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A woman wears a mask whilst carrying a child at a ferry terminal in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Evidence from a huge trial in Bangladesh appears to show that masks work to slow the spread of COVID-19, and surgical masks work better than cloth ones.(Syed Mahamudur Rahman/NurPhoto via Getty)

A huge randomized study offers evidence that wearing masks reduces the spread of COVID-19, and that surgical masks work even better than cloth ones. The ambitious study involved more than 340,000 people in 600 villages in Bangladesh. Villages and households were randomly assigned to receive free cloth or surgical masks and other mask-promotion strategies, or no interventions at all. Researchers observed the impact on people’s behaviour at hotspots such as tea stalls and markets. Participants were quizzed about any coronavirus symptoms, and symptomatic individuals were tested for SARS-CoV-2 infection.

The interventions tripled the proportion of people who wore masks correctly. Overall, in the villages where the team distributed masks, symptomatic infections were 9.3% lower. Where surgical masks were given out, the results were even better: infections dropped by 11%. Older people benefited most: symptomatic COVID-19 in people over 60 went down by 35% in the villages using surgical masks.

NBC News | 5 min read

Reference: Innovations for Poverty Action preprint (not peer reviewed)

A cross-party group of UK parliamentarians is urging the government to increase the diversity of the nation’s workforce in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). “Diversity is not an optional add-on, it is an economic imperative,” says MP Chi Onwurah. “It needs to be at the heart of policy, because we cannot build a more prosperous economy without making use of the talents of everyone.”

Nature | 5 min read

Watch out diamond — another super-hard material has arrived. Researchers crushed buckminsterfullerene C60 under high temperatures and pressure to create a disordered carbon material that is so hard that it scratches diamond. It also has a similar strength to its sparkly carbon cousin and acts as a semiconductor similar to silicon.

Chemistry World | 3 min read

Reference: National Science Review paper

Features & opinion

Since the Taliban’s takeover, organizations that help refugee scholars have been calling on universities abroad to accept scientists who are able to leave. But those who stay need the support of the international research community, argues a Nature editorial. This can be done by organizing research opportunities in ‘neutral’ countries — those that are not party to a conflict. For example, researchers could be invited to the Jordan-based synchrotron radiation source, SESAME, which is designed explicitly to support researchers in countries that have difficult international relations. And countries will have to take on the difficult task of maintaining some minimal lines of communication with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

Nature | 4 min read

A research philosophy can help laboratory leaders to craft the scope of programmes, mentor students, collaborate and determine the impact they want their work to have. “Having a set of values, and knowing what matters to me, makes it easier to make decisions,” says evolutionary biologist Sonal Singhal. Encounters with students and the people affected by research can both influence how your own philosophy evolves, say four lab leaders.

Nature | 10 min read

In March, Jacob Hanna’s group at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, doubled the time that mouse embryos can be cultured in the laboratory, from day 5.5 to day 11 (roughly equivalent to human days 13–30). The feat helped propel him to the top of Prospect’s list of the ‘world’s top thinkers’ of 2021. “In our field we’re working at the cusp of ethics,” says Hanna. “People always like to say you’re ‘playing God… but we are [just] trying to understand organ growth and avoid developmental defects.”

Prospect | 7 min read

Read more: What the end to the 14-day limit means for lab-grown human embryos (Nature | 12 min read)

News & views

Ten years ago, no dated archaeological sites more than 10,000 years old had been recorded in the three million square kilometres of the Arabian Peninsula, despite it being the gateway from Africa to Asia. New research adds to an explosion of knowledge about how early humans moved across the region, writes archaeologist Robin Dennell. Artefacts from Saudi Arabia, which correspond to five periods of occupation during brief ‘green’ windows of reduced aridity, reveal more about how humans repeatedly dispersed from Africa onto the Arabian Peninsula and perhaps onwards to Asia and Australia.

Nature | 7 min read

This News & Views article is available to readers with subscriber access to Nature. Click here for help getting logged in with your institution’s subscription.

Reference: Nature paper

Quote of the day

Autistic PhD researcher Anya Lawrence says that pandemic videoconferencing has brought her closer to her colleagues and others in the world of science. (Nature | 6 min read)



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