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HIV virus

The variant increases the number of HIV virus particles in infected people’s blood.Credit: Cavallini James/BSIP/Science Photo Library

Highly virulent HIV variant found in Europe

A highly transmissible and damaging variant of HIV has been circulating in the Netherlands for decades. The variant appears to boost the number of viral particles in a person’s blood, making them more likely to transmit the virus. And it seems to lead to a reduction in immune cells called CD4 T cells, putting infected people at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly than those with other versions of HIV. The good news is that the variant’s mutations don’t make it resistant to existing HIV drugs. “All of the tools in our arsenal should still work,” says Joel Wertheim, an evolutionary biologist and molecular epidemiologist.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Science paper

UK scientists anxious over EU funding

UK scientists are facing funding uncertainty because of disagreements between their country and the European Commission. They have been waiting over a year for the ratification of an agreement that would give them access to cash from the €95-billion (US$107-billion) Horizon Europe funding pot. But the complex political situation between the Republic of Ireland (which is still in the European Union) and Northern Ireland (which is not) has delayed the deal. Britain’s ability to take part in other joint science programmes, such as the European Atomic Energy Committee and the Earth-observation programme Copernicus, is tied to whether it associates with Horizon Europe.

Nature | 6 min read

Malaria bed nets help with long-term health

Children who sleep under bed nets impregnated with insecticide are less likely to die young from malaria — and the health benefits linger for decades. Some scientists have worried that babies who avoid malaria might not develop immunity, resulting in increased risk later. But an ambitious study in Tanzania found that people who slept under nets 20 years ago, as children, have a 40% survival advantage compared with those who did not.

Science | 5 min read

Reference: The New England Journal of Medicine paper

COVID-19 coronavirus update

3D atomic structure on a white background.

Researchers have determined that despite its myriad mutations, Omicron’s spike protein (purple, two views shown) binds tightly to the ACE2 receptor (blue) on a person’s cells.Credit: Dr Sriram Subramaniam, University of British Columbia

Structural secrets of Omicron’s success

Multiple studies are revealing why Omicron is so transmissible, but also seems to cause milder disease. By comparing the variant’s structure with that of the original version of SARS-CoV-2, scientists have begun to shed light on which features of the highly mutated virus have enabled it to evade the body’s immune defences while maintaining its ability to attack a person’s cells. Some structural studies have also provided possible explanations for another of Omicron’s properties: it seems to have more difficulty infecting the lungs than the nose and throat. Some scientists say this might explain why Omicron seems to cause milder disease than other variants.

Nature | 6 min read

Reference: Science paper & five other papers and preprints. Find the full list of references below the article.

Omicron drives breakthrough infections

Triple-vaccinated people who became infected with COVID-19 are three times more likely to have Omicron than Delta. Researchers in the United States collected samples in mid-December 2021, when about half of COVID cases in the area were Delta and half were Omicron. A booster is still much more effective than no booster, cutting the risk of Omicron by 50%.

Nature | 3 min read

Reference: medRxiv preprint (not peer reviewed)

Features & opinion

Survey of gender bias in the IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) needs to do more to include the contributions of women, even as numbers and policies improve. In 2018, the IPCC established the Task Group on Gender to advise how to achieve the fair representation and broad expertise required for the best possible climate-policy knowledge. Childcare needs, lack of resources, gatekeeping and many more factors are limiting the equity in working groups, they write.

Nature | 9 min read

Futures: One hundred and fifty-seven

A rescuer brings a moment of calm to an astronaut lost in space in the latest short story for Nature’s Futures series.

Nature | 4 min read

Why water flows weirdly in nanotubes

Normally, water flows faster through a wider pipe than a narrower one. But in tiny carbon nanotubes, the flow rate is flipped, with water moving faster through the narrowest channels. This week, the Nature Podcast features researchers who have come up with a new explanation for this phenomenon. The nanotubes are perfectly smooth, so there should be no friction of the classical kind. But there is still ‘quantum friction’ because of interactions between the atoms of water and carbon. There is less quantum friction in narrower tubes because of the way the layers of the tube walls are aligned, say the researchers.

Nature Podcast | 26 min listen

Reference: Nature paper

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“We didn’t have help from the major COVID vaccine producers, so we did it ourselves to show the world that it can be done, and be done here, on the African continent.”

Gerhardt Boukes, chief scientist at Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, a South African biotechnology company, explains why they are working to copy Moderna’s messenger-RNA-based vaccine against COVID-19. (Nature | 6 min read)