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An arboreal Australian greater glider photographed in the wild

Petauroides volans is joined by P. minor and P. armillatusStephanie Jackson/Alamy

Greater glider gets even greater

Genetic studies have confirmed that there are three, not one, species of greater glider, a furry marsupial that lives in the forests of eastern Australia. “Australia's biodiversity just got a lot richer. It’s not every day that new mammals are confirmed, let alone two new mammals,” says study co-author Andrew Krockenberger. Knowing that there are three species will help inform plans to protect the animals, which face declining populations in the wake of extensive wildfires.

The Sydney Morning Herald | 4 min read

Reference: Scientific Reports paper

Main support cable snaps at Arecibo

One of the 12 main support cables at the iconic Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has broken, smashing the huge main dish. In August, another dislodged cable damaged the dish. The remaining cables are now subject to “scary” forces, says former Arecibo director Robert Kerr. The University of Central Florida, which leads a consortium that manages Arecibo, has asked for US$10.5 million for emergency repairs from the observatory’s owners, the US National Science Foundation.

Science | 5 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus update

People dine inside a restaurant in Little Italy as New York City restaurants are allowed to open their doors to 25% capacity.

Capping visitors in restaurants can significantly reduce infections.Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty

How to keep restaurants and gyms open

A model based on the mobile-phone data of nearly 100 million people in major US cities suggests that superspreader events — particularly in restaurants — could account for most COVID-19 infections. It also offers an explanation for why the disease takes a larger toll on people from poorer neighbourhoods: they are less able to work from home, and the stores they visit for essential supplies are often more crowded than in other areas. The researchers recommend that strategically opening venues such as cafes, gyms and hotels at reduced capacity could greatly reduce the COVID-19 toll while limiting the damage to the economy.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Nature paper

WHO takes on fraught search for source

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its plan to investigate the origins of the COVID pandemic, starting in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was first identified. It’s a daunting task. Nailing down the animal origin of a virus can take years, if it can be done at all, and the investigation will have to navigate the highly sensitive political situation between China and the United States. “Finding an animal with a SARS-CoV-2 infection is like looking for a needle in the world’s largest haystack. They may never find a ‘smoking bat’,” says virologist Angela Rasmussen.

Nature | 5 min read

Why do COVID death rates seem to be falling?

Around the world, deaths from COVID in intensive-care units seem to be dropping — although the data are not clear-cut. Hard-won experience, changing demographics and reduced strain on hospitals are all possibilities, say physicians. And no one knows how long the change will last.

Nature | 10 min read

Graph showing number of critical-care admissions for COVID-19 and the percentage of deaths between March and June 2020.

Source: Ref. 1

“Without question, we’ve noticed a drop in mortality,” says critical-care physician Derek Angus. “All things being equal, patients have a better chance of getting out alive.”

Features & opinion

What is a postdoc — and what comes after

“A postdoc is a scientist with training wheels” who has support to learn and make mistakes, says particle physicist Jessica Esquival. But beware that this position can also be like New York City’s heavily congested LaGuardia Airport, says molecular biologist Shirley Tilghman: you could find yourself going around in circles. In the first episode of a six-part podcast series, postdocs past and present try to define this key career stage and explore when — and how — to move on.

Nature | 14 min listen

This editorially independent podcast is supported by the University of Queensland.

Oil-palm plantation becomes a forest lifeline

Conservationists have bought an oil-palm plantation in order to create a forest corridor for wildlife between two protected areas. The 800-metre-wide wildlife path will connect the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and the Kulamba Wildlife Reserve, linking around 200,000 hectares of land. It will benefit several endangered species, including perhaps the world’s largest remaining population of Bornean banteng (Bos javanicus lowi), a type of wild cow, says Robert Risch, director of the Rhino and Forest Fund. “Our project is probably the first case where private oil palm land has been bought over for protection and restoration,” says Risch.

Mongabay | 14 min read

How to talk to fellow voters about science

Geologist and science writer Karin Kirk logged 2,500 phone calls and knocked 900 doors to speak to fellow voters in her home state of Montana about the issues of climate change and clean energy. She shares her strategies for having pleasant, productive and persuasive conversations — whatever your political bent.

Scientific American | 5 min read

Quote of the day

“It felt not like an opportunity, but a duty.”

Ugur Sahin, the co-founder of BioNTech, realized that his company had the capacity and skills to develop a COVID vaccine faster than most others. (The New York Times | 7 min read)

Read more: What the landmark Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine results mean for the pandemic (Nature | 6 min read)