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Aerial photograph of 'the tree of life' created from tea tree oil in a lake

Credit: Derry Moroney Photography

While taking aerial photos with his drone, Australian photographer Derry Moroney came across these massive, tree-like patterns in Lake Cakora in New South Wales. The colourful drainage channels form when water full of oil from the surrounding tea trees (Melaleuca alternifolia) runs into the lake. The photos were taken after several days of storms. “When I first saw it, I thought it was a tree of life,” Moroney told BBC News. “Every couple of weeks, when we have different weather, it totally changes.”See more of the month’s sharpest science shots, selected by Nature’s photo team.

Nature | Leisurely scroll

Researchers are working to make sense of a new era of disinformation personified by the rise of the conspiracy theory QAnon. By taking QAnon’s fringe ideas mainstream, former US president Donald Trump taught new and dangerous lessons about manipulating social and mass media. The Capitol riot was “this physical manifestation of all of these digital characters we’ve been studying”, says Kate Starbird, a social scientist who investigates the spread of disinformation on social media. “To see all of that come alive in real time was horrifying, but not surprising.” Many researchers say it’s already clear that new regulations will be needed to govern the Internet, tech giants and the content that their users post online.

Nature | 7 min read

Disinformation crackdown. Graphic depicts the effects of the 70,000+ purge on a network of politically influential accounts.

Source: Andrew Beers/Center for an Informed Public/University of Washington

A cacophony of artificial noise is drowning the ocean’s natural soundscape to a degree that threatens marine animals’ ability to flourish and survive. Natural sound is key for ocean dwellers to navigate their underwater habitats and communicate with each other. Noise pollution from sources including shipping, construction and sonar surveys can hamper sea creatures’ delicate senses of hearing and orientation.

Ecowatch | 5 min read

Reference: Science paper

COVID-19 coronavirus update

News

South Africa has suspended its roll-out of the Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID vaccine after a trial involving about 2,000 young, healthy people found that it was not sufficiently effective against mild to moderate disease. The country is facing a widespread variant of SARS-CoV-2 known as B.1.351, which appears to somewhat decrease the efficacy of some vaccines. The news heightens concerns about B.1.351, but researchers remain hopeful that the vaccine prevents severe disease and death: no study participants developed severe COVID, whether they received the vaccine or a placebo.

Science | 6 min read

Podcast

Around the world, concern is growing about the impact that new, faster spreading SARS-CoV-2 variants will have on the pandemic. In this episode of Coronapod, Nature’s Benjamin Thompson, Noah Baker and Amy Maxmen discuss what these variants are and the best way to respond to them, in the face of increasing evidence that some can evade the immunity produced by vaccination or previous infection.

Nature Coronapod Podcast | 18 min listen

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Notable quotable

Medical sociologist Thomas LaVeist and 59 fellow members of the US National Academy of Medicine urge Black people in the United States to disregard disinformation and get vaccinated against COVID-19. (The New York Times | 4 min read)

SKIPPER’S PICKS: NOTES FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

COVID-19 vaccines offer much-needed protection from disease, but there has so far been no evidence of whether they also curb transmission. When a preprint announced that people who got the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine were less likely to carry the virus, the finding got extrapolated and people began to say this vaccine could prevent transmission. STAT offers a good analysis of why that inference is a leap too far. Caution is crucial in interpreting research findings at any time; it is all the more important during a pandemic.

Magdalena Skipper, Nature editor-in-chief

STAT | 7 min read

Features & opinion

Written grant proposals are inefficient to prepare and review, and scoring is notoriously unreliable, argue bioengineer Michael Doran, chemist William Lott, statistician Adrian Barnett, science-communication researcher Joan Leach and scientific-reproducibility researcher John Ioannidis. It’s time to consider audio-visual alternatives, they write.

Nature | 6 min read

While the coronavirus continues to surge globally, cases of the flu and other respiratory viruses have dwindled. Since late last year, some 800,000 samples have been tested for the flu in laboratories across the United States, and only 1,500 have been positive — close to 100 times fewer than those identified last year from a similar number of tests. Flu viruses have temporarily gone into hiding, and scientists aren’t sure when, and in what form, they will return.

The Atlantic | 9 min read

Quote of the day

Particle physicist Melissa Franklin celebrates the fact that physicist Chien-Shiung Wu, who was controversially overlooked for a Nobel prize, will be honoured on a US postage stamp. (Science | 6 min read)



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