Daily briefing: Three things all governments and their science advisers must do now to fight COVID-19

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Composite of Hillel Furstenberg of Hebrew University and Gregory Margulis of Yale

Hillel Furstenberg (left) and Gregory Margulis were jointly awarded the 2020 Abel Prize.Credit: Yosef Adest, Dan Renzetti

Two mathematicians who used randomness to cast new light on the certainties of mathematics will share the 2020 Abel Prize — one of the field’s most prestigious awards. Hillel Furstenberg and Gregory Margulis won “for pioneering the use of methods from probability and dynamics in group theory, number theory and combinatorics”, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced today. Each of them bridged gaps between diverse areas of maths, solving problems that had seemed beyond reach.

Nature | 5 min read

Researchers have found “a dream reaction” that should make it easier and cheaper to insert ‘magic methyl’ groups into many drugs. The magic methyl effect drastically increases the potency of bioactive molecules by replacing single hydrogen atoms with methyl groups. The resulting reshaped molecule interacts more easily with its biological targets. “This paper is just stunning,” says organic chemist Tim Cernak. “This is the wish [of] every drug hunter.”

Science | 5 min read

Reference: Nature paper

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

A man wearing a mask sells breakfast to nurses behind a makeshift barricade wall in Wuhan, China.

Social distancing has been used to halt the transmission of the coronavirus in China.Credit: Getty

• Countries with escalating outbreaks are eager to learn whether China’s extreme lockdowns were responsible for bringing the crisis there under control. The crucial question is which interventions in China were the most important in driving down the spread of the virus. In this explainer, epidemiologists discuss what happened after the lockdown, what China could have done better, whether travel bans were effective and the lessons for other countries. (Nature | 7 min read)

• For the past month, South Korean residents have been receiving flurries of emergency text messages from authorities, alerting them to the movements of local people with COVID-19. Epidemiologists say that detailed information about infected people’s movements is crucial for tracking and controlling the epidemic, but some question the wisdom of making those data public. (Nature | 5 min read)

LitCovid is a curated list of research articles about the coronavirus in PubMed, updated daily. The list is maintained by researchers associated with the US National Institutes of Health and links to 1,200 (and growing) papers, case reports and news stories, organized into helpful categories. (Nature | 1 min read)

• In many countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, governments have been making crucial decisions in secret and making announcements before publishing the evidence on which their decisions are based. “This is not how governments should work,” argues a Nature editorial. “The secrecy must end.” Nature calls on governments and their science advisers to follow World Health Organization advice, end secrecy in decision-making and cooperate globally. (Nature | 5 min read)

Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature.

15

The number of sign-language names for the coronavirus — Brazil alone uses at least three. In a letter to Nature, researchers call on the World Health Organization to create an international signing convention for the virus and the disease it causes.

Notable quotable

Molecular biologist Nevan Krogan is one of hundreds of scientists in an ambitious international collaboration that has identified 50 drugs that might be effective treatments for COVID-19. (The New York Times | 7 min read)

Features & opinion

Is our Universe geometrically flat — as it appears to us humble humans at first glance when we gaze into the night sky — or are we mere ants crawling over a spherical or hyperbolic shape? An infographic-packed feature walks us through the fantastic possibilities.

Quanta | 11 min read

Crowdfunding is gaining momentum as a way to finance scientific research, particularly among early-career researchers and in fields where grants are sparse. Three scientists who have successfully crowdfunded their own research share some lessons. The researchers raised funds in just 30 days on the largest dedicated crowdfunding platform for scientific research, Experiment.com.

Nature | 5 min read

Quote of the day

Ecologist Daniella Teixeira found blackened trees and melted nest boxes when she returned to the bushfire-ravaged site on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, where she studied glossy black cockatoos. She joins the call for better strategies to support mental health for climate scientists. (Nature Index)

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