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Daily briefing: Novavax vaccine is highly effective — and practical

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Photo taken by the Zhurong Mars rover of itself and its landing platform on the surface of Mars

Zhurong took this selfie using a detachable camera it released onto the ground. Credit: Jin Liwang/CNSA/Xinhua/ZUMA Press

Photos capture Zhurong rover on Mars

China’s Zhurong rover is the subject of spectacular photographs snapped from the ground and from orbit. Zhurong took the selfie above using a detachable camera that it released onto the ground. And its landing site, below, was pictured in high-resolution colour by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Other images taken by cameras fitted on the rover include a 360-degree panorama from atop the lander.

Nature | 5 min read

Surface of Mars with the Zhurong Mars rover surrounded by a blast pattern and its parachute and backshell lying a distance away

Zhurong and its landing site, captured by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The green specks are the lander and rover.NASA/JPL/UArizona

Huge science-funding bill passes US Senate

The US Senate has voted overwhelmingly in favour of legislation that invests heavily in the US National Science Foundation (NSF). If the legislation passes the US House of Representatives, the NSF’s budget could double over five years — a big win for basic research in the country. Senate lawmakers introduced amendments aimed at preventing China from stealing or benefitting from US intellectual property — a development that scientists fear could threaten international collaborations. They also funnelled some of the funding allotment originally intended for the NSF towards other US agencies that conduct research, such as the Department of Energy.

Nature | 6 min read

Career insecurity needs attention now

Nations, universities and research institutions around the world must redouble their efforts to expand training for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers to prepare them for jobs outside academia, urges a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental coalition of 38 nations. The report, the result of a nearly two-year investigation into the job security and working conditions of junior scientists, concludes that nations and institutions should more closely track career outcomes for PhD holders to better understand local challenges and opportunities.

Nature | 6 min read

Reference: OECD report

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Novavax vaccine shows 90% efficacy

In a large trial, US biotech firm Novavax’s vaccine was 90.4% effective against symptomatic COVID-19 and 100% effective against moderate and severe disease, says the company. The results back up previous data from a smaller UK trial, which found that the vaccine works against rapidly spreading variants of the coronavirus. These results were highly anticipated, in part, because the shot relies on tried-and-tested protein-based technology. It doesn’t need to be stored at extremely cold temperatures, and it seems to cause relatively mild side effects. The findings were released in a company statement and have not yet been peer-reviewed.

Science | 7 min read

Reference: Novavax press release

A wild ride of open COVID drug discovery

In early 2020, a spontaneous, open, global, Twitter-fuelled collaboration called the COVID Moonshot came together to design an antiviral treatment for the disease. There are lessons in what happened next, write ten collaborators. “Open drug-discovery efforts are invariably super slow — ours has been an express train on tracks we have laid down as we go,” they write. “It is a way of working that none of us realized was possible.”

Nature | 12 min read

Why we do ‘gain of function’ studies

The pandemic has intensified the scrutiny of ‘gain-of-function’ studies — in which viruses are deliberately made more dangerous in the laboratory to help scientists hone their preparations for a real outbreak. Scientific American outlines why the approach is used and its risks and alternatives.

Scientific American | 8 min read

Notable quotable

“We’re getting to the point where it’s a tale of two societies.”

Umair Shah, the Washington State health secretary, responds to news that 97% of COVID-19 cases in one region of the state had occurred in unvaccinated people. (The Seattle Times | 8 min read)

Features & opinion

A hidden figure’s masterful memoir

When mathematician Katherine Johnson died last year, aged 101, she left readers a gift. Her memoir My Remarkable Journey is masterful, writes reviewer Ainissa Ramirez. Johnson’s story might be partly familiar to those who saw the 2016 movie Hidden Figures, which highlighted her role in the NASA Moon missions. Her own telling is even more gripping, writes Ramirez, capturing how Johnson “overcame the gravitational pulls of gender and racial discrimination” against the backdrop of a dramatic century of US history.

Nature | 5 min read

When polio comes back

In 2018, Papua New Guinea had been polio-free for almost two decades. Then, children started to experience the tell-tale leg paralysis that heralds the disease. The outbreak spread to the Philippines, and later Malaysia, which had been polio-free since 1992. Mass vaccination campaigns helped to bring the outbreak under control by 2020. The tale of how polio rose again in the Asia-Pacific reveals the public-health challenges that are keeping global eradication just out of reach.

ABC News | 11 min read

Quote of the day

“Give people the grace to warm up to getting together.”

Easing the return to face-to-face meetings is one area where mentors can help students in places where COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, write mentoring scholars Ruth Gotian and Christine Pfund. (Nature | 6 min read)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-01623-6

On Friday, Leif Penguinson hid among the trees of Mount Charleston, Nevada. Did you find the penguin? When you’re ready, here’s the answer.

Several readers kindly wrote to say that the trees chosen for Leif’s hiding place are not, as I claimed, the sweet-smelling ponderosa pines for which Mount Charleston is famous. They’re bristlecone pines, or maybe spruce or fir. Thanks to everyone who took the time to look beyond the Leif to the trees.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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