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Researchers have aggregated more than 120,000 scans to create the first comprehensive growth charts for brain development. The charts show how the brain expands and shrinks over time, and could one day be used alongside the height and weight charts that physicians use to track child development. This work has never before been done on such a scale, but the authors call this ‘a first draft’ because their database is not completely inclusive – they struggled to gather brain scans from all regions of the globe. If the charts are eventually rolled out to pediatricians, great care will be needed to ensure that they are not misinterpreted, says pediatric neurologist Hannah Tully. “A big brain is not necessarily a well-functioning brain.”
Nature | 7 min read
Reference: Nature paper
A trio of studies has shown that even people who have had COVID-19 get long-lasting benefits from being fully vaccinated.
• In one study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, researchers found that two doses of vaccine prevented about 65% of expected COVID-19 infections in a group of people who had previously been infected.
• A second study, also in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, found that people who had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 had a 95% reduced risk of infection compared to people with no immunity. That risk was further reduced by two doses of vaccine.
• A third study, published in The New England Journal of Medicinefound that ‘hybrid’ immunity caused by infection and vaccination is long-lasting, protecting against symptomatic disease for six to eight months after infection.
Data for all three studies were collected before the Omicron variant emerged, so more research is needed to determine whether the findings apply to that variant.
Nature | 4 min read
References: The Lancet Infectious Diseases paper 1, The Lancet Infectious Diseases paper 2 & The New England Journal of Medicine paper
Many Western nations are severing scientific links with Russia after the country’s invasion of Ukraine. But it’s a different story in the BRICS, a group of five countries – including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – that work together to promote trade and economic development and have an active program of scientific cooperation. For example, last month, all five governments announced a new partnership on vaccines. Many scientists and research institutions in the countries have condemned the invasion. But many agree with Brazilian Physics Society president Débora Peres Menezes that “scientists should not individually pay the price of war”.
Nature | 8 min read
Researchers who tapped into the network that connects fungi say that its patterns of electrical signals resemble human speech. Previous studies have suggested that fungi use electrical signals to communicate and process information across tiny connective threads called mycelium. In the new study, researchers inserted tiny electrodes into substrates colonized by four species of fungi. They found that spikes of electrical activity often clustered into groups that resembled vocabularies of up to 50 words and could be similar to human language. But some researchers are skeptical. “The interpretation as language seems somewhat overenthusiastic, and would require far more research and testing of critical hypotheses before we see ‘Fungus’ on Google Translate,” says bioscientist Dan Bebber.
The Guardian | 4 min read
Reference: Royal Society Open Science paper
Features & opinion
Throughout much of 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) held tight to the idea that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads through relatively large ‘respiratory’ droplets that contaminate nearby surfaces. It took many months for the agency to acknowledge that the virus could travel on tiny particles called aerosols that can spread widely and linger in the air. And nearly two years passed before the WHO clearly stated that the virus is airborne. That mistake and the prolonged process of correcting it sowed confusion and raises questions about what will happen in the next pandemic.
Nature | 18 min read
The open data revolution will not happen unless the research system values the sharing of data as much as authorship on papers, argues a Nature editorial. “Crediting all those who contribute their knowledge to a research output is a cornerstone of science,” says the editorial. “The prevailing convention – whereby those who make their data open for researchers to use make do with acknowledgment and a citation – needs a rethink.”
Nature | 4 min read
Last month, mathematician Dennis Sullivan won the Abel Prize, the ‘Nobel of mathematics’, for his work on topology. From inauspicious beginnings as a ‘bad student’ in secondary school – “I think it’s because I was actually nearsighted,” he says – Sullivan fell in love with the field as a chemical-engineering undergraduate. “There’s no ambiguity, whereas almost everything else is much woollier and murkier, compared to mathematics,” he says. “There’s some great comfort in that… And it’s very beautiful.”
Scientific American | 6 min read
Read more: Virtuoso mathematician who re-shaped topology wins Abel Prize (Nature | 4 min read)
Today, I’m enjoying the design secrets behind the world’s oldest trousers. The stretchy twill slacks, made in China 3,000 years ago, were worn with a belted poncho, ankle boots and a headband adorned with seashells and bronze discs – coincidentally the exact same outfit that I’m wearing today.
Thanks for reading!
Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing
With contributions by Smriti Mallapaty and Nicky Phillips