Daily briefing: Can we become immune to SARS-CoV-2?

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Artistic concept of two black holes circling each other before merging

An artist’s impression of two colliding black holes.Credit: Carol & Mike Werner/Visuals Unlimited, INC./Science Photo Library

Astronomers have detected the most-powerful, most-distant and most-perplexing collision of black holes yet, using gravitational waves. Of the two behemoths that fused when the Universe was half its current age, at least one — weighing 85 times as much as the Sun — has a mass that was thought to be too large to be involved in such an event. And the merger produced a black hole of nearly 150 solar masses, the researchers have estimated, putting it in a range in which no black holes had ever been conclusively seen before. “Everything about this discovery is mindboggling,” says computational astrophysicist Simon Portegies Zwart.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Physical Review Letters paper & The Astrophysical Journal Letters paper

Scientists have rallied around public-health researcher Guilherme Franco Netto after he was arrested as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation. Franco Netto is accused of helping to defraud the government by manipulating the award of a funding contract for a public-health research project. He denies the allegations. The huge ‘Operation Car Wash’ investigation has netted business leaders and politicians across Latin America, including three former Brazilian presidents.

Science | 6 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus update

Illustration of y-shaped antibodies responding to a spherical coronavirus particle

Immunologists are on the hunt for the antibodies (and B cells and T cells) that help to kill SARS-CoV-2 in the body.Credit: KTDesign/SPL

Can we become immune to SARS-CoV-2?

Right now, we just don’t know whether the human immune system can mount a lasting defence against SARS-CoV-2. The question is crucial to understanding whether a vaccine will provide adequate protection, whether those who have recovered from COVID-19 can return to pre-pandemic behaviours and how readily the world can reduce the threat posed by the disease. A handful of accounts of reinfection — people who recovered from COVID-19, only to test positive for the disease again later — has fed concerns that immunity might be short-lived. Researchers say there is one big reason to be optimistic: SARS-CoV-2 seems to trigger a comfortingly normal reaction from our immune systems. “We’re seeing great immune responses and fantastic-looking antibodies. We just don’t know the longevity of that response yet,” says viral immunologist Mehul Suthar. “Unfortunately, that will take time.”

Nature | 8 min read

In Xinjiang, TCM is not optional

Some people in the Xinjiang region of China report that they are being forced to take traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) to fight COVID-19, according to a story in Associated Press. This is despite the risks and lack of evidence that these work. The government has confirmed that participation in TCM treatment in the region has “reached 100%”, according to state media reports. The region — already notorious for the mass detention and DNA tracking of its Muslim Uighur population — is experiencing the worst COVID-19 outbreak in China. China has made TCM a cornerstone of its COVID-19 response, and critics of the approach can face harsh repercussions.

AP | 9 minutes

Read more: China is promoting coronavirus treatments based on unproven traditional medicines (Nature | 6 min read, from May)

Notable quotable

‘Herd immunity’ is a concept borrowed from immunization programmes that has no place as a strategy to slow the pandemic without a vaccine, says physician-scientist and author James Hamblin. (The Atlantic)

Features & opinion

A suite of tools can help researchers to manage citations for grants and papers, and share those references with colleagues. We look at why researchers say systems such as Paperpile, EndNote, Mendeley Reference Manager, ReadCube Papers, RefWorks, Sciwheel and Zotero can make work life substantially better. “Having a reference manager versus not having a reference manager is just a sea change,” says paediatric radiologist Michael Francavilla.

Nature | 7 min read

COVID-19’s effects have caused global supply chains to buckle and break — including those that make clean energy cheap. Abandoning them puts the climate at risk, argue public-policy researchers Andreas Goldthau and Llewelyn Hughes. Economic recovery — and laudable efforts to make global trade more just — must not cost us time that we do not have to save the world.

Nature | 9 min read

Image of the week

Quote of the day

All too often, this focus on criticism rather than compassion in peer review is interpreted as a licence to be mean, writes fisheries scientist Jeff Clements. (Nature)

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