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The rounded back of a blue whale is visible above the surface of calm waters.

A blue whale surfaces in the El Corcovado gulf, about 1,200 kilometres south of Santiago, ChileIvan Alvarado/Reuters

Blue whales’ exhausting life in the fast lane

Endangered blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) feeding in the Chilean Gulf of Ancud are forced to go to great lengths to avoid running into aquaculture vessels. Researchers tracked 15 blue whales over 4 years and found that their most important summer foraging and nursing ground is overrun with ships, putting the animals at risk of collisions and noise pollution. In the animation below, one whale (shown as a blue dot) circumvents up to 1,000 boats (red dots) over the course of a week. Almost all of the ships observed (89%) belonged to the region’s extensive salmon farming industry.

The Independent | 5 min read

Reference: Nature paper

Animated sequence tracking the route of a single whale avoiding vessels in the Gulf of Ancud between 22-29 March 2019.

Luis Bedriñana-Romano

COVID-19 coronavirus update

The risk of dying from a new COVID variant

Scientists have released the data behind UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s warning last week that the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 is linked to more deaths. The chance of dying is around 35% higher for people who are confirmed to be infected with the new variant. The risk is most pronounced for older men. The chance of death for an 85-year-old man increases from about 17% to nearly 22% for those confirmed to be infected with the variant. Researchers caution that the data are preliminary, and it is not clear whether the variant is deadlier than previous strains or is spreading to more people who are vulnerable to severe disease.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: medRxiv paper

Testing the benefits of mixing vaccines

Researchers in the United Kingdom have launched a study that will mix and match two COVID-19 vaccines in a bid to ease the daunting logistics of immunizing millions of people — and will potentially boost immune responses in the process. The clinical trial will test participants’ immune responses to one shot of the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine — which uses a harmless virus to carry a key coronavirus gene into cells — and one shot of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine, which uses RNA instructions to trigger an immune response. Vaccine developers often combine two vaccines to combat the same pathogen — a strategy known as a heterologous prime-boost. It could make vaccination programmes more flexible by speeding up the process and reducing the impact of supply-chain disruptions.

Nature | 5 min read

Data from Israel show drop in infections

Good news from Israel. Real-world evidence is building that COVID-19 vaccines are working in older people. Close to 90% of people aged 60 and older in the country have received their first dose of the Pfizer—BioNTech 2-dose vaccine so far. There was a 41% drop in confirmed COVID-19 infections in that age group, and a 31% drop in hospitalizations in recent weeks. In comparison, for people aged 59 and younger — of which just more than 30% have been vaccinated — cases dropped by only 12% and hospitalizations by 5% over the same time. It is difficult to exactly quantify the size of the impact vaccines have had because of the wealth of other factors, including a nationwide lockdown in January.

Nature | 4 min read

Features & opinion

Mysterious einsteinium spills its secrets

Einsteinium is the heaviest element on the periodic table that can be created in sufficient quantities to be examined at macro-scales. Researchers have probed a tiny chunk of the synthetic element to reveal how it interacts with other atoms. They hope the results will shed light on all the transplutonium elements (atomic numbers 95–103) that lie at the edge of the periodic table.

Nature Podcast | 28 min listen

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Reference: Nature paper

Futures: Light years

“People like to imagine time as an objective thing, to be measured and calculated, but the truth is, time is relative, both in science (via general relativity) and in our hearts and minds,” says author Lynette Mejía of the latest short story for Nature’s Futures series. “I wanted to explore how that might play out on an interstellar scale, but I also wanted to include a gentle reminder: that it’s never too late to forgive ourselves and the ones we love.”

Nature | 4 min read

Five best science books this week

Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes the key to social change, free will on trial and an astrophysicist on a visit from extraterrestrials.

Nature | 3 min read

Where I work

Pat Brown at the Impossible Milk manufacturing plant

Patrick Brown is the founder and chief executive of Impossible Foods in Redwood City, California.Credit: Peter Prato

“Our only realistic chance of reversing climate change is to replace the animal-farming industry,” says biochemist Patrick Brown, the founder and chief executive of Impossible Foods. “We can match the nutritional value of any type of meat, for about one-twentieth of the cost, using readily available plant ingredients. The hard part is making our food taste delicious.” In this photo, Brown is at Impossible’s pilot facility in Redwood City, California, where his team makes vegetable-based haem. “Haem is the part of the haemoglobin molecule that contains iron,” explains Brown. “It’s haem that turns the amino acids, sugars, fats and vitamins in food into an explosion of flavours and aromas.”

Nature | 3 min read