, which is assessing six different medications for treating the disease. Almost 4,700 people hospitalized with COVID-19 were randomly assigned either to take hydroxychloroquine or to a control group. Trial leaders say there was no benefit in terms of lifespan or recovery time. That arm of the trial has been stopped. The malaria drug has been bedevilled with hype, mixed findings about its efficacy against the coronavirus and a spate of retractions of papers that called its safety into question. “This is a hugely important finding that will likely end use of the drug in hospitalized COVID patients,” says physician and medical-policy researcher Walid Gellad — though it is still an open question whether the medicine might work earlier in the disease.

STAT news | 6 min read

Reference: University of Oxford press release

Coronapod: The heavy toll on people of colour

The coronavirus is killing a disproportionate number of people of colour. As systemic injustices are brought to the fore across the world, the Nature news team discusses how scientists and policymakers can address the virus’s unequal burden.

Nature Coronapod podcast | 26 min listen

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

Notable quotable

“It stains the history of Brazilian public health.”

Cardiologist André Longo, the health secretary of Pernambuco state in Brazil, responds to a decision by the country’s ministry of health to reclassify some deaths attributed to COVID-19 as being from other causes. The Brazilian government has stopped releasing the total numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths and has taken down the website that contained historical data. (The Guardian | 6 min read)

Features & opinion

Ocean data need a sea change

New technology platforms collected more data on the oceans in 2018 than was gathered during the entire twentieth century. This is the kind of real-time information that we need to protect our oceans and those who sail on them — but it is scattered, warn ten ocean scientists. They call for improvements in how we collect, share and access that data to power a global response to climate change, overfishing and pollution.

Nature | 9 min read

Data Tsunami. Stacked bar chart showing different data collection methods from 1925 to present.

Source: World Ocean Database

What it will take to save corals

Researchers are investigating last-resort conservation measures to help corals to adapt to hotter, more acidic oceans caused by climate change. For example, scientists in the Florida Keys are trying to maintain the reef system by hand-rearing coral samples that have survived the pollution and rising temperatures naturally. Expanding marine protected areas can help to buy time for these ‘underwater forests’ — and the wildlife and livelihoods that depend on them. But scientists emphasize that these innovations will not be enough unless global leaders support them with urgent action to slow the rate of global warming.

National Geographic | 10 min read

The smelly business of space agriculture

Since the early Space Age, researchers have studied what it would take for humans to survive long-term either in space or on another planet, and have even grown lettuce on the International Space Station and gotten a seed to sprout on the Moon. Experts — who often admit they look to science fiction for inspiration — say it will be crucial to save human excrement to use as fertilizer. “That’s your starter kit, what you need to get started in the soil,” says ecologist Wieger Wamelink. “Actually, The Martian is totally correct there. It may be smelly, but it’s so important.”

The Guardian | 8 min read

Quote of the day

“We are overdue for a reframe, from seeing the ocean as victim or threat, to appreciating it as hero.”

From sustainable energy and agriculture, to carbon sequestration and protective coastlands, the ocean brims with climate solutions, argues marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. (Scientific American | 6 min read)

Last week, our aquatic explorer Leif Penguinson dried off among the spiny treasures of the Huntington Library Desert Garden in California. Did you spot the penguin? When you’re ready — here’s the answer.

Happy World Oceans Day!

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by David Cyranoski and Davide Castelvecchi

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