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An employee holds boxes on the production line of the Simcere Pharmaceutical Group COVID-19 medicine

Boxes of the COVID-19 drug simnotrelvir are displayed at a manufacturing facility in Nanjing, China.Credit: VCG via Getty

A drug called simnotrelvir speeds up recovery from mild to moderate COVID-19 by about 1.5 days, relieving symptoms such as fever, cough and runny nose. In a trial in more than 600, mostly young, people, SARS-CoV-2 levels in participants who had taken the drug dropped 30 times more after five days than in those who had received a placebo. Whether it can help people who are at high risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 is still unclear.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: New England Journal of Medicine paper

The bubonic plague, which killed up to six in ten people in Europe, doesn’t seem to have had a lasting impact on the DNA of the people of medieval Cambridge. The finding contradicts an earlier study that suggested certain immune gene variants had a protective effect in people who survived the Black Death. “Because it’s such a devastating event, people naturally expect it will leave some genetic signature,” says population geneticist Ruoyun Hui, a co-author of the latest study. Firm answers on the Black Death’s impact will probably require many more than the few hundred ancient-human genomes analysed in these studies.

Nature | 4 min read

Reference: Science Advances paper

An artificial-intelligence (AI) tool called AlphaGeometry can solve geometry problems almost as well as school students who won gold medals in the International Mathematical Olympiad. The system was trained from scratch with millions of machine-generated geometry theorems and proofs, which meant it avoided the problem of nonsensical reasoning that other large language models have. To actually win a maths Olympiad medal, AlphaGeometry would have to become equally good at the other disciplines competitors need to excel at, such as number theory.

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Nature paper

The number of pirate attacks on the high seas has dropped to its lowest point in more than a decade. An analysis of piracy over a 15-year period shows that it rose steeply in the mid-2000s, peaking in 2011 at around 500 attacks a year. A rise in civil conflict and famine at the time, as well as economic turmoil, might have pushed people in regions such as East Africa into a life of crime, the study’s authors suggest. “Piracy happens offshore,” says political scientist Jessica Di Salvatore. “But its causes and effects are tightly intertwined with onshore conditions.”

Nature | 5 min read

Reference: Ocean and Coastal Management paper

PIRACY HOTSPOTS. Map identifies areas where piracy attacks have been most frequent.

Source: Ref. 1

Features & opinion

Table of Contents

From Monday to Thursday, Andrew Lincowski is a US police detective. On Fridays, he looks for signs of life on planets beyond the Solar System. Lincowski’s career has been characterized by drastic changes: from accounting student to patrol officer, from astrobiologist to detective. He argues that police and academic work complement each other: he isn’t fazed by giving conference presentations because he says it is not unlike giving evidence in court, and writing a scientific paper isn’t dissimilar to writing a crime-scene report. This month, Lincowski has made yet another career switch, this time into teaching.

Nature | 8 min read

Researchers are baffled and deflated by Norway’s decision to permit sea-bed mining, a controversial practice with uncertain consequences for deep-sea ecosystems. The move breaks a promise to the Ocean Panel, a group of 18 nations that in 2018 pledged to sustainably manage their ocean areas, argues a Nature editorial. If the Norwegian government is unable to reverse its decision, it “should acknowledge that [it] has lost any claim to be an ocean-protection leader”.

Nature | 5 min read

Sun watchers are gearing up for an exciting year as our star’s magnetic activity reaches the peak of an 11-year cycle. Here’s what to look out for in 2024:

The most intense activity since 2003 when solar storms created dazzling aurora, disrupted satellites and caused radio blackouts.

Possible sightings of an extreme geomagnetic storm. Solar storms are ranked from G1 to G5. There was at least one G4 storm last year. Will we see a G5 this year?

A total solar eclipse crossing over North America on April 8 will offer a chance to observe elaborate corona ejections.

The Washington Post | 7 min read

Quote of the day

Computer scientist and mathematician Lenore Blum said it took her a long time to realize that luck shouldn’t be a factor in getting accepted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which she was told at the time “is not a place for women”. (Quanta | 10 min read)

Today, I’m imagining picking up the phone — not to call anyone but to listen to birdsong. Pick up the bright yellow receiver on this free public phone in Takoma Park, Maryland, and select one of 10 birds such as the yellow-crowned night heron or red-tailed hawk.

You can’t call us but you can e-mail us with your feedback at briefing@nature.com.

Thanks for reading,

Katrina Krämer, associate editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Sarah Tomlin

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