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China’s coronavirus vaccines face hurdles despite early success

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Nature Briefing

Hello Nature readers,
Today we ponder the bizarre mating behaviour of anglerfish, catch up with efforts to produce a coronavirus vaccine and find out why skin grows bigger as you stretch it.

A large female deep-sea anglerfish with a small male fused to her body.
A female deep-sea anglerfish of the species Melanocetus johnsonii, with a male fused to her body. (Edith A. Widder)

Weird immunity allows anglerfish to mate

Genetic analysis has shed light on the notoriously bizarre mating ritual of the anglerfish. When these deep-sea fish mate, the male fuses its tissues with those of the much-larger female. For decades, scientists have been puzzled about how individuals are able to merge without triggering an immune response. Now, genetic tests on museum specimens and preserved anglerfish have shown that species that fuse to their mates lack genes that are important for the formation of key parts of the immune system. “It’s been an enigma, and it’s wonderful to think that we’ve finally got an answer,” says evolutionary biologist Ted Pietsch.

Wired | 6 min read
Reference: Science paper

Hundreds of papers link US university research and Chinese military

Over 250 papers published between 2013 and 2019 resulted from collaborations between US researchers and scientists affiliated with Chinese institutions for military research, according to a report published by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. The collaborations, which covered topics from naval engineering to materials science, involved Chinese institutions linked to the People’s Liberation Army. The report’s authors say that such collaborations “compromised US national and economic security, and undermined the integrity of US research”. The Chinese institutions involved in the collaborations do not have names indicating their military affiliations — and, in some cases, researchers tried to hide the military ties, the report says.

Wall Street Journal | 5 min read
Reference: Hoover Institution report

COVID-19 coronavirus update

An engineer working on an experimental vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus
Chinese companies have made several vaccines that are currently being trialled. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty)

China vaccines face hurdles

Chinese companies are leading global efforts to create a vaccine for the coronavirus, with more than half a dozen candidates in clinical development. The speed at which vaccine-makers are moving has raised hopes around the world. But as several potential vaccines enter phase III trials, a crucial stage of testing that is needed to prove efficacy and secure approval from regulators, companies could struggle to enrol enough trial participants, or to gather enough data to convince regulatory agencies that the shots work.
Nature | 5 min read

Tough times ahead for universities

A survey of 200 university administrators worldwide about the effects of COVID-19 on institutional finances paints an uncertain future for early-career academic researchers. The survey, conducted by the London-based publication Times Higher Education, finds that 12% of respondents are planning redundancies for faculty members and staff in the next 6 months, with 19% planning furloughs or compulsory paid leave, and 12% planning pay cuts.
Nature | 5 min read

Notable quotable

“You can think of the human immune system as an orchestra playing together and needing a co-ordinated performance from all the musicians and their instruments.”

Scientists studying the body’s response to COVID-19 need to consider all parts of the immune system, says Tom Evans, chief scientist at biotechnology firm Vaccitech. (Financial Times | 5 min read)

Features & opinion

Why we don’t yet have self-driving cars

The technology to enable a car to complete a journey without human input is advancing rapidly. But there are still fundamental challenges to be overcome. Software engineer John McDermid explains five of the biggest remaining obstacles to producing safe, fully autonomous vehicles. These include the thorny issues of regulation and social acceptability as well as technical challenges. “There is, of course, a race to be the first company to introduce a fully self-driving car,” McDermid says. “But without collaboration on how we make the car safe, provide evidence of that safety, and work with regulators and the public to get a ‘stamp of approval’, these cars will remain on the test track for years to come.”

The Conversation | 5 min read

Podcast: Why skin grows as you stretch it

For decades it’s been known that stretching skin causes more skin to grow, but the reasons why have been a mystery. On this week’s Nature Podcast, we hear from researchers who have uncovered a mechanism to explain the phenomenon.

Nature Podcast | 30 min listen
Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.
Click to listen

Where I work

Sheila Rowan stands reflected in a mirror
Experimental physicist Sheila Rowan works with laser beams and suspended mirrors to sharpen the detection of collapsing stars and other celestial events. “Here, in my laboratory at the University of Glasgow, UK, I’m reflected in a mirror attached to glass fibres,” she says. “By measuring how laser light at two different frequencies reflects off the interface between the mirror and the glass, just as my image does off the mirror, we can work out the thickness of the bond and other properties that are important for designing optical systems.” (Nature | 3 min read) (Kieran Dodds for Nature)

Quote of the day

“Seeing these temperature records go down like sweaty skittles is a stark reminder that climate change is still tightening its grip on all our futures.”

Climate scientist Dave Reay says that climate change is having an increasing impact on weather conditions in the United Kingdom. (The Guardian | 3 min read)

This week, Leif Penguinson is paying a visit to this pile of coconuts on the island of La Digue in the Seychelles. Can you spot the penguin?

The answer will be in Monday’s e-mail, all thanks to Briefing photo editor and penguin wrangler Tom Houghton.

Emma Stoye, news editor, Nature
With contributions by Nicky Phillips and David Cyranoski

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