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Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • Should you mix and match COVID-19 vaccines? Scientists are seeking answers

    Gloved hands pierce a vaccine vial with a syringe

    As more COVID-19 vaccines become available, researchers are testing the impact of pairing different products that require two shots.

    Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    With nine vaccines now showing they can powerfully prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19—and vaccines in short supply—researchers are mulling an issue that, even a few months ago, was only hypothetical: Should people mix and match vaccines that require two shots?

    If some combinations work, they may provide needed flexibility whenever production of a vaccine falters, as often happens. And there’s even a chance that mixing doses of two different vaccines may boost the protection against COVID-19.

  • World’s largest COVID-19 drug trial identifies second compound that cuts risk of death

    a box of tocilizumab

    Tocilizumab, which dampens the immune system, is 100 times more expensive than dexamethasone, another drug that reduces mortality from COVID-19.

    Marc Bruxelle/Alamy Stock Photo

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    The world’s largest trial of COVID-19 drugs has produced more good news: The anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab cut the death risk of people hospitalized with the disease, reduced their need for a mechanical ventilator, and shortened time spent in the hospital, investigators of the United Kingdom’s Recovery trial announced today at a press conference. A preprint about the data has been published on medRxiv.

    “This is an incredibly significant result,” says Athimalaipet Ramanan, a rheumatologist at the University of Bristol who was not involved in the study but sits on the steering committee of a tocilizumab trial in India. “This is probably only the second drug that has an impact on mortality,” he says, after the steroid dexamethasone. If the data pan out, it’s “fantastic news,” adds Jason Pogue, a pharmacist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and president of the Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacists. “I think this will (and I think it should) lead to more widespread use in the United States,” Pogue wrote in an email.

  • Landmark study of 7000 Chicago police shows nonwhite officers make fewer stops, use less force

    Protesters hold hands across an the intersection in Chicago at night

    The 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police sparked protests.

    Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

    Bocar Ba spent a good part of his youth “scrambling” from police, he says. The University of California, Irvine, economist grew up in the notorious banlieues of Paris, and as a young Black man, he often encountered law enforcement in ways that most scholars do not. Years later, as a doctoral student of public policy at the University of Chicago, he continued to think about police behavior and its impact on civilians.

    In 2015, while attending a seminar, he was struck by the assumptions fellow academics were making, based on a few ride-alongs in a police car. And so, like many other academics in the wake of the shootings of Michael Brown and other Black civilians by police, he decided to probe an important social question: Does a police officer’s race matter when it comes to the use of force, or even the decision to stop someone in the first place? Although many activists, academics, and even police departments have answered yes—and hired more minority officers to improve community relations—a link has never been proved, and the field has been riddled with contradictory studies.

    Now, Ba and his colleagues have added some certainty to that discussion. After combing through millions of police records from 2012 to 2015 and analyzing them for the nature of the action, the time of day, the race of the civilian and the officer, and many other factors, they found that Black, Hispanic, and female officers in Chicago made fewer stops and arrests than their white male counterparts, especially for petty crimes.

  • Illicit centipede raises thorny question: Should journals have refused to publish a paper about it?

    A new centipede

    A new centipede beguiled taxonomists—but the specimens had murky origins.

    © MAGNOLIA PRESS; C. DOMÉNECH ET AL., ZOOTAXA, 4483(3), 401 (2018); reproduced with permission

    In 2018, a new species of centipede graced the pages of the prominent taxonomy journal Zootaxa. More than 14 centimeters long, with striking teal-colored legs, it lives in the montane and mossy forests of the Philippines. Now, however, the centipede is in a harsh spotlight. The Philippine government says the Spanish neurologist and amateur biologist who described the species acquired his specimens illegally.

    Neither the journal’s editors nor its peer reviewers caught the lapse—and the journal has no policy requiring documentation that specimens have been collected with proper permits. Some editors tell Science that should change. Others worry about hampering research when undescribed species are vanishing fast. And all agree that journals would struggle to enforce any such rules, given the wide variation in countries’ legal requirements. “There is simply no way for a journal to police this,” says Maarten Christenhusz, an independent botanist and editor-in-chief of the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

    Carles Doménech of the University of Alicante in Spain had contacted Filipino collectors after seeing images of the centipede online. One, Michael Andrew Cipat, caught wild centipedes and sold them—dead and alive—to Doménech in 2016 and 2017. Cipat tells Science he had collecting permits and that a friend with export permits shipped the specimens. But the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources says it is illegal to sell specimens to a foreign researcher who has not signed an agreement with DENR. “The Philippine government does not tolerate such illegal acts,” a representative wrote to Science. The collectors could be imprisoned or fined under a Philippine wildlife protection law.

  • China’s Tianwen-1 enters Mars orbit

    The first image of Mars captured by Mars probe Tianwen-1

    The first picture of Mars captured by Tianwen-1, taken 2.2 million kilometers away

    Xinhua/Xinhua via Getty Images

    After a half-year journey, China’s Tianwen-1 robotic spacecraft—the country’s first interplanetary mission—today successfully entered orbit around Mars, the China National Space Administration confirmed. The arrival was first reported by amateur radio signal observers, as China declined to provide real-time coverage of the attempt.

    Following a 15-minute thruster burn that began at 7:52 p.m. in Beijing, the spacecraft entered a 10-day elliptical orbit around the Red Planet. The success makes China the sixth country or space agency to send a spacecraft to the planet; yesterday, the United Arab Emirates, with its Hope orbiter, became the fifth member of that club. (Next week, on 18 February, NASA’s next Mars rover, the SUV-size Perseverance, will attempt to arrive and land on the planet’s surface at Jezero crater.) The orbital insertion, which follows a flurry of lunar missions, “clearly demonstrates the first-class ability of Chinese engineering and command and control capabilities,” says James Head, a planetary scientist at Brown University.

    Tianwen-1—“quest for heavenly truth”—is far from done, however. Although its orbiter carries scientific instruments of its own, including radar to scout for subsurface water and a high-resolution camera, the spacecraft also carries a lander and rover. After nudging the spacecraft into a closer orbit, mission managers will scout the intended landing site at Utopia Planitia, a flat basin in the northern hemisphere that was previously visited by NASA’s Viking 2 lander in 1976. A landing attempt will come in May or June.

  • Pandemic hit academic mothers especially hard, new data confirm

    Science Careers logo

    In March 2020, Reshma Jagsi—a radiation oncologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor—wrote an opinion piece predicting female scientists would feel a disproportionate impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. Skeptical journal editors declined to publish it. Since then, though, many commentators have echoed her message. And now the evidence has become clear: The pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities and created additional challenges for women, especially those with children, struggling to maintain their research productivity.

    In some fields, studies show, the proportion of female authors on preprints, submitted manuscripts, and published papers dropped during the first few months of the pandemic. Mothers also suffered a 33% larger drop in research hours compared with fathers, according to a global survey of 20,000 Ph.D. holders published as a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper last month. The survey, conducted from May to July 2020, also found that mothers took on more household and child care duties than fathers.

    But the news isn’t all dire: One funding agency recognized and corrected for a gender disparity early on in the pandemic. In February 2020, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) offered funding for COVID-19 research. The agency wanted to address the fast-growing issue quickly, so researchers were given an unusually short time to submit proposals—just 8 days. This was before lockdowns were imposed in Canada, but the gender disparity in the responses highlight underlying challenges female academics face: Only 29% of the resulting proposals were led by women, a drop of roughly seven percentage points compared with previous comparable funding opportunities.

  • U.S. rushes to fill void in viral sequencing as worrisome coronavirus variants spread

    A specimen being prepared for genome sequencing with diagnostic testing in a lab.

    A nasal specimen is tested for SARS-CoV-2 at the University of Washington, Seattle. Scientists sequence the viral genomes from positive samples.

    Gates Notes LLC

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    Since May 2020, Jeffrey Milbrandt has had his systems fine-tuned to sequence 1000 coronavirus samples a week. The director of a major sequencing center at Washington University in St. Louis (WashU), Milbrandt knew months ago that the United States urgently needed to identify and track emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2, the pandemic coronavirus already spreading across the nation.

    But to date, fewer than 100 coronavirus samples have made it to his sequencers at the McDonnell Genome Institute, and the United States remains nearly blind to several coronavirus strains that have recently upended the course of the pandemic. “We have it all worked out but there’s not a lot of takers,” Milbrandt says of his center’s sequencing abilities. “We are getting more inquiries from the press than from people who need the information. … Some of us have pipelines available—they are just not being utilized.”

  • UAE spacecraft reaches Mars in a milestone for Arab nations

    Staff monitor computers in a control room

    Controllers monitor the Hope mission, which arrived at Mars today, from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

    Christopher Pike/Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Hope arrived at Mars today, as the optimistically named mission from the United Arab Emirates (UAE)—the first planetary mission from an Arab nation—blazed into orbit to study the martian atmosphere and climate. If all systems check out after the stresses of orbit insertion, UAE, which founded its space agency only in 2014, will join an elite club of nations that have successfully sent missions to Mars: the United States, the Soviet Union, Europe, and India.

    Orbit insertion involved a 30-minute burn of the spacecraft’s thrusters to slow it from 121,000 kilometers per hour to 18,000 kilometers per hour so that it can be captured by Mars’s gravity. Over the next few months, Hope will slowly maneuver into an elliptical science orbit that can vary from 20,000 to 43,000 kilometers above the planet. Most other Mars spacecraft orbit farther down, observing narrow stripes of the surface at the same time of day. Hope’s orbit will enable a much wider, global view, and allow it to observe changes during the day and night.

    The spacecraft carries three instruments: infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers and an imaging camera that will capture how dust storms start and evolve and how the atmosphere reacts to changes in space weather, such as solar storms. Orbiter data will also shed light on how hydrogen and oxygen gases migrate up from the lower atmosphere and escape into space, a process that expelled water from the planet and affected its past habitability.

  • South Africa suspends use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after it fails to clearly stop virus variant

    A vaccine trial volunteer holds a cotton swab to her arm after a healthcare worker took a blood sample.

    A participant in the South African trial of the AstraZeneca–University of Oxford COVID-19 vaccine has blood drawn before receiving her second dose.

    AP Photo/Jerome Delay

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Heising-Simons Foundation.

    Another COVID-19 vaccine has run into trouble in South Africa, showing less protection there than elsewhere because a SARS-CoV-2 variant that can apparently dodge key antibodies has become widespread. In the wake of the new finding, the country halted plans to next week to launch the country’s first immunization campaign with the vaccine and may instead switch to a different one.

    The stakes are high globally for this particular vaccine because its makers, AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, hope it will be widely used in developing countries; they project they can produce 3 billion doses this year for about $3 each, far more product at a far lower price than any other vaccine shown to offer protection against COVID-19.

  • Postage stamp to honor female physicist who many say should have won the Nobel Prize

    Chien-Shiung Wu standing amid tubes of a particle accelerator at Columbia University

    Chien-Shiung Wu was born in Liuhe, China, a town north of Shanghai, and emigrated to the United States in 1936.

    Robert W. Kelley/LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

    A Chinese-American physicist whose name many people have never heard will soon share a rare honor typically bestowed on the field’s mononymous greats: Einstein, Fermi, Feynman. On 11 February, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will issue a stamp commemorating Chien-Shiung Wu, the service announced this week. In 1956, Wu proved, essentially, that the universe knows its right hand from its left.

    Wu, who died in 1997 at age 84, never received a Nobel Prize for her demonstration of the effect called parity violation. Instead, she numbers among the women many scientists think were unfairly overlooked by the Nobel Committee. “It was an incredibly important experiment and she was an amazing scientist,” says Melissa Franklin, a particle physicist at Harvard University.

    The universe can be thought of as a huge assemblage of fundamental particles interacting through four forces: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong force that binds the atomic nucleus, and the weak force that produces a type of nuclear decay called beta decay. Physicists once assumed that if you inverted all the particles’ positions—swapping left and right, up and down, forward and back—and reverse all their momenta, the universe should work just the same. If you performed such a “parity” transformation on a clock, for example, the weird mirror-image clock that would result would tick just like the original one.

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