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Daily briefing: Mothers are dying in the world’s hottest city

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Animated illustration that shows accumulated mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein during a seven-month-long infection.

These are mutations that accumulated in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 during a seven-month-long infection.Illustration by Nik Spencer/Nature; Source: Ref. 1

COVID: the evolutionary battle inside us

Months-long infections with SARS-CoV-2 are a leading candidate for the origins of Omicron and other variants that have driven COVID-19 surges. In an acute, short-lived infection, versions of the virus with advantageous mutations have little time to outcompete those that lack them. And it’s unlikely that any particular mutated virus would happen to be transmitted to another person. But during the course of a chronic infection, the virus has more opportunity to evolve into dangerous new variants. The result of having so many chronic infections around the world is that “this virus has opportunities not just to evolve in one way, in one direction, but literally thousands, maybe tens of thousands of directions over months”, says evolutionary biologist Sarah Otto.

Nature | 14 min read

Microplastics sully fresh Antarctic snow

Microplastics have been found in freshly fallen snow on an Antarctic island — and science might be to blame. Researchers collected samples at 19 locations on and around Ross Island, Antarctica in 2019. “We were optimistic that [we] wouldn’t find any microplastics in such a pristine and remote location,” says environmental physicist Laura Revell — but they found contamination in every one. The detritus included fibres that are used in polar clothing and equipment, and probably came from US and New Zealand research bases on Ross Island.

The Guardian | 4 min read & Nature Research Highlight | 2 min read (Nature paywall)

Reference: Cryosphere paper

WHO will rename monkeypox

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that it will announce new names for the “monkeypox virus, its clades and the disease it causes”. Scientists including Christian Happi, director of the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases in Nigeria, last week called attention to the fact that the designation of the virus and its variants — which are currently named after African regions — could be considered discriminatory and stigmitizing. The names also go against WHO guidelines that recommend avoiding geographical regions and animal names.

Bloomberg | 4 min read

Reference: Open letter on virological.org

Features & opinion

Research managers share their career tips

Research technicians and laboratory managers are important for keeping scientific research moving forward. They collect data, oversee budgets and supplies, and manage research teams. Yet these positions aren’t always recognized as long-term career options, and individuals in the roles often lack the resources and support needed to develop their own careers. Six technicians and managers share tips on how their roles can be better developed and supported.

Nature | 11 min read

Mothers are dying in the world’s hottest city

“If we go to hell, we’ll take a blanket,” is a common joke in Jacobabad, Pakistan, where people are accustomed to hot weather. But during the current extreme heatwave, with temperatures peaking over 51 ℃, even they are finding life unbearable — and the burden is particularly high during pregnancy and for homemakers. A global meta-analysis found that, for every 1 ℃ in temperature rise, the number of stillbirths and premature deliveries increases by about 5%. In Jacobabad, many women work long days in hot fields, broken up by spells cooking in stifling kitchens, sometimes over open fires. Widespread poverty and frequent power cuts mean many people have no means of cooling, or even sufficient water.

Reuters | 8 min read

Reference: The British Medical Journal paper

‘If they don’t find anything, this field is dead’

Ten years after the Large Hadron Collider discovered the Higgs boson, physicists are confronting the nightmare that it might not find anything else. It’s too soon to despair, but many researchers agree that it will not be easy to untangle the unknowns that surround the standard model of particle physics — our best, but incomplete, description of ‘stuff’. “It’s going to be like pulling teeth, not like teeth falling out,” says theoretical physicist John Ellis.

Science | 7 min read

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I never came here to be a trailblazer — I just wanted to be a physicist.”

After facing constant scrutiny as a Black female physicist, Katrina Miller went in search of her peers listed in the African American Women in Physics database. (Wired | 25 min read)

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-01693-0

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