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Illustration of a T cell targeting SARS-CoV-2 particles, in blue on a black background..

A T cell targeting coronavirus particles (illustration).Credit: Juan Gaertner/SPL

In the race against emerging coronavirus variants, researchers are looking beyond antibodies for clues to lasting protection against COVID-19. In particular, scientists are hopeful that T cells — a group of immune cells that can target and destroy virus-infected cells — could maintain lasting immunity. Preliminary evidence suggests that the vast majority of T-cell responses are unlikely to be affected by new mutations in the virus. Some coronavirus vaccine developers are already looking at ways to develop next-generation vaccines that stimulate T cells more effectively. “We know the antibodies are likely less effective, but maybe the T cells can save us,” says biotechnology analyst Daina Graybosch.

Nature | 6 min read

Scientists and academics in Russia are protesting against a proposed law change that they say will damage academic freedom and free speech. Lawmakers say the amendment to Russia’s law on education is intended to stop anti-Russian propaganda. It would require academics and educators to get permission from state authorities to do public outreach for educational activities, including those involving science. A petition against the change has drawn more than 200,000 signatures. Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, is scheduled to vote on the change next week. “The proposed amendments are intolerably repressive,” says biologist Mikhail Gelfand.

Nature | 4 min read

Men in permanent scientific jobs in US and Canadian industry and academia get paid more than women do. The US National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates tracked more than 55,700 people who earned PhDs, across many fields, between 2018 and 2019. Among those with a permanent job at hand, men reported an expected median annual salary that was US$22,500 more than what women reported. Men were over-represented in relatively high-paying fields such as computer science and engineering, but disparities persisted even within fields. The gender pay gap almost disappeared in postdoctoral researchers.

Nature | 5 min read

Sponges and other animals have been discovered on a boulder under 900 metres of ice and 500 metres of water in Antarctica. The creatures were spotted by chance by an underwater camera, after researchers drilled through the Filchner-Ronne ice shelf to obtain a sediment core from the sea bed. No sunlight reaches the animals, and they are thought to live on food carried hundreds of kilometres from the nearest light. “Never in a million years would we have thought about looking for this kind of life, because we didn’t think it would be there,” says marine biogeographer Huw Griffiths.

The Guardian | 4 min read

Reference: Frontiers in Marine Science paper

Destination, Mars!

NASA's Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.

The Ingenuity Mars helicopter will scout for places where the Perseverance could roll.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

We are only days away from the landing of the most ambitious Mars rover ever built: NASA’s Perseverance mission. If it reaches the surface safely on 18 February, the US$2.7-billion, plutonium-powered, 1,025-kilogram rover will spend at least one Mars year — nearly two Earth years — exploring a landscape where an ancient river flowed into a lake that might have hosted Martian life. It can deploy a 1.8-kilogram helicopter, called Ingenuity, to scout ahead for places where it could roll. If successful, Ingenuity will be the first craft to make a controlled flight on another planet. Perseverance will also use microphones to capture Mars’s sounds for the first time.

Nature | 6 min read (from July)

Last week, the United Arab Emirates’ Mars Hope orbiter and China’s Tianwen-1 rover successfully entered Mars orbit. On 18 February, NASA’s Perseverance rover will aim to land in Mars’s Jezero Crater. Download a poster-sized infographic packed with information about the three missions to Mars.

Features & opinion

Immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett is one of the scientists who helped to develop the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19. Now she is taking on another challenge: tempering vaccine hesitancy by talking about COVID-19 science in communities of colour. Her packed schedule includes beaming into virtual events at churches and community gatherings to talk about vaccine science and tweeting about virus biology and vaccine misinformation. “I could never sleep at night if I developed anything — if any product of my science came out — and it did not equally benefit the people that look like me,” she says.

Nature | 6 min read

Less than 2% of human genomes analysed so far have been those of African people, despite the fact that Africa, where humans originated, contains more genetic diversity than any other continent. “A rough estimate for capturing the full scope of Africa’s genetic variation would require sequencing some three million individuals, carefully selected across Africa to cover ethnolinguistic, regional and other groups,” writes geneticist Ambroise Wonkam. He outlines the ambitious Three Million African Genomes project, which aims to do just that.

Nature | 10 min read

Postdoctoral researchers Flávia Viana and Ana Teles give volunteer science talks to children in their native language, Portuguese. For Viana, it’s a way of reigniting a love for science and a challenge to translate concepts she learned in English into Portuguese. For Teles, it is a pleasant break from her working language, German. “It was a joy to speak about science in my native language — something I’m rarely able to do,” she writes.

Nature | 6 min read

Infographic of the week

Deep impact. Graphic showing number of publications by gene across the years.

Source: Barabási Lab

Twenty years ago, the publication of the first drafts of the human genome launched a new era in biological discovery. Enjoy a glittering, chandelier-like visualization of human genome data in a new analysis of its effects on publications, drug approvals and understanding of disease. (Nature | 9 min read)

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