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The Nature Podcast brings you the best stories from the world of science each week. We cover everything from astronomy to zoology, highlighting the most exciting research from each issue of Nature journal. We meet the scientists behind the results and providing in-depth analysis from Nature's journalists and editors.
June 18, 2021
CureVac disappoints in COVID vaccine trial
After a slew of wildly successful vaccine trials, this week marked a more underwhelming result. The third mRNA vaccine to complete phase three trials, developed by CureVac, is just 47% effective at staving off disease according to preliminary data. This is a stark contrast with previous mRNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer BioNtec which returned around twice that efficacy in their trials. In this episode of Coronapod, we ask why the CureVac vaccine has faltered, and what this might mean for the future of the pandemic and mRNA vaccine development. News: CureVac COVID vaccine let-down spotlights mRNA design challenges News Feature: How COVID unlocked the power of RNA vaccines Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
June 11, 2021
Coronapod: Counting the cost of long COVID
The global burden of COVID-19 has predominantly been measured using metrics like case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths. But the long term health impacts are more difficult to capture. In this episode of Coronapod we discuss one way that public health experts are trying to get to grips with the problem using metrics such as disability adjusted life years (DALYs) and quality adjusted life years (QALYs). As new data suggests that COVID could leave millions with lasting disability or ill-health, we ask how changing the lens through which we asses the impacts of COVID could change public health policies, the perception of risk and even the behaviour of individuals. News Feature: The four most urgent questions about long COVID Comment: Count the cost of disability caused by COVID-19 Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
June 9, 2021
Google AI beats humans at designing computer chips
An AI that designs computer chips in hours, and zooming in on DNA’s complex 3D structures. In this episode: 00:46 An AI computer microchip designer Working out where to place the billions of components that a modern computer chip needs can take human designers months and, despite decades of research, has defied automation. This week, however, a team from Google report a new machine learning algorithm that does the job in a fraction of the time, and is already helping design their next generation of AI processors. Research Article: Mirhoseini et al. News and Views: AI system outperforms humans in designing floorplans for microchips Editorial: Google is using AI to speed up microchip design — a welcome advance that must be handled with care 07:00 Research Highlights The blood proteins that may help assess cardiovascular fitness, and how the rock-hard teeth of a mollusc could inspire stronger 3D-printed materials. Research Highlight: How fit can you get? These blood proteins hold a clue Research Highlight: The surprise hidden in the teeth of the ‘wandering meatloaf’ 09:47 Zooming in on the 3D structure of DNA In order to switch genes on, DNA often needs to twist up into complex 3D shapes, bringing distant parts of a genome together. Understanding precisely which sections come into contact has been difficult, but now a new technique is helping to reveal them at an individual base-pair level. Research paper: Hua et al. 15:22 Briefing Chat We discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, the missing sections from the human genome sequence that have now been filled, and NASA announces two missions to Venus. Stat: Researchers claim they have sequenced the entirety of the human genome — including the missing parts National Geographic: NASA will head to Venus for first time in roughly 30 years Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
June 4, 2021
Coronapod: Uncertainty and the COVID 'lab-leak' theory
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been allegations that SARS-CoV-2 could have originated in a Chinese lab. A phase one WHO investigation concluded that a 'lab-leak' was "extremely unlikely" and yet, the theory has seen a resurgence in recent weeks with several scientists wading into the debate. In this episode of Coronapod, we delve into what scientists have been saying and ask how and why the 'lab-leak' hypothesis has gained so much traction. We ask if the way we communicate complex and nuanced science could be fuelling division, and what the fallout could be for international collaboration on ending the pandemic. News: Divisive COVID ‘lab leak’ debate prompts dire warnings from researchers Science: Investigate the origins of COVID-19 Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
May 19, 2021
The 'zombie' fires that keep burning under snow-covered forests
Smouldering fires lay dormant before bursting back into flame in spring. 07:39 Research Highlights Aesthetic bias means pretty plants receive the most research attention, and ancient tooth gunk reveals the evolution of the mouth microbiome. Research Highlight: Flashy plants draw outsize share of scientists’ attention Research Highlight: Microbes in Neanderthals’ mouths reveal their carb-laden diet 10:04 Briefing Chat We discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, Voyager 1 detects a faint interstellar ‘hum’, and a trove of Neanderthal bones found in an Italian cave. Reuters: Faraway NASA probe detects the eerie hum of interstellar space The Guardian: Remains of nine Neanderthals found in cave south of Rome Video: Hawaii’s surprise volcanic eruption: Lessons from Kilauea 2018
May 14, 2021
Coronapod: The variant blamed for India's catastrophic second wave
Over the past few weeks, India has been experiencing a devastating second wave of COVID-19, recording hundreds of thousands of new cases a day. Evidence is growing that a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus known as B.1.617, first detected in India in October, may be driving this wave. On this week’s Coronapod we talk about the race to learn more about B.1.617, with early results suggesting it may be more transmissible and could cause more severe disease. News: Coronavirus variants are spreading in India — what scientists know so far
May 7, 2021
Coronapod: Waiving vaccine patents and coronavirus genome data disputes
In surprise news this week, the US government announced its support for waiving patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines, in an effort to boost supplies around the world.As fewer than 1% of people living in low-income countries have received COVID-19 vaccines, it is hoped that this move is a major step towards addressing this inequity by allowing manufacturers to legally produce generic versions of vaccines. We discuss the next steps that need to be taken to make this a reality, and why there is opposition to the plan. Also on the podcast, we look at another aspect of coronavirus inequity: the sharing of genomic data. Around the world, researchers are racing to upload SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences to repositories, to help in the fight against the pandemic. One popular data repository, GISAID, requires users to sign in and acknowledge those whose data they analyse. Although a growing faction of scientists from wealthy nations are calling for the removal of gatekeeping requirements, scientists in the global south are pushing back, arguing that this will deprive them of credit and chances to participate in big-data analyses. News: In shock move, US backs waiving patents on COVID vaccines News: Why some researchers oppose unrestricted sharing of coronavirus genome data News: Scientists call for fully open sharing of coronavirus genome data Science: Coronavirus sequence trove sparks frustration New York Times: Pfizer Reaps Hundreds of Millions in Profits From Covid Vaccine Washington Post: Poor countries may not be vaccinated until 2024. Here’s how to prevent that. Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
April 30, 2021
Coronapod special: The inequality at the heart of the pandemic
For more than a century, public health researchers have demonstrated how poverty and discrimination drive disease and the coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this. In a Coronapod special, Nature reporter Amy Maxmen takes us with her through eight months of reporting in the San Joaquin valley, a part of rural California where COVID's unequal toll has proven deadly. News: Inequality's deadly toll This piece was supported by grants from the Pulitzer Center and the MIT Knight Science Journalism fellowship. Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.
April 26, 2021
Audio long-read: How drugmakers can be better prepared for the next pandemic
Despite warnings, and a number of close calls, drugmakers failed to develop and stockpile drugs to fight a viral pandemic. Now, in the wake of SARS-CoV-2, they are pledging not to make the same mistake again.
April 16, 2021
Coronapod: could COVID vaccines cause blood clots? Here's what the science says
Reports of rare and unusual blood clots have resulted in several vaccine roll outs being paused while scientists scramble to work out if the vaccines are responsible and if so how. The unusual combination of symptoms, including a low platelet count and clots focussed in the abdomen or brain, seems similar to a rare side effect from treatment with the drug blood thinning drug Heparin - however it is not clear how the vaccines could cause the syndrome. In this episode of Coronapod we discuss the latest theories and ask how scientists are trying to get to the bottom of this important question. Medical regulators maintain that the benefits of these vaccines significantly outweigh the risks. But as uncertainty spreads, we ponder the wider implications of these reports, including the public perception of risk. News: How could a COVID vaccine cause blood clots? Scientists race to investigate Coronapod: How to define rare COVID vaccine side effects Subscribe to Nature Briefing, an unmissable daily round-up of science news, opinion and analysis free in your inbox every weekday.