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Chinas COVID vaccines are going global but questions remain

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Nature Briefing

Hello Nature readers,
Today we learn why the first genetically modified mosquitoes were released in the United States, discover that the risk of head injury is higher for female soccer players and hear that two of China’s COVID-19 vaccines are being reviewed by the WHO for worldwide use.

A man walks down a road in Florida holding a tray and wearing a shirt that reads 'Mosquito Control' on the back
Biotech firm Oxitec is working closely with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District to monitor the field trial of its genetically modified mosquitoes. (Oxitec 2021)

First GM mosquitoes released in the US

Genetically engineered (GM) mosquitoes have been released into the open air in the United States for the first time. The experiment was launched this week in the Florida Keys, over some local objections. The method aims to suppress populations of wild Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which can carry diseases such as Zika, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. It involves introducing bioengineered males that carry a gene that kills female progeny in early larval stages — and is passed through male offspring to future generations. Oxitec, the firm based in Abingdon, UK, that developed the mosquitoes, has previously field-tested the insects in Brazil, Panama, the Cayman Islands and Malaysia.

Nature | 6 min read

Concussion risk higher for female athletes

Female high-school soccer players are twice as likely as their male counterparts to get a concussion. Researchers analysed survey data from more than 80,000 teenage players across Michigan. Boys were more likely to be removed from play immediately after a suspected head injury than were girls — possibly because a higher proportion of boys were injured by colliding with another player, rather than the ball or a post. “We’re all finding the same thing, females are more predisposed to brain injury than males,” says biomechanics researcher Liz Williams, who investigates similar risks in female rugby players.

Nature | 4 min read
Reference: JAMA Network Open paper

Migration routes of ancient Australians

Scientists have traced the paths that ancient Indigenous Australians probably took as they moved through the mega continent of Sahul some 60,000 years ago. Their models suggest that the first visitors arrived on the shores of western Australia and, within 6,000 years, settled across the entire continent — from the tropical north, now Papua New Guinea, to as far south as Tasmania. Many of the ancient migration routes they modelled seem to match up closely with nineteenth century stock routes and Aboriginal trade lines.

ABC News | 6 min read
Reference: Nature Communications paper & Nature Human Behaviour paper

COVID-19 coronavirus update


China’s COVID vaccines are going global

The World Health Organization (WHO) is considering authorizing two COVID-19 vaccines developed in China for emergency use. One of the two vaccines under review is made by Chinese state-owned firm Sinopharm, and the other is produced by a private company, Sinovac. More than 45 countries have already approved their use, but the WHO is among the first stringent regulatory authorities to review the data. Many questions remain about the vaccines, and published trial data remain scarce. If the WHO backs the vaccines, it could boost desperately needed distribution in lower-income nations through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative.

Nature | 4 min read including a data table of all five vaccines approved for use in China


Key research hit by UK foreign-aid cuts

Reductions to the United Kingdom’s foreign-aid budget have hit more than 800 research projects that address pressing problems in the developing world — including key COVID-19 research. “There can’t be many more important scientific projects today than this,” says epidemiologist Oliver Pybus, whose team has been “working absolutely flat out for 14 months” tracking the genomic changes in the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The issue adds to uncertainty caused by Brexit, which severed the country’s connection to the huge Horizon Europe funding programme.

Nature | 6 min read


DIVIDED BY DOSES. Graphic showing the distribution of the 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines, 25 April 2021.

Features & opinion

The evolution of computational notebooks

Computational notebooks, such as Jupyter, Mathematica and RStudio, combine code, results, text and images in a single document that can be used for iterative data exploration, communication, teaching and more. A growing suite of platforms and tools aims to smooth the rough edges of these notebooks, taking data visualization and collaborative functionality to the next level, with the simplicity of a spreadsheet.

Nature | 8 min read

Scientific success by numbers

In their new book, computational social scientist Dashun Wang and network scientist Albert-László Barabási promise to help scientists to navigate their careers with the help of big-data bibliometrics. But their approach is out of step with a research community that has turned away from problematic indicators that can reify social and demographic biases, writes reviewer Cassidy Sugimoto, an informatician. “Ultimately, Wang and Barabási deliver a dispatch from an era that assumed that science was a meritocracy — despite ample evidence to the contrary,” writes Sugimoto.

Nature | 6 min read

Where I work

Kanta Subbarao in the lab she oversees at The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, Melbourne
Virologist Kanta Subbarao is the director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia. “I’ve done a lot of work on flu and the coronaviruses that cause Middle East respiratory syndrome and severe acute respiratory syndrome, so we were able to quickly set up our containment areas to work with the high-risk live SARS-CoV-2 virus in February 2020,” says Subbarao. “I also oversee a team that does global influenza surveillance.” (Nature | 3 min read) (Daniel Mahon for Nature)

Quote of the day

“Now that the pandemic has elevated scientists’ voice in society, more must learn how best to use that voice to advance the cause of economic, racial and social justice.”

To remedy health disparities, more scientists must ‘get political’, argues a Nature editorial.
Read more: Will COVID force public health to confront America’s epic inequality? (Nature | 23 min read)

On Friday, Leif Penguinson was basking in the hot springs in Abijatta-Shalla National Park, Ethiopia. Did you find the penguin? When you’re ready, here’s the answer.

This newsletter is always evolving — tell us what you think! Please send your feedback to [email protected].

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing
With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty, John Pickrell & Freda Kreier

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