A mysterious flu-like illness that caused loss of taste and smell in the late 19th century was probably caused by a coronavirus that still causes the ‘common cold’ in people today, according to Professor Marc Van Ranst at KU Leuven in Belgium, an expert on coronaviruses.
As the first coronavirus vaccines started to be rolled out at the end of a tumultuous 2020, UK officials unexpectedly endorsed stretching the gap between the first and second vaccine dose by up to three months – an approach also considered by other countries.
There was one science story that dominated 2020 and coronavirus is likely to remain a dominant theme in 2021. But from vaccine rollout to lessons for future pandemics and – that other big challenge that we’re facing – climate change, how will the year in science play out? We asked a selection of our interviewees about lessons from 2020 and what needs to happen in their fields in the coming year.
To diagnose and contain the spread of coronavirus, testing is critical. There are two types of Covid-19 tests — those that are designed to detect whether you have the infection now, or those crafted to check whether you have been previously infected by the virus — SARS-CoV-2 — that causes the disease. Like any other product these tests have varying degrees of accuracy and reliability, and can be used to achieve different aims.
From corals bunkering down in deeper waters to wait out climate change stress, to how vaccines can boost our immune system beyond a specific disease – here are the 20 most surprising scientific facts that we discovered this year.
The virus that causes Covid-19 hijacks human cells by exploiting a ‘doorway’ that is potentially also used by other deadly viruses such as HIV, dengue and Ebola, according to recent research that may help to explain why the coronavirus is so highly infectious to a wide range of organs in the body. Dr Yohei Yamauchi, a viral cell biologist at the University of Bristol, UK, who led the research, believes that the finding could not only lead to new drugs against Covid-19, but other anti-viral treatments that could be used to save patients’ lives in future pandemics.
The world’s first mRNA vaccine has begun its rollout after being produced at unprecedented speed as part of the global effort to end the Covid-19 pandemic. A second one is hot on its heels. The two – one made by Pfizer/BioNTech and the other by Moderna – mark the first time this vaccine technology has been approved for use.
As the social isolation compelled by the pandemic swept many of us into a flurry of panic, grief and mental funk, a section of people actually reported improved levels of wellbeing, found biological psychologist Meike Bartels, a professor of genetics and wellbeing at VU Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Live vaccines can give health effects beyond just protecting us from a specific disease and may even help us combat other infections such as Covid-19, according to Christine Stabell Benn, a professor in global health at the University of Southern Denmark.
Efforts to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 with a vaccine could be hampered by low levels of confidence in immunisation programs in some European countries, warns Professor Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project and an anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in the UK.
Virologist Prof. Marc Van Ranst says that today’s common cold viruses are likely to have been introduced through pandemics.
Researchers are mapping brain circuits and testing an approved drug to inhibit strong fear memories.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.