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A rare apples-to-apples comparison suggests that the Pfizer–BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines outperform those from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. The data, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, provide a finely detailed picture of the immune response to each vaccine — which could be useful for designing future vaccines. “This is not meant to proclaim winners and losers,” says immunologist and study co-author Alessandro Sette. It’s just “a comprehensive evaluation of the different variables”.
Nature | 4 min read
Reference: bioRxiv preprint
Sequencing SARS-CoV-2 genomes has allowed scientists to track how the coronavirus is spreading, but many countries aren’t sharing all their data. An analysis of viral genome data uploaded to public repositories from the beginning of the pandemic to October last year found that 23 countries had uploaded fewer than half of their sequences from the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants. One possible reason why is the repercussions of being the first country to report a new variant of concern. “Most countries that share those data usually are made to suffer for it,” says Nnaemeka Ndodo from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
Nature | 4 min read
Reference: Nature Genetics paper
An artificial intelligence (AI) called Ithaca is able to predict missing text in ancient Greek inscriptions. Ithaca is trained on thousands of existing inscriptions to suggest text to fill the gaps in fragmented writing. Its suggestions tend to match those previously made by academics.
Nature | 7 min video
Reference: Nature paper
Features & opinion
Evidence suggesting a link between multiple sclerosis (MS) and the Epstein–Barr virus (EBV) raises the tantalizing prospect of antivirals and vaccines that could treat or prevent the condition. It could take decades before an EBV-directed intervention proves to be a way to stave off MS. But interest is high, even beyond the MS community, because the spectre of long COVID has focused attention on the roots of post-viral diseases. Key will be the painstakingly collected biological samples stored in large biobanks, such as the one maintained by the US Department of Defense, which fuelled recent discoveries.
Nature | 11 min read
The proportion of adults infected with the Epstein–Barr virus — although only a tiny proportion develops MS.
Radiobiologist Vadim Chumak studies the health effects of radiation exposure in Ukraine, including the repercussions of the Chernobyl disaster. He says that his biggest radiological concern triggered by the Russian invasion is the spent fuel being stored at the country’s Zaporizhzhia reactor. Although the reactors are housed in extremely resilient buildings, “the spent fuel assembly storage was never designed to be attacked by tanks or missiles”. Ukraine’s radiation-monitoring networks are offline, but an increase in dose rates recorded at the Chernobyl site before they were disconnected is concerning. “The most plausible explanation is that tanks disturbed radioactive material on the ground,” says Chumak. “It’s stupid from the ecological point of view, and the global point of view. At the local level it’s very dangerous and stupid.”
MIT Technology Review | 9 min read
See more: Vadim Chumak speaks about his experiences as a scientist in Ukraine and the radiological risks (University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine | 1 hour video, from 15 March)
Climate change could make landslides more likely to happen, by creating more extreme rain events, more powerful wildfires and rising sea levels. Rain reduces the strength of soil to a point where it fails and slides away. Wildfires can destroy stabilizing vegetation. The hottest fires might even change the soil structure, so that if heavy rainfall follows, it separates the upper layers of soil from those below, resulting in fast-moving landslides. Rising sea levels can destabilize slopes. And all of these factors together can combine with the expansion of human settlements into dangerous areas.
The Atlantic | 7 min read