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A volunteer is given an injection during CureVac clinical trial in Brussels, Belgium

A trial volunteer in Belgium recieves a dose of CureVac's vaccine.Credit: Yves Herman/Reuters/Alamy

Where CureVac went wrong

Disappointing interim results from CureVac’s vaccine have thrown the spotlight on the challenges of designing messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. The German biotechnology company’s jab proved to be only 47% effective in preventing COVID-19 in late-stage trials. CureVac put the blame on the rising number of coronavirus variants, but mRNA vaccines from Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna have fared well in the face of variants. Scientists speculate that the problem might come down to the low dose size or CureVac’s decision not to tweak the biochemical make-up of its mRNA. Insights into what went wrong will help to guide the future of mRNA vaccines against other diseases, such as cancer. CureVac is already working on its next COVID-19 vaccine.

Nature | 6 min read

Computer cracks intricate maths proof

Mathematicians have turned to specialized computer software to validate a mathematical proof at the cutting edge of research. Number theorist Peter Scholze and his colleagues used the technique to verify part of ‘condensed mathematics’, an ambitious plan to rebuild much of modern mathematics. The feat could be a turning point towards the acceptance of proof assistants in mathematics.

Nature | 8 min read

Betelgeuse’s ‘great dimming’ was just dust

The mysterious dimming of Betelgeuse wasn’t the harbinger of an imminent supernova — it was just dust. The ‘right shoulder’ of the constellation Orion is normally one of the sky’s brightest stars, but it got much dimmer in February 2020. Researchers working with high-resolution images of the star before and after the dimming, combined with computer simulations, say the effect was caused by a dusty veil that came from the star itself.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Nature paper

Guinea Ebola outbreak is over

The Ebola outbreak that started in February in Guinea is officially over. The disease was tamed thanks to lessons learnt from the 2014–16 outbreak, which killed 11,300 people in the region. The World Health Organization (WHO) helped to vaccinate nearly 11,000 people to counter this outbreak. “We are getting faster, better and smarter at fighting Ebola,” says Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Reuters | 3 min read

Features & opinion

Five buzzwords that changed science

A look at notable research tools and projects that have rocketed to prominence reveals some common routes to success. Take ‘epitranscriptomics’ — a term that encompasses the biology of RNA modifications and their associated regulatory factors. “In some ways, the fact that a new word was created led to this community,” says RNA biologist Eva Maria Novoa Pardo. Explore how this and four other trendy technologies — the Human Cell Atlas, expansion microscopy, Brainbow and Genome Project-write — have left their mark on science.

Nature | 12 min read

Inspiring science in collaborative spaces

An area where researchers can gather and informally discuss ideas is the best way to produce innovative inventions, argues secondary-school student Ethan Gotian. The young inventor credits the collaborative workspaces at his school for helping him to devise a hands-free door handle and an irrigation system that won a national engineering competition.

Nature | 5 min read

A life in theory

“A theorem has a teleological cast; one idea follows another, in a steady march toward a concise conclusion,” writes computational scientist Dan Rockmore. “A life isn’t necessarily like that.” Rockmore affectionately recounts the story of his mathematician father, his father’s namesake theorem and his Jewish-American family.

The New Yorker | 10 min read

Quote of the day

“My favorite new equipment purchase for the lab — a travel crib.”

Neuroscientist Troy Littleton put a crib in his office so PhD student Karen Cunningham could bring in her baby when necessary during pandemic disruptions. (The Washington Post | 5 min read, intermittent paywall)