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Smell disruption is becoming a less-common symptom of COVID-19 as the virus evolves, but given that more than half a billion cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, tens of millions of people probably have lingering problems with their sense of smell.
The virus seems to cause damage to the olfactory neurons in the nose, scrambling their nuclei. Some people also seem to be genetically predisposed to smell or taste loss. And the dampened sense seems to be linked to lasting changes to the brain — maybe because a lack of input causes the brain’s olfactory centre to atrophy.
A multitude of potential treatments to tackle the condition, including steroids and blood plasma, are undergoing clinical trials. But it’s still early days, so the only thing that most researchers recommend for now is smell training: practising with samples of strong-smelling substances to restore olfactory signalling (however, this requires that some sense of smell remains).Meanwhile, chemists have identified 15 compounds found in foods such as coffee and garlic that make things smell burnt or rotten to people with parosmia. The condition can come with recovery from smell loss caused by a virus and has become more common during the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is solid evidence that it’s not ‘all in the head’,” says chemist Jane Parker, who led the research.
The United Kingdom is on the cusp of leaving the largest collaborative research programme in the world, Horizon Europe. On 8 June, some UK researchers who had already won Horizon funding received notice that their grants will be cancelled. On the same day, the UK science minister said in a speech that “we’re reaching a crunch point” in negotiations with the European Union that have delayed ratification of a Horizon deal. At issue is the complex political situation between the Republic of Ireland (which is still in the European Union) and Northern Ireland (which is not). The United Kingdom says it has an alternative solution to Horizon, called Plan B, but the details of how this would operate are unclear.
A single Fernandina Island Galápagos giant tortoise — a species thought to be extinct for 100 years — has been found. The female Chelonoidis phantasticus is only the second tortoise ever to be discovered on the island, after a single male, which was collected in 1906. Researchers have also found tortoise faeces on the island, which is uninhabited and difficult to access. “Our hope is that there are still a couple of other of these tortoises out there on the island,” says evolutionary genomicist Stephen Gaughran, who confirmed the match with the male museum specimen. “But most likely there aren’t very many of them.”
Features & opinion
Andrew Robinson’s pick of the top five science books to read this week includes the neuroscience of how we navigate, an alarming overview of Earth’s water crisis and a guide to making numbers really resonate.
Futures: science fiction from Nature
In this week’s helping of short stories for Nature’s Futures series:
• A hard-boiled private detective (and a tentacled interloper) take advantage of ‘imaginary’ dimensions in ‘Private i’
• Luggage-eating monsters are irritating travellers at the ‘Baggage claims at the worst-reviewed spaceport in the Galaxy’
This week’s Nature Podcast delves into some of the most fascinating stories recently featured in this very newsletter, including a ‘unicorn’ fossil that hints at the origins of giraffes’ long necks, a wave of researchers joining the ‘great resignation’ and how the Perseverance rover is kicking off a search for life on Mars.