NATURE BRIEFING

Daily briefing: Kill, confuse, eat — how to stop a plague of locusts

Inventive ways to tackle a second wave of locusts that threatens to devour East Africa's crops. Plus: Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has COVID-19, and San Quentin prison's coronavirus outbreak.

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A woman with shoulder-length hair speaks into a microphone.

Rebecca Keiser is the National Science Foundation’s first chief of research security strategy and policy, a position designed to deal with foreign interference in research.Credit: NG Images/Alamy

Exclusive: NSF’s foreign-influence findings

The US National Science Foundation has suspended or terminated grants, blacklisted scientists from future grants and taken other actions against some 20 researchers who failed to disclose foreign ties. Almost all had ties with China, although most of the scientists were not ethnically Chinese. Other cases, deemed potentially criminal, were turned over to the FBI. The number falls far short of the 189 similar cases recently reported by the US National Institutes of Health, possibly because of the NSF’s smaller budget and the fact that much of the NSF-funded research is less likely to be commercializable and thus is seen as less susceptible to intellectual-property theft. Still more cases are likely to emerge. “We’re only starting to understand these issues,” says NSF chief of research security strategy and policy Rebecca Keiser.

Nature | 5 min read

“Remarkable” HIV treatment sparks hope

A man referred to as the São Paulo Patient has been free of HIV for 66 weeks, following an aggressive course of antiretroviral drugs and nicotinamide (vitamin B3). Five people received the treatment in a trial, and he was the only one whose HIV didn’t return after treatment stopped. Two other people have been cleared of HIV — both through bone-marrow transplants that they needed as part of their cancer treatment. The São Paulo Patient did not require a transplant. Other hopeful examples of people, including babies, who have appeared to become free of HIV have seen the virus return after prolonged absences.

Science | 6 min read

Kill, confuse, eat: how to stop locusts

Scientists in Nairobi are experimenting with new ways to tackle a second wave of locusts that threatens to devour East Africa's crops. At the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, the cafe serves locust kebabs; chefs are working on turning the insects into appetizing dishes, or into animal feed. Isolates from fungi and microbes that target locusts offer alternatives to widespread pesticide use. And introducing the smell of an adult locust among young insects can help to destroy swarms. “They get disoriented, the group breaks into pieces, they cannibalize each other," says chemical ecologist Baldwyn Torto.

Thomson Reuters Foundation News | 3 min read

Read more: Why gigantic locust swarms are challenging governments and researchers (Nature | 4 min read, from March)

US notifies UN that it’s leaving the WHO

The United States has formally notified the United Nations that it is withdrawing from the World Health Organization (WHO). Global-health experts warn that the move puts at risk everything from polio eradication to pandemic preparedness. Much is uncertain: the WHO’s founding constitution has no provision for countries to withdraw. “This is the end of an era of United States global-health leadership,” says public-health legal scholar Lawrence Gostin.

STAT | 10 min read

Read more: What a US exit from the WHO means for COVID-19 and global health (Nature | 8 min read, from May)

COVID-19 coronavirus update

A prison on a promontory, seen from across the water.

COVID-19 has been tearing through San Quentin State Prison in California since early June.Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty

Scandal at San Quentin

Prison authorities in California declined free coronavirus tests and urgent advice from scientists. Now San Quentin State Prison is grappling with the third-largest coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Researchers are speaking out in the hopes of preventing similar tragedies in other prisons and the communities that surround them.

Nature | 7 min read

Brazil’s Bolsonaro has COVID-19

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has tested positive for the coronavirus. Brazil is in the throes of the world's second-largest outbreak, behind the United States. Bolsonaro has often downplayed the seriousness of the disease, which has killed at least 66,000 people in the country. “The fact I've been infected shows I'm a human like anyone else,” he said.

NPR | 4 min read

Retired N95 inventor returns to save lives

Retired inventor Peter Tsai, who created the filter material used in N95 masks, is back at work in a makeshift laboratory in his home. He has been working long days, mostly for free, to help researchers, manufacturers and health-care workers to tackle questions about scaling up production and making masks reusable. Among his recent home-lab findings is that being heated at 70 ℃ for 60 minutes will sterilize masks when there are shortages of personal protective equipment.

The Washington Post | 8 min read

Reference: Journal of Emergency Medicine report

Notable quotable

“They literally gained nothing… it’s a self-inflicted wound, and they have no economic gains.”

Economic researcher Jacob Kirkegaard responds to numbers showing that Sweden’s light-touch lockdown approach to the pandemic has cost many lives without protecting its economy. (The New York Times | 9 min read)

Features & opinion

Corruption and the pharmaceutical industry

In their new book, child psychiatrist Jon Jureidini and philosopher Leemon McHenry dispute the assumption that all approved drugs and medical devices are safe and effective. They warn that when clinical science is hitched to the pharmaceutical industry’s dash for profits, the scientific method is undermined by marketing spin and cherry-picked data. Their proposed solution is inspired by philosopher of science Karl Popper: take drug testing out of the hands of manufacturers.

Nature | 6 min read

Ask how artificial intelligence shifts power

When discussing artificial intelligence (AI), we often ask whether an AI is ‘fair’ and ‘for good’. But those are infinitely spacious words that any AI system can be squeezed into, argues AI researcher Pratyusha Kalluri. She suggests asking a deeper question: how is AI shifting power? “Many researchers think that AI is neutral and often beneficial, marred only by biased data drawn from an unfair society,” says Kalluri. “In reality, an indifferent field serves the powerful.”

Nature | 4 min read

BIPOC ecologists: trust yourselves

“We know that it can be tough to be a person of colour working in ecology and evolution,” write zoologist Michelle Tseng and five fellow researchers. They explore the barriers facing Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) that must be dismantled. And they offer strategies for BIPOC working within those structures today. “Trust yourself,” they recommend. “You have skills that colleagues who have not had to fight additional racial roadblocks do not have.”

Nature Ecology & Evolution | 10 min read

Quote of the day

“I’ve been deeply disturbed during lockdown by how many people seem to see washing their hands as a new thing. I haven’t shaken hands with anyone for around five years.”

Geochemist Olivier Pourret, whose child has a suppressed immune system, says that he hopes we will learn lessons from the pandemic to support scientists with disabled children and those in other disadvantaged academic groups. (Nature | 3 min read)

Today I’m basking in the glory of Comet NEOWISE rising over the bright horizon of Earth as photographed by the International Space Station on 5 July. Here’s the timelapse, if you only have 20 seconds, but I highly recommend the brain-bathing 7-minute conversion to real-time video, both by artist Seán Doran.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by David Cyranoski

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