Daily briefing: Huge drop in premature births during lockdown

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The United Arab Emirates’ Hope Probe lifts off from Tanegashima Space Center, Japan

The UAE’s Mars Hope probe launches from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center at 6:58 local time.Credit: MBRSC

Hope realized for UAE Mars probe

The United Arab Emirates’ Hope orbiter is now winging its way to Mars after launching successfully from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan. The probe, built by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) together with US partners, is the first interplanetary mission from any Arab state. The spacecraft will take seven months to wend its way to the red planet. Then comes the tricky part: entering Mars’s orbit in February 2021.

Nature | 4 min read

Read more: How a small Arab nation built a Mars mission from scratch in six years (Nature | 13 min read)

Tracking Hope. Graphic showing details of the Mars mission.

COVID-19 coronavirus update

A health official collects a swab sample from a woman to test for coronavirus at a temporary free testing facility in New Delhi

Viral diagnostics often rely on a nasal-swab sample, and researchers are developing faster, simpler and cheaper methods of testing.Credit: Xavier Galiana/AFP via Getty

The explosion of new coronavirus tests

Research groups around the world are devising diagnostic tests that go beyond PCR — the gold standard. Dozens of methods are in development, all of which detect viral material, but in different ways. Some even use the gene-editing tool CRISPR to home in on genetic snippets of SARS-CoV-2. Once they are available, the tests could work alongside the gold standard to push countries closer to the target of millions of tests per week. “Any new technology that is able to expand the number of tests that we can do is good news,” says biochemist Mitchell O’Connell.

Nature | 11 min read

Doctors wonder at welcome drop in preemies

From Ireland to Australia, some hospitals are reporting that far fewer premature babies are being born during the coronavirus pandemic. During Demark’s lockdown, the birth rate of extremely premature infants decreased by 90% compared with the stable rate in the preceding 5 years. Perhaps pregnant women were getting more rest, or catching fewer infections in general, or inhaling less air pollution? More research is needed, but neonatologists hope that the answers could help to reduce the risk of being born too early.

The New York Times | 6 min read

Reference: medRxiv preprint 1 & medRxiv preprint 2

Features & opinion

US universities are right to fight injustice

Over the past week, more than 200 universities in the United States have shown the power of swift, mass mobilization, argues a Nature editorial. Institutions large and small, private and public, mounted legal challenges to a decision by the US government that could have seen international students deported from the country if all their classes were taught online. The editorial commends US universities for standing up and challenging an injustice and says they must keep up the fight — for their students and faculty, for international cooperation, for scholarship and for research.

Nature | 5 min read

A willingness to learn

Fisheries ecologist Emma Hodgson and Gwich'in researcher and photographer Arlyn Charlie take it in turns to share their observations from their collaborative study of the migratory whitefish łuk dagaii (Coregonus nasus) in the western Canadian Arctic. Considering their work towards merging Western and traditional knowledge, Charlie questions how climate change is disrupting the patterns of nature that underlie that deep and hard-won understanding.

Canadian Geographic | 7 min read

A force for science, named for a hurricane

Molecular biologist Flossie Wong-Staal, the first scientist to clone HIV and determine the function of its genes, died on 8 July at the age of 73. Her work continues to be influential in the fight against HIV and other viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. “You have to think of AIDS research as a window of opportunity. This is one of a few major diseases for which we have a defined cause,” she said in a 1997 National Institutes of Health interview. “It’s a defined target even though it’s a very slippery target. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.”

The New York Times | 6 min read

Where I work

Hector Aguilar-Carreno, an immunologist at Cornell University, working from home during the pandemic

Hector Aguilar-Carreno is a virologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.Credit: Jesse Winter for Nature

Quote of the day

“I never met a bear that couldn’t learn… I mean, I don’t try to teach bears geometry or how to ride a unicycle.”

Wildlife-conservation officer Steve Searles, who developed innovative non-lethal tactics to dissuade bears from human-occupied areas, has left his job over coronavirus-related budget cuts. (The New York Times | 6 mion read)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-02176-w

On Friday, fictional penguin Leif Penguinson visited the verdant chasm of Lud’s Church in England to imagine Arthurian shenanigans. Did you find the penguin? When you’re ready — here’s the answer.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty

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