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People who have previously recovered from COVID-19 have a stronger immune response after being vaccinated than do those who have never been infected. As the world watches out for new coronavirus variants, the basis of such ‘super-immunity’ has become one of the pandemic’s great mysteries. Researchers hope that, by mapping the differences between the immune protection that comes from infection compared with that from vaccination, they can chart a safer path to this higher level of protection.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has selected 26 scientists to oversee a fresh investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and into future outbreaks of emerging diseases. The unpaid advisers that make up the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) all hail from different countries and have expertise ranging from biosafety to wildlife biology. The panel will be confirmed after an open call to disclose any conflicts of interest.
The first spacecraft to journey to the Trojan asteroids, which share Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun, is set to lift off on 16 October. The Trojans are “the last unexplored but relatively accessible population of small bodies” circling the Sun, says planetary scientist Vishnu Reddy. NASA’s Lucy mission — named after the iconic hominid fossil — will spend the next 12 years performing gravitational gymnastics to swoop past six of the asteroids. The Trojans probably formed when the planets were just coalescing, so exploring them can reveal more about the birth of the Solar System.
Features & opinion
Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly becoming a tool for researchers in other science and technology fields. Five AI researchers describe the fruits of collaborations across disciplines, beyond journal publications, and talk about how they are helping to break down barriers between fields. One key aspect, they say, is to go beyond the idea that someone who’s ‘good at computers’ can help you to do some data analysis, and consider how AI methods can contribute to answering big questions.
Futures: science fiction from Nature
In this week’s helping of short stories for Nature’s Futures series:
• A photographer blends into the background — but sees everything — in ‘A thousand words, unspoken’.
• A woman searches for the decision that would have changed her life’s trajectory in ‘Path correction’.
Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes climate lessons from COVID-19, an exploration of our sense of self, and a legal scholar’s war on paperwork.
Electroacupuncture — which delivers a small electric current into tissue in the body — has been shown to reduce inflammation in mice, but only when applied to specific points. For example, low-intensity stimulation of a location on the leg activates the vagus nerve, which sends signals that release anti-inflammatory molecules. “The question is why,” says neurobiologist Qiufu Ma. “Why can acupuncture do it in one body region, but not in another?” Now Ma and his colleagues have identified the specific sensory neurons that are involved. These results provide, for the first time, a way to identify neurons that might be stimulated to control particular organ functions.
Read the expert view by internist Luis Ulloa in the Nature News & Views article (8 min read, Nature paywall)
Today, Leif Penguinson is enjoying the weathered gypsum towers that make up the Wahweap Hoodoos in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah. Thanks again to Briefing reader Walter Lipton, who kindly submitted the photo (and for hosting Leif yet again). Can you find the penguin?
The answer will be in Monday’s e-mail, all thanks to Briefing photo editor and penguin wrangler Tom Houghton.
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