Meet the species new to science in 2020

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An artist's concept of NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, drilling on the moon's surface

NASA’s VIPER rover will be equipped with a one-metre-long drill to mine for ice below the Moon’s surface.Credit: Daniel Rutter/NASA Ames

Several upcoming Moon missions will explore, for the first time, its poles. Some scientists are keen to ensure that the ice there is explored without being contaminated, because it holds possible clues to the early history of the Moon and Earth. Others want to mine the ice as fuel for rockets at future lunar bases. “Right now, we’ve got some scientists saying we can’t go anywhere near it because we’re going to ruin it,” says geoscientist Clive Neal. “And others say we need it, so we’re just going to go for it.”

Nature | 8 min read

Researchers were relieved over the news that the United Kingdom and the European Union had reached a last-minute trade deal on 24 December — ending more than four years of uncertainty over their relationship after Brexit. The deal has wide-ranging impacts for scientists — most importantly, it means that UK researchers will take part in Europe’s €85-billion (US$106 billion) flagship research programme, Horizon Europe.

Nature | 7 min read

The fist-sized Jonah’s mouse lemur (Microcebus jonahi) and a mushroom (Cortinarius heatherae) unearthed near one of the world’s busiest airports are among the biological delights freshly described by science over the past year. There is even a newly identified primate species with lush fur and a penetrating gaze: Trachypithecus popa of Myanmar.

Mongabay | 10 min read

COVID-19 vaccine update

News

Critics have raised questions about India’s decision to give emergency approval to a vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech without the results of a phase III trial to determine efficacy and safety. The country has also authorized the AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine. The Bharat vaccine will be used as a “back-up… if there is an emergency need, in clinical trial mode” in case of a surge in a more transmissible variant of the virus, government medical adviser Randeep Guleria told The Indian Express.

Science | 7 min read

News

The future of a long-awaited World Health Organization (WHO) mission to investigate the origins of COVID-19 is uncertain after China refused entry to mission team members. The investigation was set to begin yesterday, but China says their visas have not yet been approved. “I’m very disappointed with this news,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials. And I have once again made it clear that the mission is a priority for WHO and the international team.”

The Guardian | 6 min read

Read more: Meet the scientists investigating the origins of the COVID pandemic (Nature | 5 min read, from December)

Opinion

The United States is long overdue in gathering the data to guide school reopenings, argues economist Emily Oster. She developed the COVID-19 School Response Dashboard, which seeks to collect voluntary data from districts all across the country and to aggregate state-level numbers. Oster urges the new US presidential administration to create centralized guidance for schools and develop a stronger system for tracking cases in the classroom.

Nature | 5 min read

Coronavirus research highlights: 1-minute reads

• The COVID vaccine developed by Moderna, which was authorized by US regulators last month, can provide protection against COVID-19 within two weeks of the first dose, according to the results of a large clinical trial. (Reference: New England Journal of Medicine paper)

• Almost all French COVID cases during the first stage of the pandemic evaded detection despite a nationwide surveillance programme. Researchers modelled transmission between mid-May and late June and found that nine residents with COVID-19 symptoms went undetected for every person confirmed to have the disease. (Reference: Nature paper)

• An analysis of COVID-19 data from 41 countries has identified 3 measures that each substantially cut viral transmission: school and university closures, restricting gatherings to no more than 10 people and shutting businesses. But adding stay-at-home orders to those actions brought only marginal benefit. (Most countries closed schools and universities in quick succession, making it impossible for the team to disentangle the effects of each type of closure.) (Reference: Science paper)

Read more in Nature’s continuously updated selection of key COVID papers and preprints.

Features & opinion

An agreed system for measuring funding of green projects in poorer nations will be crucial to achieving action on climate change in 2021, argues a Nature editorial. The COP26 meeting — widely seen as the world’s last chance to take meaningful, unified action on climate change — is less than a year away. “There needs to be a meeting of minds so that all sides can be confident there is accuracy and accountability,” says United Nations climate finance adviser Selwin Hart.

Nature | 6 min read

Read more: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change urgently needs a definition of what constitutes climate finance, write international climate policy researchers Romain Weikmans, J. Timmons Roberts and Stacy-ann Robinson. (Nature | 2 min read, from December)

A disappointing marathon without spectators made immunologist Taylor Engdahl realize that she’d been relying on outside praise to keep her going during her PhD programme. But external plaudits were too rare during the pandemic to sustain her through the marathon of graduate school. After approaching burn-out, Engdahl shares how she looked inside to find what truly motivates her to do science.

Nature | 4 min read

Quote of the day

Microbiologist and immunologist John Moore highlights the decades of basic research that paved the way for COVID vaccines to be developed in record time. (STAT | 6 min read)

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