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Volume 602 Issue 7898, 24 February 2022

Omicron & antibodies

The cover shows human bronchial cells infected with SARS-CoV-2, captured using a scanning electron microscope. In this week’s issue, a collection of six papers reveals key information about the ability of the highly infectious Omicron variant to evade existing vaccines. Since it was identified last November, Omicron has spread around the globe at a remarkable rate. Together, the papers in this issue show that Omicron’s high level of mutations allows it to dodge many elements of the immune response raised against it. Crucially, however, vaccines do retain some efficacy, albeit at a reduced level, while booster shots greatly enhance protection against infection and serious illness.

Cover image: Institut Pasteur — image by Rémy Robinot, Mathieu Hubert, Vincent Michel, Olivier Schwartz & Lisa Chakrabarti, colours by Jean Marc Panaud

This Week

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News in Focus

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Books & Arts

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  • News & Views

    • A quantum device uses ultracold atoms to sense gravitational changes that can detect a tunnel under a city street. Here, scientists discuss the advance from the viewpoints of quantum sensing and geophysics.

      • Nicola Poli
      • Roman Pašteka
      • Pavol Zahorec
      News & Views Forum
    • Certain patterns of mutations occur frequently in cancer. The culprit behind one mutational signature is now shown to be a cellular enzyme with the mundane role of relieving stress in supercoiled DNA.

      • Ammal Abbasi
      • Ludmil B. Alexandrov
      News & Views
    • Two-dimensional materials have been restricted to systems in which strong chemical bonds hold atoms together in sheets. Now, 2D materials consisting of molecules linked by weak non-covalent bonds have been peeled from crystals.

      • Claudia Backes
      News & Views
    • Luminous bursts of radio emission are linked to highly magnetized neutron stars known as magnetars. Now, bursts have been detected from a globular star cluster, an environment thought to be devoid of magnetars.

      • Vikram Ravi
      News & Views
  • Articles

    • The fast radio burst FRB 20200120E is shown to originate from a globular cluster in the galaxy M81, and may be a collapsed white dwarf or a merged compact binary star system.

      • F. Kirsten
      • B. Marcote
      • W. Vlemmings
    • A study reports a quantum gravity gradient sensor with a design that eliminates the need for long measurement times, and demonstrates the detection of an underground tunnel in an urban environment.

      • Ben Stray
      • Andrew Lamb
      • Michael Holynski
      Article Open Access
    • Shear phenomena in the infrared dielectric response of a monoclinic crystal are shown to unveil a new polariton class termed hyperbolic shear polariton that can emerge in any low-symmetry monoclinic or triclinic system.

      • Nikolai C. Passler
      • Xiang Ni
      • Alexander Paarmann
      Article Open Access
    • Multiple complementary optical signatures confirm the persistence of ferroelectricity and inversion-symmetry-breaking magnetic order down to monolayer NiI2, introducing the physics of type-II multiferroics into the area of van der Waals materials.

      • Qian Song
      • Connor A. Occhialini
      • Riccardo Comin
    • Sonication of layered metallacycle crystals gives free-standing nanosheets held together by weak non-covalent interactions, with chiral surfaces that show improved binding and enantiodiscrimination compared with individual metallacycle molecules.

      • Jinqiao Dong
      • Lingmei Liu
      • Yong Cui
    • Model simulations show that the historical relationship between global temperature and precipitation under a medium greenhouse gas concentration scenario lowers the projected high end of future precipitation change.

      • Hideo Shiogama
      • Masahiro Watanabe
      • Nagio Hirota
    • A study uses a temperature-percentile water mass framework to analyse warm-to-cold poleward transport of freshwater in the Earth system, and establishes a constraint to help address biases in climate models.

      • Taimoor Sohail
      • Jan D. Zika
      • John A. Church
    • Plasma from individuals vaccinated with BNT162b2 exhibits 22-fold less neutralization capacity against Omicron (B.1.1.529) than against an ancestral SARS-CoV-2 strain but residual neutralization is maintained in those with high levels of neutralization of ancestral virus.

      • Sandile Cele
      • Laurelle Jackson
      • Alex Sigal
      Article Open Access
    • A high-throughput yeast display platform is used to analyse the profiles of mutations in the SARS-CoV-2 receptor-binding domain (RBD) that enable escape from antibodies, and suggests that most anti-RBD antibodies can be escaped by the Omicron variant.

      • Yunlong Cao
      • Jing Wang
      • Xiaoliang Sunney Xie
      Article Open Access
    • Pseudovirus assays and surface plasmon resonance show that the Omicron receptor-binding domain binds to human ACE2 with increased affinity relative to the ancestral virus, and that most neutralizing antibodies are considerably less potent against Omicron.

      • Elisabetta Cameroni
      • John E. Bowen
      • Davide Corti
    • Sera from unvaccinated, vaccinated, and previously infected and vaccinated individuals show reduced neutralizing and spike protein-binding activity towards the Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant of SARS-CoV-2 compared to other variants.

      • Juan Manuel Carreño
      • Hala Alshammary
      • Florian Krammer
    • Analyses of circulating cell-free RNA (cfRNA) in blood samples from pregnant mothers identify changes in gene expression that could be used in liquid biopsy tests to identify and monitor individuals who are at risk of preeclampsia.

      • Mira N. Moufarrej
      • Sevahn K. Vorperian
      • Stephen R. Quake
      Article Open Access
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