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A healthcare professional wearing PPE administers a COVID-19 test to a patient in his car

A driver is tested for COVID-19.Credit: US Army/ZUMA Press Wire Service/Shutterstock

Is subvariant XBB.1.5 a global threat?

A coronavirus subvariant called XBB.1.5 is on the rise globally — for example, scientists estimate that it is responsible for 70% of SARS-CoV-2 cases in the northeast United States. “It’s almost certainly going to dominate in the world,” says immunologist Yunlong Cao. The variant might not cause big waves of illness, thanks to pre-existing immunity, vaccination and boosters. But researchers will still be tracking the lineage closely. The subvariant bears a rarely seen mutation that might make it more infectious — and create an opportunity for evolutionary gains.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: bioRxiv preprint (not peer reviewed)

China’s talent plan boosts research output

Early-career expatriate scientists who returned to China on a state-funded Young Thousand Talents grant published 27% more papers than their peers who stayed abroad, found a study of 300 grant recipients. Access to funding and research staff seemed to drive the productivity gain, which disappeared when the two factors were taken into account.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Science paper

Every degree of warming counts for glaciers

Half of all glaciers will be gone by 2100, even if global warming is limited to the Paris agreement’s goal of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. If the current trend continues — which will lead to 2.7 °C of warming — nearly 70% of the planet’s 215,000 glaciers will disappear. Researchers used 20 years of satellite data to include factors that had never been fully modelled, such as how debris covering the ice affects melt rates.

The Guardian | 5 min read

Reference: Science paper

Unearned authorship pervades science

Undeserved authorship — listing someone as co-author who didn’t contribute sufficiently to the work — is common among researchers. A survey of 2,300 researchers in the United States and 45,000 in Europe found that almost 55% of US respondents and 70% of those in Europe were aware that the practice had occurred in their projects. At least half of the respondents also reported superficial peer review and poor supervision.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: MetaArXiv preprint (not peer reviewed)

Startup extends life of mice

US biotech company Rejuvenate Bio has extended the lives of old mice using gene therapy, according to a preprint study that has not yet been peer reviewed. Researchers used viruses to introduce three genes into the cells of mice close to the end of their lives. These genes reprogram cells to a younger state. The mice lived, on average, for another 18 weeks, compared with 9 weeks for control mice. Researchers warn that the technique has unknown risks, including cancer. “It’s a beautiful intellectual exercise, but I would shy away from doing anything remotely similar to a person,” says stem-cell biologist Vittorio Sebastiano.

MIT Technology Review | 6 min read

Reference: BioRxiv preprint

Features & opinion

Colonoscopies save lives — but how many?

In October, a huge randomized trial shocked researchers: it found that inviting people for colonoscopies might not save as many lives as expected. Digging into the study reveals a more complex picture. The tale illustrates how difficult it is for everyone, even scientists, to interpret research on cancer screening. One of the study’s authors says he chose to get a colonoscopy, but he has colleagues in other countries who did not, on the basis of the same data.

Nature | 10 min read

The rise of education research

A small but growing number of scientific faculty members are focusing on the science of teaching. They often transition to education research from a scientific discipline after becoming interested in improving their own classrooms. Although education research is sometimes perceived as low status by department heads, it can yield papers, grants and public impact, just like other disciplines — and it helps universities to adopt science-based teaching methods.

Nature | 11 min read

Infographic of the week

Transgenerational inheritance of radiation-induced DNA damage from male nematode worms.

Researchers have discovered a mechanism that might explain why the deadly effects of radiation-damaged paternal DNA skip a generation in nematode worms (Caenorhabditis elegans). Aberrant chromosomes bypass biological checkpoints in the first generation of embryos, enabling most of them to develop into adult worms. The DNA in their germlime cells (eggs and sperm) adopts a compacted form, known as heterochromatin. When these worms mate with healthy worms, their DNA does not bypass the checkpoints in the resulting embryos, most of which therefore die. (Nature News & Views | 7 min read)

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Quote of the day

“It’s gutting but everybody’s okay … We’re here and we’ve got our licence, so it would be great to do it again soon.”

Melissa Thorpe, the head of Spaceport Cornwall, speaks after the first-ever orbital mission to lift off from the United Kingdom failed to place nine satellites into orbit. (Cornwall Live | 7 min read)