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Snowy outdoor caged fox and raccoon dogs fur farm in Hengdaohezi, Heilongjiang, China,

Researchers say that a next step in the COVID-19 origins hunt should be to study wildlife, such as foxes and raccoon dogs, on farms in China.Credit: Biosphoto/Alamy

Sparse data hinder COVID origin search

Origin investigations typically take years, but some researchers say China is delaying the process for political reasons as international tensions rise. Three recent preprint studies, not yet peer-reviewed, offer further evidence supporting the hypothesis that the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spread from animals to people who raised, butchered or bought them. But the reports don’t reveal exactly how it occured. “We are all trying to find out what the bloody hell happened, but we are hamstrung by the data available,” says Edward Holmes, a virologist at the University of Sydney in Australia and a co-author of two of the latest preprints.

Nature | 10 min read

Reference: Research Square preprint, Zenodo preprint 1 & Zenodo preprint 2

Vaccines versus Omicron subvariant BA.2

Data from Qatar indicate that people who received two doses of either the Pfizer–BioNTech or Moderna mRNA-based vaccine saw several months of substantial protection against symptomatic disease caused by either Omicron subvariant of SARS-CoV-2 — BA.1 or BA.2. The findings, which are not yet peer reviewed, offer hope that BA.2 is not worse than BA.1 in that respect. But protection waned sharply after 4–6 months, emphasizing the importance of booster doses.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: medRxiv preprint

Heatwaves hit both poles at once

Temperature records were smashed in Antarctica last week: one weather station recorded temperatures that were 40 ℃ above normal. At the same time, it is 30 ℃ warmer than average at the North Pole. “They are opposite seasons. You don’t see the North and the South [Poles] both melting at the same time,” says ice scientist Walt Meier. “It’s definitely an unusual occurrence.” Scientists point to freak weather events — warm air travelling in from the oceans — as the cause, and don’t attribute the events directly to climate change.

Associated Press | 4 min read

Features & opinion

Queen of carbon, Mildred Dresselhaus

Mildred Dresselhaus’s trailblazing research into the fundamental physics of materials such as graphite and carbon nanotubes in the second half of the twentieth century, and her advocacy of equality in science, saw her dubbed queen of carbon. Science writer Maia Weinstock chronicles Dresselhaus’s extraordinary life in her spirited biography, bringing to it the same exuberance with which she once created a custom Lego figure to celebrate her heroine.

Nature | 5 min read

François Gros: an elegant mind

Molecular biologist François Gros was the co-discoverer of mRNA, an adviser to French presidents and prime ministers and a committed socialist and public servant. He was as much at ease chatting to a truck driver at a party in a squat as he was in the Elysée Palace, recalls his former postdoc and long-time collaborator Robert Whalen. “There was an elegance about him in his behaviour, his speech and his writing.” Gros has died aged 96.

Nature | 5 min read

Podcast: The coin toss of Alzheimer’s

Marty Reiswig is fit and healthy, but every two weeks he is injected with the experimental drug gantenerumab and has monthly brain scans. He submits to this because a rare genetic mutation predisposes him to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. On the Nature Podcast, he speaks about his experience on the trial, and why he chose to continue trialling the drug even after formal clinical trials were discontinued.

Nature Podcast | 28 min listen

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Where I work

Juan Carlos Jimenez Castellanos at the CILL, Institut Pasteur on november 29 2021 in Lille, France.

Juan-Carlos Jiménez Castellanos is a researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Lille, France.Credit: Lucas Barioulet for Nature

Protein chemist and molecular biologist Juan-Carlos Jiménez Castellanos investigates why bacteria often refuse to die when attacked by antibiotics. He’s aided in his experiments by an automated circuit, with a range of experimental equipment, and a robot that can load up to 200 assay plates into a carousel. “I can program in what I want and go for a coffee while the robot gets to work,” he says. “I can’t really describe why, but solving problems about proteins makes me so happy.” (Nature | 3 min read) (Lucas Barioulet for Nature)

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The reef is suffering environmental conditions so extreme, we’re struggling to simulate these scenarios in our laboratories.”

Another mass coral bleaching event appears to be striking the Great Barrier Reef, write marine biologist Jodie Rummer and environmental physicist Scott Heron. They urge the United Nations cultural organization UNESCO to declare the reef ‘in danger’. (The Conversation | 6 min read)