April 1, 2023
Daily briefing: mRNA vaccine for RSV shows promise

Daily briefing: mRNA vaccine for RSV shows promise

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Comparison of fluorescence in transgenic vs. wild type pupae

Two ant pupae, one wild type and one transgenic, imaged under bright field (left) and epifluorescence, with filters set to detect GCaMP6s (middle) and DsRed (right). (Taylor Hart)

Researchers have created the first transgenic ants to discover how the insects’ brains process smells. The Ooceraea biroi ants were genetically modified with a molecule that glows when brain regions are particularly active. The process was helped by the animals’ unique biology. “They’re asexual, they don’t have queens, so we can basically clonally propagate any transgenic insertion from any individual,” says biologist and study co-author Daniel Kronauer.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: bioRxiv preprint (not peer reviewed)

Earlier this month, the Chinese government lifted its onerous quarantine requirements for incoming travellers. Many researchers outside China are now planning trips to the country for conferences, face-to-face meetings and fieldwork. And researchers in China are looking forward to attending conferences abroad and travelling within the country. It’s “fantastic that the borders are finally open”, says conservation biologist Alice Hughes. But for some, the excitement of China opening up is tempered by geopolitical tensions and the politicization of some areas of research, which make scientific engagement difficult.

Nature | 5 min read

The US pharmaceutical company Moderna reported that its candidate mRNA vaccine for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) was 83.7% effective at preventing symptomatic disease in late-stage trials of adults aged 60 and older. RSV is a respiratory illness that can be fatal in young children and older adults, but there are no approved vaccines against the virus. Two other pharmaceutical companies — Pfizer and GSK — have recently also reported positive results for their RSV vaccines in older adults.

Reuters | 5 min read

Further reading: Nature news story | 6 min read

Features & opinion

The immune system responds strongly to the strain of a virus that it first meets, but its subsequent response to other strains is weaker. Scientists are exploring how to counteract the effect, known as ‘imprinting’, to create even more effective COVID-19 vaccines. For example, some researchers are investigating nasal vaccines that induce a response in the extra-frisky immune cells that line the respiratory system.

Nature | 11 min read

Training PhD students and postdocs to review preprints would help them boost their CVs with more than just grades and degrees, says bioRxiv and medRxiv co-founder Richard Sever. Tangible evidence of transferable skills is particularly important for the large number of young researchers who pursue careers outside academia. “Importantly, there is no gatekeeping: anyone who wants to peer review a preprint can,” says Sever.

Nature | 5 min read

The discovery of hafnium represents a hard-won victory for evidence-based science, argues a Nature editorial. French chemist Georges Urbain claimed the element’s discovery in 1911, placing it among the rare earth elements despite shaky evidence. In 1922, Dutch physicist Dirk Coster and Hungarian chemist Georg von Hevesy, working in Copenhagen, showed that hafnium instead belonged to the transition metals. The duo stood their ground even when Urbain suggested that they were trying to take the credit for his work. With the backdrop of the political divides created by the First World War, the controversy divided scientists along country lines for almost a decade until the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry accepted hafnium as a transition metal.

Nature | 5 min read

Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace at 200

These notebooks of Alfred Wallace were the only salvaged materials from the ship, Helen, which caught fire in 1852.

Some of Alfred Russel Wallace’s sketches were salvaged from the fire aboard the Helen on his return journey from South America in 1852.Credit: The Natural History Museum/Alamy

Two hundred years after his birth, Alfred Russel Wallace is still seen as the underdog naturalist: the self-educated Briton formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection independently of Charles Darwin, despite having few of Darwin’s social and financial advantages.

Wallace experienced many setbacks during his career — none more severe than when he headed home on the Helen with his precious collections from Brazil in 1852. The ship caught fire, and Wallace could only watch from a lifeboat as the monkeys, parrots and other animals he had gathered — his pets as well as his best hope of impressing London’s scientific elite — were incinerated. (Nature | 9 min read)

Wallace, who was born on 8 January 1823, relied on local knowledge to craft his seminal work on species ranges in the Amazon. Two centuries later, the region’s Indigenous scientists have taken charge of their research using this and other cross-cultural tools. Indigenous biodiversity researcher Dzoodzo Baniwa is turning to Wallace’s writings, in part, to learn more about how his own ancestors lived. (Nature | 8 min read)

Quote of the day

Seventeenth-century natural scientist Otto von Guericke invented a vacuum pump to explore the wonders of the void — a mysterious concept that still fascinates physicists today. (Nautilus | 7 min read)

Today I’m goggling at the striking image created by science communicator Scott Schrage to illustrate a University of Nebraska-Lincoln press release about a study of crocodilian haemoglobin. “More scientific images should go this hard,” writes science journalist Sabrina Imbler. “I wanted it on a t-shirt.”

While I ponder how I feel about this evolution of scientific imagery, I’d love to read your feedback on this newsletter. Your e-mails are always welcome at briefing@nature.com.

Thanks for reading,

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Katrina Krämer and Smriti Mallapaty

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