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Nature’s 10

Revolving animation of photos of ten people who helped shape science in 2020.

Ten people who helped shape science in 2020

A dengue-fever fighter, an Arctic voyager and a prime minister are some of the fascinating people behind the year’s big research stories. One of them is Kathrin Jansen, the head of vaccine research and development at US drug firm Pfizer, whose vaccine is now being rolled out across the United States, United Kingdom and elsewhere. “She’s absolutely fearless as a scientist,” adds Edward Scolnick, a former colleague of Jansen’s at Merck Research Laboratories. “She has complete confidence that she can technically and intellectually solve any problem that might get in the way.”

Nature | 28 min read

‘Preprint first’ publishing at eLife

Starting next July, open-access journal eLife will review and publish only papers that have already been posted on a preprint server, such as bioRxiv, medRxiv or arXiv. Other journals use a similar publish-then-review system, but eLife combines this idea with the conventional journal system by only publishing the manuscripts that pass its review process. The journal also plans to start posting all of its peer-review reports on preprint servers, whether or not a paper is accepted for publication.

Nature | 3 min read

Precious asteroid dust lands on Earth

For only the second time ever, material from an asteroid has been brought back to Earth. A capsule from Japan’s daring Hayabusa2 mission landed in an Australian desert last week, and mission scientists confirmed that they could see black, sandy material at the entrance of the collection chamber, brought back from the Ryugu asteroid. “The samples we got from Ryugu are very pure without contamination from the Earth’s atmosphere and we confirmed that there was no leakage,” says Yuichi Tsuda, project manager for the mission at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Nature | 3 min read

COVID-19 vaccine update

Flu shots sign on the street

Despite signs of reduced influenza transmission, people in the United States are being encouraged to get the vaccine.Credit: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty


How COVID-19 is disrupting flu season

Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have had a huge impact on cold and flu, too. Despite our long history with common respiratory illnesses, the viruses that cause them still hold many mysteries. Scientists hope that the natural experiment provided by this year’s disrupted cold and flu seasons could reveal information about these unwelcome annual guests.

Nature | 10 min read


United States passes 300,000 lives lost

The United States has passed a grim milestone: 300,000 deaths from COVID-19. The illness has become the country’s leading cause of death for the last 2 weeks, reports NPR, with one person in the US dying every 36 seconds. “The numbers do not reflect that these were people,” says Brian Walter, whose father died from COVID-19. “Everyone lost was a father or a mother, they had kids, they had family, they left people behind.”

NPR | 9 min read


Genes that give severe COVID

Researchers have identified genetic variations that could make some people more susceptible to severe COVID-19 symptoms. Mutations in a gene called TYK2 can trigger an excessive immune response to COVID-19 and damage lungs. Mutations in a gene called OAS can keep the protein it encodes from doing its job, which is to stop viruses from replicating. And defects in the IFNAR2 can prevent the body from launching an early immune response, giving the coronavirus time to make a foothold. Researchers analysed more than 2,200 people who spent time in intensive care at UK hospitals to find the genetic mechanisms at play. The findings also point to existing drugs that might help to treat these cases. “It really is an example of precision medicine, where we can actually identify the moment at which things have gone awry in that individual,” says geneticist Vanessa Sancho-Shimizu.

BBC | 5 minutes

Reference: Nature paper

Notable quotable

“It is rooted in science, I trust science, and the alternative and what I have seen and experienced is far worse.”

On Monday, nurse Sandra Lindsay was the first person in the United States to be vaccinated against COVID. (The New York Times | 11 min read)

Features & opinion

Women of the Nobel factory

In her new book Ahead of the Curve, science writer and Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) alumna Kathy Weston spotlights some of the women who have passed through the storied laboratory in Cambridge, UK. Her book is based on interviews with women who thrived in this high-pressure environment and went on to become global leaders in their fields. “In some places you wouldn’t get acknowledged for what you’d done but that was never the case at the LMB,” says molecular biophysicist Joan Steitz.

Nature | 6 min read

Lords of the flies

Some of the unsung heroes of science are those who care for the uncountable numbers of Drosophila that underpin entire scientific disciplines. Staff at the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center at Indiana University breed them, feed them and distribute them to labs everywhere. When COVID started forcing labs to close, they took on heavy workloads under intense pressure, often in isolation, to keep the fruit flies flowing. “I mostly just love the flies and don’t want them to die,” says Carol Sylvester, a stockeeper at the center. “I never thought I would love larvae so much.”

The New York Times | 7 min read

Quote of the day

“You worked your rear end off for years to earn that. Shout it from the rooftops, if you want to. It’s your right.”

Anthropologist Sarah Parcak reacts to a controversial opinion piece, which argued that education researcher and English professor Jill Biden, who has a doctorate in education, should not use her title of ‘Dr’ when she moves to the White House next month. (The New York Times | 6 min read)