Daily briefing: How bats live with coronaviruses that are deadly to humans

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US President Donald Trump walks through a row of white pillars into the Rose Garden at the White House

The Trump administration has accused China of stealing US intellectual property.Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

The US government’s crackdown on foreign interference at universities is making the United States less attractive to Chinese scientists, say research leaders. Issues include strict visa restrictions and investigations and arrests of researchers who hold grants from government agencies. “I’m trying to convince these people not to go back [to China]. If it wasn’t for immigrant scientists, we would be a second-tier STEM country,” says physicist Stephen Chu.

Nature | 4 min read

With water temperatures on the rise, sea creatures need to head to cooler waters — but warming water is causing some of them to head in the wrong direction. In the northwest Atlantic Ocean, slow-moving snails, sand dollars, mussels and other creatures with drifting larvae are spawning earlier, triggered by warmer seas. Unfortunately, that’s when winds and currents are aligned to drive them into even hotter waters. The result is that the ranges of once-abundant species are shrinking.

Science | 6 min read

Reference: Nature Climate Change paper

COVID-19 coronavirus update

An animation showing the subunits of the coronavirus spike protein opening, and the position of the D614G mutation.

‘Closed’ and ‘open’ conformations of the spike protein on SARS-CoV-2, which binds to receptors on human cells. A common mutation (circled) seems to make the protein favour open conformations, which might mean the virus can enter cells more easily.Source: Structural data from K. Shen & J. Luban

What mutations mean for the pandemic

Researchers still have more questions than answers about coronavirus mutations, and no one has yet found any change in SARS-CoV-2 that should raise public-health concerns. Sequencing data suggest that coronaviruses, in general, change more slowly than most other RNA viruses. But SARS-CoV-2 is changing: a mutation known as D614G has gone from a rare variant to present in almost all samples of the virus worldwide. (Despite early concerns, there’s no clear evidence that D614G makes the virus more contagious.) Studying mutations in detail helps researchers to understand how the virus is spreading and how susceptible it is to vaccines, antibody therapies and the human immune system.

Nature | 15 min read

We can all learn from Senegal

Despite limited resources, Senegal is topping rankings of countries that have tackled the coronavirus well. The country has only around 7 doctors per 100,000 people (in the United States and United Kingdom, it’s closer to 300), but has so far kept its outbreak in check with quick action, preparedness and an emphasis on testing and contact tracing.

USA Today | 4 min read

How bats keep coronaviruses at bay

Ebola, SARS, MERS, COVID-19: the roll call of diseases that have passed from bats to humans (often through an intermediate animal host) reads like a who’s who of recent outbreaks. “Viruses are much more virulent when they spread to humans from bats than from other mammals,” says evolutionary biologist Bernard Crespi. “Yet they seem to do little harm to the bats themselves.” Understanding how bats tame viruses that humans can’t could help us to conquer the coronavirus.

Financial Times | 9 min read

Features & opinion

Last year, scientists released a report that fleshed out a ‘global deal for nature’, outlining what governments must do to have a hope of saving ecosystems and limiting global warming. Leaders around the world must fully protect 30% of Earth’s surface and sustainably manage another 20% by 2030. Now, researchers have published a follow-up called the global safety net, which identifies the exact regions on land that must be protected to achieve the deal’s goals. Increasing existing protected areas from about 15% of land to 17.3% — in the right places — could save our planet’s rarest plant and animal species within five years, writes conservation scientist Greg Asner. Bumping that up to 50% can “save our planet’s rich biodiversity, prevent future pandemics and meet the Paris climate target”, says Asner. Much of this land is in Russia, the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Canada, Australia and China.

The Conversation | 5 min read

Learn about the global safety net in a 3-minute video from the researchers.

Reference: Science Advances paper

“Around the world, democracy is losing ground,” assert Science editors Tage Rai and Brad Wible in the introduction to the journal’s special issue on the state of democracy. From online activism to artificial-intelligence-powered gerrymandering, the twenty-first century has put the system under never-before-seen pressures. In the run-up to the US presidential election in November, the collection offers insights into the challenges and opportunities for what Winston Churchill called “the worst form of Government except for all those other[s]”.

Science | 4 min read and 8 pieces of related content

When it comes to quantum physics, what — if anything — reflects reality? (If reality exists at all.) Chemist and science writer Jim Baggott tackles that thorny question in a remarkably thorough and enlightening book, writes reviewer Sabine Hossenfelder. The book doesn’t require a background in the field, but even Hossenfelder, a quantum physicist, discovered new insights in its pages. “Indeed, in Quantum Reality I found a more comprehensible explanation of the Penrose-Hameroff conjecture (that the origin of consciousness is coherent quantum states of microtubules in the human brain) than I have heard from both Penrose and Hameroff themselves,” she writes.

Nautilus | 7 min read

Quote of the day

Neuroscientist Tara Spires-Jones joins 17 others in the field to reflect on what’s next for brain science on the 20th anniversary of the launch of Nature Reviews Neuroscience. (52 min read)

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