Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here.
The search for people who never get COVID
Scientists have launched a global hunt for people who are genetically resistant to infection with SARS-CoV-2. They hope that identifying the genes protecting these individuals could lead to the development of virus-blocking drugs that not only protect people from COVID-19, but also prevent them from passing on the infection.
Reference: Nature Immunology paper
Antidepressant cuts COVID death risk
A cheap, widely available drug cuts the risk of death from COVID-19 and the need for people with the disease to receive intensive medical care, according to clinical-trial results. Fluvoxamine is taken for conditions including depression and obsessive–compulsive disorder. But it is also known to dampen immune responses and temper tissue damage. Among trial participants who took the drug as directed in the early stages COVID-19, deaths fell by roughly 90% and the need for intensive care fell by roughly 65%. “A major victory for drug repurposing!” says medical researcher Vikas Sukhatme. “Fluvoxamine treatment should be adopted for those at high risk for deterioration who are not vaccinated or cannot receive monoclonal antibodies.”
Reference: Lancet Global Health paper
War has lasting impacts on bird life
Researchers in Australia have measured the toll of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war on bird-life, finding that birds living in former war zones are much warier of people than are those in areas that didn’t experience conflict, despite the war having ended in 2009. The scientists studied 157 bird species and found that those in areas that had not experienced armed conflict would allow people to get 25% closer to them before flying away than would birds that live in former war zones.
Reference: American Naturalist paper
Fears surge amid crackdown on China ties
The US government’s search for spies in laboratories and businesses has stoked fear among scientists of Chinese descent and damaged collaborations with researchers in China, according to a survey of nearly 2,000 scientists. The China Initiative — which aims to stop the theft of US trade secrets by the Chinese government — has led to several well-publicized arrests of scientists. But critics warn that researchers of Chinese descent feel unduly scrutinized. “We’ve seen anecdotal evidence about the chilling effects of the China Initiative,” says lawyer Ashley Gorski. “The study makes clear that the effects are far-reaching.”
Features & opinion
In search of the Falklands wolf’s origins
Scientists have long wondered how the fox-like creature known as the warrah (Dusicyon australis) came to the Falkland islands before European settlers arrived. Now, a study of beaches and wetlands in the Falklands has revived the possibility that early seafaring humans brought the now-extinct canines with them. Researchers found increased charcoal preserved in peat on the islands, starting from 3,800 years ago, suggesting increased fire activity. They also observed a higher abundance of seal and penguin bones scattered across the islands, which could have been killed and eaten by pre-European visitors.
National Geographic | 8 min read
Reference: Science Advances paper
Retro collectors uncover troves of old data
Sales of vintage computers have proliferated during the pandemic thanks to growing interest in ‘retrocomputing’. The trend has seen many collectors acquire hoards of long-forgotten but sensitive information stored in old machines. This presents a challenge for those forced to determine what to do with old sets of documents, photos or even medical records. “If you don’t properly dispose of your old hardware, you effectively pass the buck to someone else to protect your data,” says security consultant Tom Van de Wiele.
Poor sleep takes toll on people of colour
Far more Black and Hispanic people than white people report routinely getting less than 6 hours of sleep each night. Studies have also shown that people of colour take longer to fall asleep, wake up more during the night and are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea. Researchers are trying to understand what causes these disparities and how scientists, physicians and policymakers might implement solutions. “If we can target sleep, we might be able to reduce the burden of all types of diseases among racial minorities,” says sleep epidemiologist Dayna Johnson.
Podcast: protecting your digital presence
Attaching a researcher’s name to a paper without them knowing is an unscrupulous practice that can have serious repercussions for the unsuspecting academic. In this week’s Nature Podcast, we hear from computer scientist Guillaume Cabanac that a monthly ‘digital-hygiene’ check can identify incorrect acknowledgements and help prevent malpractice. Plus: how researchers are using genomics to reveal the origins of 4,000-year old mummies, and what’s on the agenda at COP26.
Nature Podcast | 28 min listen
Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.