ScienceInsider

Breaking news and analysis from the world of science policy

Read our COVID-19 research and news.

  • The race is on for antibodies that stop the new coronavirus

    illustration an antibody binding to the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2

    An antibody (orange) bound to the surface spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 can block infection.

    (Illustration) V. Altounian/Science; (Images) W. Surya, Biochim. Biophys. Acta (2018); D. Wrapp, Science, (2020); E.O. Saphire, Science, (2001); Orientations of Proteins in Membranes database

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    One of the first people to be diagnosed with COVID-19 in the United States hopes a legacy of her nightmare—the antibodies it left in her blood—will lead to a drug that can help others infected with the novel coronavirus that has now killed more than 250,000 people worldwide.

    Early this year, the woman had just learned of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, when she flew to Beijing to celebrate the Lunar New Year with her elderly parents and extended family. A brother from Wuhan joined the gathering on 23 January, catching one of the last flights out before the city went into lockdown. Days later, her father developed a fever, but the family wasn’t concerned. “My dad always has some fever in the winter,” says the woman, a researcher who asked to be called Dr. X to protect her privacy.

  • Should schools reopen? Kids’ role in pandemic still a mystery

    A classroom in Denmark where kids and a teacher are distanced to protect from COVID-19

    Many schools in Denmark reopened last month, including this one in Copenhagen where students are spaced far apart to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

    HIBAULT SAVARY/AFP/Getty Images

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    For families eager for schools to throw open their doors, the tale of a 9-year-old British boy who caught COVID-19 in the French Alps in January offers a glimmer of hope. The youngster, infected by a family friend, suffered only mild symptoms; he enjoyed ski lessons and attended school before he was diagnosed. Astonishingly, he did not transmit the virus to any of 72 contacts who were tested. His two siblings didn’t become infected, even though other germs spread readily among them: in the weeks that followed, all three had influenza and a common cold virus.

    The story could be a bizarre outlier—or a tantalizing clue. Several studies of COVID-19 hint that children are less likely to catch the novel coronavirus, and don’t often transmit it to others. A recent survey of the literature couldn’t find a single example of a child under 10 passing the virus on to someone else, for example.

  • Pressure grows on China for independent investigation into pandemic’s origins

    aerial view the Wuhan Institute of Virology

    The Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, which includes this high-containment laboratory designed to work with the deadliest pathogens, is at the center of so far uncorroborated allegations that a lab accident released the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

    HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    China is facing growing pressure from national governments and international organizations to open its doors to an independent, international investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus causing the current COVID-19 pandemic, as well as into the nation’s early response to the outbreak. So far, however, the Chinese government has given no public sign it is interested in cooperating. Its silence, and signs that China is stifling origins research by its own scientists, have fueled theories that the virus accidently leaked from a lab there.

    “The whole world wants the exact origin of the virus to be clarified,” German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas told reporters today, endorsing calls for China to allow an outside body to conduct field research and other studies aimed at determining how severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, jumped into humans. The Chinese government’s response to such calls, he says, will demonstrate “how transparent it wants to be with the virus.”

  • Primatologists work to keep great apes safe from coronavirus

    a chimp in a tree with a runny nose

    Amina, a 6-year-old female chimpanzee, was infected with a virus that may have killed her mother during a 2017 outbreak at Ngogo in Kibale National Forest in Uganda.

    Jeremy Clift

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    Seven years ago, a respiratory virus swept through the 56 chimpanzees in the Kanyawara community at Kibale National Park in Uganda, where researchers have studied chimp behavior and society for 33 years. More than 40 apes were sickened; five died. “Chimpanzees looked like limp dolls on the forest floor,” coughing and sneezing and absolutely miserable, recalls disease ecologist Tony Goldberg of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “It was just horrendous.”

    The culprit? Rhinovirus C, a human common cold virus, which researchers found after genetically analyzing samples from a dead infant chimp. Goldberg is “100% certain” the virus came from a human—perhaps a tourist, researcher, worker, or villager.

  • NIH’s axing of bat coronavirus grant a ‘horrible precedent’ and might break rules, critics say

    A researcher in protective gear holds a bat

    A now-canceled grant from the National Institutes of Health allowed researchers associated with the EcoHealth Alliance to gather samples from bats, which can carry viruses that jump to other animals and humans.

    ECOHEALTH ALLIANCE

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    The research community is reacting with alarm and anger to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) abrupt and unusual termination of a grant supporting research in China on how coronaviruses—such as the one causing the current pandemic—move from bats to humans.

    The agency axed the grant last week, after conservative U.S. politicians and media repeatedly suggested—without evidence—that the pandemic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, that employs a Chinese virologist who had been receiving funding from the grant. The termination, which some analysts believe might violate regulations governing NIH, also came 7 days after President Donald Trump, asked about the project at a press conference, said: “We will end that grant very quickly.”

  • Renewable power surges as pandemic scrambles global energy outlook, new report finds

    Wind turbines beneath a setting sun

    Renewable power sources such as wind have made gains as fossil fuel use has declined during the pandemic.

    Carol M. Highsmith/GPA Photo Archive/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

    The pandemic-induced global economic meltdown has triggered a drop in energy demand and related carbon emissions that could transform how the world gets its energy—even after the disease wanes, according to a report released today by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

    The precipitous drop in energy use is unparalleled back to the Great Depression of the 1930s. But not all energy sources are suffering equally. Efforts to shift toward renewable energy could be hastened as fossil fuels, particularly coal and oil, have borne the brunt of the decline. Use of renewable energy, meanwhile, has risen thanks to new projects coming online and the low cost of turning wind turbines or harvesting sunlight.

    “The energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before,” predicts Fatih Birol, executive director of the Paris-based IEA.

  • Large trial yields strongest evidence yet that antiviral drug can help COVID-19 patients

    Vials of antiviral drug

    Gileads remdesivir, designed to stymie viral replication, modestly speeds the recovery of COVID-19 patients, according to a new study.

    Gilead

    Sciences COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center.

    A candidate treatment for COVID-19 has shown convincing—albeit modest—benefit for the first time in a large, carefully controlled clinical trial in hospitalized patients.

    The infected people who received remdesivir, an experimental drug made by Gilead Sciences that cripples an enzyme several viruses use to copy their RNA, recovered in an average of 11 days versus 15 in patients who received a placebo. “Although a 31% improvement doesn’t seem like a knockout, 100% [success], it is a very important proof of concept,” said Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), during an Oval Office meeting in which President Donald Trump was asked by media about a statement Gilead had released on the results. The patients treated with remdesivir also had a lower mortality rate—8% versus 11.6% in the group given the placebo—but this positive trend did not reach statistical significance, Fauci noted. (The full results from the trial have not been made public in a preprint or peer-reviewed paper.)

  • Georgia Tech researcher pays a high price for mismanaging an NSF grant

    Eva Lee

    Health researcher Eva Lee has jeopardized her academic career by providing false information on funding reports to the National Science Foundation.

    VILLAR LOPEZ/EFE/Newscom

    When it comes to her research, Eva Lee sweats the details. The Georgia Institute of Technology engineering professor “is extraordinarily talented” at sifting through massive amounts of health care data and finding “novel insights” into how to save lives, improve care, and reduce costs, says physician scientist Brent Egan of the American Medical Association (AMA), who has collaborated with Lee on treating patients with cardiovascular disease.

    Lee’s skills are now in high demand. Public health officials from around the world responding to the COVID-19 pandemic are clamoring to use software that she began to develop nearly 2 decades ago. And Lee’s participation in a group of U.S. scientists who raised an early alarm about the pandemic have garnered her national media attention, including on the front page of The New York Times.

    In contrast, she’s paid much less attention to the reporting requirements on the grants that have supported her research for more than 2 decades at Georgia Tech. And the 55-year-old applied mathematician is now paying a steep price for that neglect.

  • Fauci mania! His voice for science during pandemic inspires bobblehead, other kitsch … and SNL

    Bobbleheads of Brix and Fauci

    Like Anthony Fauci, White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx is being honored with a bobblehead.

    National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

    Anthony Fauci’s burgeoning fame as a steady voice for science within White House corridors and beyond reached new heights in April, with the release of a raft of merchandise in his honor, including a bobblehead. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum has been taking orders for the plastic figurine of Fauci, longtime director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as a fundraiser for COVID-19 masks and recently posted images of the finished product. Although President Donald Trump this week scaled back the daily White House briefings about the pandemic that often featured Fauci, the Hall of Fame says the bobblehead remains its best-selling ever.

    Other vendors are selling socks, shirts, prayer candles, and “Fauci Spring” ale emblazoned with his name and face.

    “That’s nice if people want to do [it],” Fauci said of the blitz during a Fox & Friends interview, but “I have other things to worry about.”

  • As COVID-19 forces conferences online, scientists discover upsides of virtual format

    Science Careers logo

    Biochemist Kathleen Prosser wasn’t planning to present her research at a conference this spring. But when COVID-19 caused organizers to cancel a series of local chemistry meetings across Canada—called Inorganic Discussion Weekends—and offer a virtual alternative, she signed up to give a talk. Prosser, a Canadian citizen who is a postdoc at the University of California (UC), San Diego, figured she’d be talking mostly to fellow Canadians. But by going virtual, she gained an international audience. The day after her talk she heard from a chemist in Australia, asking for more details and hinting at a future collaboration. “The time zone difference would not have allowed them to see it live, but they watched it [afterward],” she says.

    As the novel coronavirus outbreak shutters businesses and disrupts everyday life for billions around the globe, massive annual conferences and small society meetings alike have moved online. The new format poses numerous technical and organizational challenges, but it also offers opportunities—for reaching wider audiences, reducing the carbon footprint of meeting travel, and improving diversity and equity. For some meetings, the shift may be permanent.

    The scientific community is “making lemonade out of lemons,” Prosser says. “It’s taking [a situation] that’s really quite horrible and providing people a way to connect in spite of it all.”

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