Nature Briefing

13 April 2021

Hello Nature readers,
Today we listen to the sounds of spiderwebs, investigate post-vaccination COVID-19 and get some tips on career progression.
Cross-sectional images (shown in different colors) of a spider web were combined into this 3D image and translated into music.
Cross-sectional images (different colors) of a web were combined into a 3D image and translated into music. (Isabelle Su and Markus Buehler)
Listen to the sound of a spider’s webA virtual-reality system that converts web vibrations to sound offers a glimpse into the sensory experiences of spiders. Scientists used laser imaging to create a 3D map of the webs made by tropical tent-web spiders (Cyrtophora citricola). They then identified each thread’s vibration frequency from its size and elasticity, and converted those frequencies into sounds. “When you go into the virtual reality world and you dive inside the web, being able to hear what’s going on allows you to understand what you see,” says materials scientist Markus Buehler.New Scientist | 2 min read with 1 min video
Japan to release Fukushima waterThe Japanese government has announced the controversial decision to release more than one million tonnes of water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, after filtering it to remove radioactive contaminants. The government argues that the water release is necessary to press ahead with decommissioning the plant, where three reactors melted down after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, and says that similarly filtered water is routinely released from nuclear plants around the world. But neighbouring countries oppose the move and have raised safety concerns.Sky News | 3 min read
£420,000The estimated value (US$577,000) of a seizure of 1,716 illegally smuggled sea cucumbers, found stashed in coral reefs near the uninhabited island of Suheli, India. (The Guardian | 2 min read)
COVID-19 coronavirus update
US advises J&J vaccine pauseAuthorities in the United States have recommended a pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine “out of an abundance of caution”, after six blood-clotting cases were reported in people who received the vaccine. The rare clotting problem is similar to the one linked to the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine. In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said it is working closely with medical experts to investigate the issue.STAT | 6 min read
Investigating post-vaccination infectionsThe US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are ramping up scrutiny of rare cases of COVID-19 in people who have already been fully vaccinated. The precise number of these “breakthrough infections” in the United States is unknown — estimates suggest it is several thousand, a tiny fraction of the 66 million people in the country who have been fully vaccinated. The rarity of these cases reinforces the message from public-health officials that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. “There’s nothing there yet that’s a red flag,” said Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden. “We’re obviously going to keep an eye on that.”The Washington Post | 10 min read
Climate change imperils pandemic debt repaymentGovernments have borrowed astronomical amounts during the pandemic, but most have not disclosed how global warming could affect their ability to repay the debt. Countries should take steps to achieve a climate-resilient recovery, say three researchers in an analysis of sovereign debt issued in 2020. These steps should include coming clean about climate exposure, and using COVID-19 credit to mitigate climate risk. Wealthier lenders should also provide financial support to the most vulnerable countries on the condition that the money is used to increase climate resilience.Nature | 13 min read
NOTABLE QUOTABLE“You don’t want to discover six months late that you have an epidemic of a strain that escapes vaccines.”Geneticist Tulio de Oliveira is part of a collaboration that aims to monitor emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants in Africa. (Wired | 11 min read)PEARSON’S PICKS: NOTES FROM THE CHIEF MAGAZINE EDITORprofile of biochemist Katalin Kariko is a great read — first for showing how the spectacularly fast production of COVID-19 vaccines actually rests on decades of meticulous basic research into mRNA, and second for highlighting the difficulty that many scientists face when moving precariously from one temporary position to another to pursue the bench research they love. “The bench is there, the science is good,” Kariko says simply, yet that single-minded focus has helped chart a course out of this pandemic.Helen Pearson, Nature Chief Magazine EditorThe New York Times | 9 min read
Features & opinion
Quiet year is a chance to study ocean soundsResearchers have launched a vast listening experiment to study ocean sounds using underwater microphones during a ‘year of quiet’ created by the pandemic. “Just like people and cities may have noticed that, with much less traffic noise and human activity, you hear more birdsong or maybe see more wildlife in your own environment, we need ways to monitor that in the ocean,” says marine biologist Peter Tyack. As well as studying the effects of lockdowns, the scientists will investigate how decades of ocean noise from shipping and other human activities have affected marine life.BBC News | 4 min read
How to land a seat at the leadership tableJunior researchers are increasingly moving into decision-making roles. Doctoral students and postdocs are joining advisory boards, oversight councils and conference-organizing committees. Others have started their own advocacy and research initiatives by founding non-profit organizations and companies, bringing fresh perspectives and up-to-date expertise to boardrooms. Junior researchers who are interested in leadership should seize opportunities sooner rather than later, says scholarly-communications researcher Juan Pablo Alperin. “Stay in touch with shaping the profession you are going to be living in — leadership positions do that in a direct way.”Nature | 12 min read
QUOTE OF THE DAY“We are living in a climate emergency, and we’re going to say so.”An editor of Scientific American explains the magazine’s decision to start using the term ‘climate emergency’ in its coverage of climate change. (Scientific American | 4 min read)
Today I was delighted to read about how one group of researchers has built a microscope out of LEGO. I do love a low-tech lab hack — is there anything these bricks can’t do?

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Emma Stoye, news editor, Nature
With contributions by Ariana Remmel and Smriti Mallapaty
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