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  • Top neuroscientist leaves Mexican university as former trainees allege sexual harassment

    Ranulfo Romo Trujillo

    Multiple women alleged sexual harassment by Ranulfo Romo Trujillo of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, University City.

    Katia Soboleva (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    Earlier this month, Mexico’s leading university, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), announced that renowned neuroscientist Ranulfo Romo Trujillo would leave his position after being disciplined for an unspecified offense.

    According to a 4 March press release from UNAM, Romo Trujillo voluntarily asked to be separated from his job at UNAM’s University City campus in Mexico City. Sources close to the case say he had been temporarily suspended because a female worker made a formal complaint of sexual harassment against him following an incident in January. But current and former UNAM students and staff say that reports of inappropriate behavior by Romo Trujillo had circulated for years before his departure.

    Romo Trujillo, who works at UNAM’s Institute of Cellular Physiology (IFC), did not respond to repeated requests for comment. He is arguably the most famous neuroscientist in Mexico, studying perception, working memory, and decision-making. He has more than 150 publications, including in top journals such as Science and Nature; is on the editorial board of Neuron and other journals; and is one of 11 Mexican members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

  • Prominent U.S. climate denial group fires president amid financial crisis

    Frank Lasee

    Frank Lasee, a former state legislator, is out as head of the Heartland Institute, known for its efforts to question climate science.

    Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

    Originally published by E&E News

    The Heartland Institute is undergoing its second leadership change in less than a year.

    The group, which rejects climate science, is ousting its president, Frank Lasée, after being buffeted by financial turbulence that led to significant layoffs, according to two sources close to Heartland.

  • Coronavirus cases have dropped sharply in South Korea. What’s the secret to its success?

    medical workers in protective gear prepare to test patients inside a car

    A medical officer prepares to take samples from a visitor at a drive-through testing center at Yeungnam University Medical Center.

    REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

    Europe is now the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Case counts and deaths are soaring in Italy, Spain, France, and Germany, and many countries have imposed lockdowns and closed borders. Meanwhile, the United States, hampered by a fiasco with delayed and faulty test kits, is just guessing at its COVID-19 burden, though experts believe it is on the same trajectory as countries in Europe.

    Amid these dire trends, South Korea has emerged as a sign of hope and a model to emulate. The country of 50 million appears to have greatly slowed its epidemic; it reported only 74 new cases today, down from 909 at its peak on 29 February. And it has done so without locking down entire cities or taking some of the other authoritarian measures that helped China bring its epidemic under control. “South Korea is a democratic republic, we feel a lockdown is not a reasonable choice,” says Kim Woo-Joo, an infectious disease specialist at Korea University. South Korea’s success may hold lessons for other countries—and also a warning: Even after driving case numbers down, the country is braced for a resurgence.

    Behind its success so far has been the most expansive and well-organized testing program in the world, combined with extensive efforts to isolate infected people and trace and quarantine their contacts. South Korea has tested more than 270,000 people, which amounts to more than 5200 tests per million inhabitants—more than any other country except tiny Bahrain, according to the Worldometer website. The United States has so far carried out 74 tests per 1 million inhabitants, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

  • Amid pandemic, Energy Department labs close to tens of thousands of users

    Advanced Photon Source

    Argonne National Laboratory has asked visitors not to come, although its Advanced Photon Source, which could help decipher the structure of coronavirus proteins, will most likely keep running.

    Argonne National Laboratory

    Sotto voce, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has begun to restrict access and ramp down activities at its national laboratories in response to the coronavirus crisis. However, no unified protocol has emerged that applies to all labs, which every year serve more than 30,000 visiting researchers. It seems likely that some of DOE’s major research facilities will solider on—as they may prove helpful in the fight against the new virus.

    Today, Brookhaven National Laboratory announced on its website that, “Access is suspended for all non-Brookhaven users, visitors, and guests starting Tuesday, March 17,” with some exceptions. Argonne National Laboratory announced similar restrictions on Sunday. “If you are not an Argonne employee, please cancel travel to Argonne during the 30-day period beginning March 17, 2020,” the lab posted on its website.

    Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory—the United States’s dedicated particle physics laboratory—is closed to the public starting tomorrow, as is the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility—a nuclear physics lab. Many of DOE’s 17 national labs appear to have ordered nonessential personnel to work from home, if possible.

  • Updated: Labs go quiet as researchers brace for long-term coronavirus disruptions

    a student walks in an empty courtyard of the Statale University in Milan, Italy.

    In Milan, universities like this one were ordered to close. Laboratories had to follow suit. 

    AP Photo/Luca Bruno

    This article will be updated. Have stories to share about how coronavirus has disrupted your research and how you’re managing? Send us a message.

    Evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski at Michigan State University spends a lot of time thinking about how microbes grow. Since 1988, his team has watched populations of Escherichia coli bacteria grow and evolve in the lab through more than 73,000 generations. So when cases of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, appeared in the United States, he knew to expect exponential growth—these first cases were just a hint of what was to come.

    This week, as research institutions around the world brace for a surge in COVID-19 cases and consider their staff and students’ roles in slowing the virus’ spread, Lenski decided to freeze his bacteria and pause the 32-year experiment. “I didn’t want people responsible for doing this daily work [of maintaining the bacteria] to feel a pressure to come in when they might not be feeling well,” he says. This is “a tiny perturbation” in the scheme of the experiment, which can simply be resumed by unfreezing the bacteria. But that disruption is itself the tip of an iceberg. Countless labs in a variety of research fields are reconsidering their planned studies—and not all projects can be easily put on ice.

  • Disease experts call for nationwide closure of U.S. schools and businesses to slow coronavirus

    : Vice President Mike Pence points to a question during a press conference at the White House

    Top U.S. researchers are asking Trump administration officials to enforce a nationwide closure of schools and businesses.

    AP Photo/Alex Brandon

    Infectious disease experts across the United States are calling for tougher enforcement of social distancing measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus behind the COVID-19 pandemic, including a nationwide closure of schools and nonessential businesses. Such a move would go beyond the spotty closures now in place in some states and major cities.

    In an open letter posted today on Twitter and widely circulated by email, scientists and physicians write that they “have been watching the COVID-19 pandemic unfold with increasing concern as the global community has taken disparate and at times delayed action to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, SARS-COv2.” The letter calls for “immediate action on the part of national, state, municipal, and local governments to enforce social distancing in order to truly minimize contact among individuals,” including “enforced social distancing measures” including closing or severely limiting all non-essential businesses and closing schools nationwide as soon as possible.

    The letter was spearheaded by Kacey Ernst of the University of Arizona and Karen Levy and Carlos del Rio of Emory University. Levy says she was motivated by a bike ride this weekend along Atlanta’s Beltline, a popular trail connecting parks and nightlife spots. “Everybody was out shoulder to shoulder in bars and restaurants and hanging out and clearly had not gotten the memo. Without messages from top leadership, people are not taking this seriously enough,” Levy says. At the moment, Atlanta has not imposed any restrictions on restaurants, unlike Washington, D.C., New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco.

  • Social distancing prevents infections, but it can have unintended consequences

    People sit with a certain distance away from each other while waiting to receive medical tests

    In a display of social distancing, people sit far apart while waiting to be tested for COVID-19 at a makeshift medical testing center in Kuwait.

    Asad/Xinhua/Newscom

    In response to the coronavirus pandemic, public health officials are asking us to do something that does not come naturally to our very social species: Stay away from each other. Such social distancing—avoiding large gatherings and close contact with others—is crucial for slowing the spread of the virus and preventing our health care system from getting overwhelmed. But it won’t be easy.

    “The coronavirus spreading around the world is calling on us to suppress our profoundly human and evolutionarily hard-wired impulses for connection: seeing our friends, getting together in groups, or touching each other,” says Nicholas Christakis, a social scientist and physician at Yale University.

    And social distancing also tests the human capacity for cooperation, he adds. “Pandemics are an especially demanding test … because we are not just trying to protect people we know, but also people we do not know or even, possibly, care about.”

  • Coronavirus concerns force Arctic mission to cancel research flights

    The Polarstern ship surrounded by ice and snow

    The Polarstern is drifting with Arctic ice. Research flights supporting the mission have been canceled.

    Alfred Wegener Institute/Esther Horvath (CC BY 4.0)

    The global coronavirus outbreak is now curtailing research at the top of the world. Travel restrictions imposed by Norway have forced the cancellation of research flights in support of the Polarstern, the icebound German research ship that is the centerpiece of a $150 million mission to study the effects of climate change on the Arctic.

    A series of 10 to 15 research flights due to take off from Svalbard, Norway, in March and April have been canceled, says Markus Rex, an atmospheric scientist at the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research. “It’s very sad, but we had to cancel,” says Rex, leader of the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC). A second set of flights, planned for August, might still happen, he says. “We just have to play it by ear.”

    The mission is also facing a potentially more serious disruption: The next rotation of researchers, scheduled to join the Polarstern in early April, are also supposed to travel through Svalbard, a semiautonomous archipelago that has closed its borders to outsiders because of coronavirus concerns. Expedition leaders are working with Norwegian authorities to find a way to get 100 coronavirus-free researchers to the ship, which has not reported any cases of COVID-19.

  • ‘A ticking time bomb’: Scientists worry about coronavirus spread in Africa

    A worker uses a temperature scanner on the forehead of a passenger in the Lagos airport.

    A passengers temperature is taken on arrival at Murtala Muhammed International Airport. On 27 February, Nigeria became the first sub-Saharan country to report a COVID-19 case.

    BENSON IBEABUCHI/AFP via Getty Images

    CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—Late on Sunday evening, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a televised address to the nation, declared that COVID-19, the respiratory disease spreading globally, had become a “national disaster.” The declaration allows his government to access special funding and instigate harsh regulations to combat the viral outbreak. “Never before in the history of our democracy have we been confronted by such a severe situation,” Ramaphosa said before announcing a raft of measures to curb the virus’ spread, including school closures, travel restrictions, and bans on large gatherings.

    So far, the official numbers seemed to suggest that sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than 1 billion people, had been lucky. The interactive map of reported COVID-19 cases run by Johns Hopkins University shows big red blobs almost everywhere—except sub-Saharan Africa.

    But now the numbers are rising quickly. South Africa, which had its first case 10 days ago, now has 61. According to Ramaphosa, the virus has begun spreading inside the country. And just yesterday, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, and Namibia all reported their first cases, bringing the number of affected countries to 23. Some scientists believe COVID-19 is circulating silently in other countries as well. “My concern is that we have this ticking time bomb,” says Bruce Bassett, a data scientist at the University of Cape Town who has been tracking COVID-19 data since January.

  • Meet Anthony Fauci, the epidemic expert trying to shape the White House’s coronavirus response

    Donald Trump speaks as National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci listens during a news conference
    Alex Wong/Getty Images

    “Tony, do you want to come up?” When President Donald Trump called Anthony Fauci to the microphone yesterday while declaring a national emergency because of a viral pandemic, it may have been the first time many in the United States had met the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). But the veteran HIV/AIDS researcher, who has been involved with every epidemic over the past 40 years—and has even treated Ebola patients—is a familiar face to scientists, health officials, and politicians, having led NIAID for decades and advised presidents all the way back to Ronald Reagan. Articulate, candid, and Brooklyn to his core, he has become a rational voice of science and a public figure—see his appearance on Comedy Central with Stephen Colbert in 2011.

    Now, as the COVID-19 pandemic takes hold, Fauci has gained new prominence amid questions about whether the current White House has listened enough to scientists, and Fauci in particular, as it has struggled to respond. Reports that he had been stifled by the administration and had to clear all his comments with superiors helped spark widespread condemnation of the muzzling of scientists. Yet Fauci has become increasingly visible as the U.S. outbreak progresses, recently telling Congress that the country’s efforts to test people for coronavirus have been “failing.”

    Fauci’s colleagues tell Science he is trying to walk a fine line, being honest to the public and policymakers but not so openly critical that he loses influence by being ignored or forced to resign. Science has covered Fauci’s career extensively, from the two times he turned down presidential requests to lead the National Institutes of Health (in 1989 and 2001, by both presidents Bush) to a profile in which a reporter tracked the scientist for a day.

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