Daily briefing: The parenting penalties faced by scientist mothers

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Mourners place a candle at a makeshift memorial outside Gold Spa, Georgia, US, where eight people were shot and killed

People light candles at a memorial to three women who were shot by a gunman at a spa in Atlanta, Georgia, in March.Credit: Chang W. Lee/NYT/Redux/eyevine

US gun-violence research is reborn

After two decades in a funding deep freeze, research into gun violence in the United States is starting to blossom. Spurred by advocacy that followed some high-profile school shootings, lawmakers authorized a huge boost in federal funding for the study of gun violence as a public-health issue. Suicide prevention, studies of domestic violence and gun safety for families are among the projects benefiting from the cash. What’s still missing: research into big, expensive, basic questions, such as the efficacy of violence-prevention techniques and the value of guns for household protection.

Nature | 11 min read

DOLLARS BY DEATH RATE: chart showing the funding in the US for the top 20 causes of death in 2017

Source: RAND/Ref. 2

Animals identified from airborne DNA

The DNA floating in air can reveal the presence of nearby animals. Two independent groups of researchers sampled the air at zoos in England and Denmark — the best place to find a wide variety of well-catalogued species. They identified DNA from zoo animals, other local creatures (such as hedgehogs) and even the meat being served as food. Many questions remain about how well the method could pinpoint animals’ locations and how to best avoid contamination.

Science | 6 min read

Reference: bioRxiv preprint 1 & preprint 2 (not yet peer reviewed)

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Should children get COVID vaccines?

SARS-CoV-2 is far less likely to cause serious illness in children than it is in adults. But some children do still become very ill, and the spectre of long COVID is enough for many paediatricians to urge vaccination as quickly as possible. A handful of vaccines have been tested in young people over the age of 12, including those made by Moderna, Pfizer–BioNTech, Sinovac and Sinopharm. So far, the vaccines seem to be safe in adolescents, and some companies have moved on to carrying out clinical trials in children as young as 6 months old. Another reason to vaccinate children is to protect others: concerns about transmission by children and adolescents are growing as new coronavirus variants emerge. There is concern about vaccinating ever-younger people in some countries when much of the world is still struggling to access any doses at all. Some experts say that we can do both, because wealthy countries have already bought more than enough doses to fully vaccinate their populations.

Nature | 7 min read

Reference: The Lancet Infectious Diseases paper

Archaeologists helped quell a COVID surge

When COVID-19 came to the fishing community of Andavadoaka, Madagascar, a team of archeologists pivoted from running field surveys to gathering and distributing aid. They repurposed grant money to buy protective equipment for the community, organized trucks to transport cleaning supplies and supported a grass-roots mask-sewing group. “We make careers off our friendships with some of the poorest and least powerful people on Earth,” says anthropologist Bram Tucker. “We have an ethical responsibility to do more than just be objective.”

Nature | 7 min read

Notable quotable

“I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honour their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same.”

Physician Brytney Cobia shares her experience of losing young patients to COVID-19 in Alabama, which has the lowest vaccination rate in the United States. (AL.com | 7 min read)

Features & opinion

The penalties faced by scientist mothers

Starting a family at a key career stage comes at a cost to birthing parents — and many end up leaving the profession as a result. A global survey revealed that more than one-third (34%) of mothers in full-time science careers had left those positions after their first child. In the United States, where family-leave policies are often sparse or absent, that proportion is as high as 43%. The largely hidden nature of the barriers faced by scientist mothers causes many to assume that they can persevere through hard work alone, says Isabel Torres, who co-founded the group Mothers in Science. “Then, when a mom chooses to leave work or to work part-time, it looks like a personal decision.”

Nature | 10 min read

Image of the week

This exquisitely detailed image charts the connections between thousands of cells in a tiny sliver of human brain. The sample was taken from the cortex — the part of the brain responsible for complex thought — and cut into thin slices that were imaged using electron microscopes. Scientists then stitched the images back together digitally and analysed them with the help of artificial-intelligence programs. These can, for example, map the positions of synapses — junctions where electrical signals pass between nerve cells. Different types of neuron have been artificially colour-coded.Credit: DR Berger, A Shapson-Coe, JW Lichtman

Quote of the day

“It is very easy to capture a whale from the ocean. It’s much harder to put one back.”

Marine-mammal advocate Charles Vinick, who played a key role in the fraught relocation of Keiko (the whale star of Free Willy), is part of a plan to build a whale sanctuary in Canada. (Hakai | 18 min read)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02019-2

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