Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.


A SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is needed to control the global COVID-19 public health crisis. Atomic-level structures directed the application of prefusion-stabilizing mutations that improved expression and immunogenicity of betacoronavirus spike proteins. Using this established immunogen design, the release of SARS-CoV-2 sequences triggered immediate rapid manufacturing of an mRNA vaccine expressing the prefusion-stabilized SARS-CoV-2 spike trimer (mRNA-1273). Here, we show that mRNA-1273 induces both potent neutralizing antibody and CD8 T cell responses and protects against SARS-CoV-2 infection in lungs and noses of mice without evidence of immunopathology. mRNA-1273 is currently in a Phase 2 clinical trial with a trajectory towards Phase 3 efficacy evaluation.


We describe the partial cranium and skeleton of a new diprotodontian marsupial from the late Oligocene (~26-25 Ma) Namba Formation of South Australia. This is one of the oldest Australian marsupial fossils known from an associated skeleton and it reveals previously unsuspected morphological diversity within Vombatiformes, the clade that includes wombats (Vombatidae), koalas (Phascolarctidae) and several extinct families. Several aspects of the skull and teeth of the new taxon, which we refer to a new family, are intermediate between members of the fossil family Wynyardiidae and wombats. Its postcranial skeleton exhibits features associated with scratch-digging, but it is unlikely to have been a true burrower. Body mass estimates based on postcranial dimensions range between 143 and 171 kg, suggesting that it was ~5 times larger than living wombats. Phylogenetic analysis based on 79 craniodental and 20 postcranial characters places the new taxon as sister to vombatids, with which it forms the superfamily Vombatoidea as defined here. It suggests that the highly derived vombatids evolved from wynyardiid-like ancestors, and that scratch-digging adaptations evolved in vombatoids prior to the appearance of the ever-growing (hypselodont) molars that are a characteristic feature of all post-Miocene vombatids. Ancestral state reconstructions on our preferred phylogeny suggest that bunolophodont molars are plesiomorphic for vombatiforms, with full lophodonty (characteristic of diprotodontoids) evolving from a selenodont morphology that was retained by phascolarctids and ilariids, and wynyardiids and vombatoids retaining an intermediate selenolophodont condition. There appear to have been at least six independent acquisitions of very large (>100 kg) body size within Vombatiformes, several having already occurred by the late Oligocene.


For most people, visual imagery is an innate feature of many of our internal experiences, and appears to play a critical role in supporting core cognitive processes. Some individuals, however, lack the ability to voluntarily generate visual imagery altogether - a condition termed “aphantasia”. Recent research suggests that aphantasia is a condition defined by the absence of visual imagery, rather than a lack of metacognitive awareness of internal visual imagery. Here we further illustrate a cognitive “fingerprint” of aphantasia, demonstrating that compared to control participants with imagery ability, aphantasic individuals report decreased imagery in other sensory domains, although not all report a complete lack of multi-sensory imagery. They also report less vivid and phenomenologically rich autobiographical memories and imagined future scenarios, suggesting a constructive role for visual imagery in representing episodic events. Interestingly, aphantasic individuals report fewer and qualitatively impoverished dreams compared to controls. However, spatial abilities appear unaffected, and aphantasic individuals do not appear to be considerably protected against all forms of trauma symptomatology in response to stressful life events. Collectively, these data suggest that imagery may be a normative representational tool for wider cognitive processes, highlighting the large inter-individual variability that characterises our internal mental representations.


The contamination of patients' surroundings by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) remains understudied. We sampled the surroundings and the air of six negative-pressure non-intensive care unit (non-ICU) rooms in a designated isolation ward in Chengdu, China, that were occupied by 13 laboratory-confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients who had returned from overseas travel, including 2 asymptomatic patients. A total of 44 of 112 (39.3%) surface samples were positive for SARS-CoV-2 as detected by real-time PCR, suggesting extensive contamination, although all of the air samples were negative. In particular, in a single room occupied by an asymptomatic patient, four sites were SARS-CoV-2 positive, highlighting that asymptomatic COVID-19 patients do contaminate their surroundings and impose risks for others with close contact. Placement of COVID-19 patients in rooms with negative pressure may bring a false feeling of safety, and the importance of rigorous environment cleaning should be emphasized.IMPORTANCE Although it has been well recognized that the virus SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, can be acquired by exposure to fomites, surprisingly, the contamination of patients' surroundings by SARS-CoV-2 is largely unknown, as there have been few studies. We performed an environmental sampling study for 13 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patients and found extensive contamination of patients' surroundings. In particular, we found that asymptomatic COVID-19 patients contaminated their surroundings and therefore imposed risks for other people. Environment cleaning should be emphasized in negative-pressure rooms. The findings may be useful to guide infection control practice to protect health care workers.


The COVID-19 pandemic has created a public health crisis. Because SARS-CoV-2 can spread from individuals with pre-symptomatic, symptomatic, and asymptomatic infections, the re-opening of societies and the control of virus spread will be facilitated by robust surveillance, for which virus testing will often be central. After infection, individuals undergo a period of incubation during which viral titers are usually too low to detect, followed by an exponential growth of virus, leading to a peak viral load and infectiousness, and ending with declining viral levels and clearance. Given the pattern of viral load kinetics, we model surveillance effectiveness considering test sensitivities, frequency, and sample-to-answer reporting time. These results demonstrate that effective surveillance, including time to first detection and outbreak control, depends largely on frequency of testing and the speed of reporting, and is only marginally improved by high test sensitivity. We therefore conclude that surveillance should prioritize accessibility, frequency, and sample-to-answer time; analytical limits of detection should be secondary.


In Parkinson’s disease (PD), gastrointestinal features are common and often precede the motor signs. Braak and colleagues proposed that PD may start in the gut, triggered by a pathogen, and spread to the brain. Numerous studies have examined the gut microbiome in PD; all found it to be altered, but found inconsistent results on associated microorganisms. Studies to date have been small (N = 20 to 306) and are difficult to compare or combine due to varied methodology. We conducted a microbiome-wide association study (MWAS) with two large datasets for internal replication (N = 333 and 507). We used uniform methodology when possible, interrogated confounders, and applied two statistical tests for concordance, followed by correlation network analysis to infer interactions. Fifteen genera were associated with PD at a microbiome-wide significance level, in both datasets, with both methods, with or without covariate adjustment. The associations were not independent, rather they represented three clusters of co-occurring microorganisms. Cluster 1 was composed of opportunistic pathogens and all were elevated in PD. Cluster 2 was short-chain fatty acid (SCFA)-producing bacteria and all were reduced in PD. Cluster 3 was carbohydrate-metabolizing probiotics and were elevated in PD. Depletion of anti-inflammatory SCFA-producing bacteria and elevated levels of probiotics are confirmatory. Overabundance of opportunistic pathogens is an original finding and their identity provides a lead to experimentally test their role in PD.


Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) are one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in health care. Understanding which drug targets are linked to ADRs can lead to the development of safer medicines.


SARS-CoV-2 has been identified as the causative agent of a global outbreak of respiratory tract disease (COVID-19). In some patients the infection results in moderate to severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), requiring invasive mechanical ventilation. High serum levels of IL-6, IL-10 and an immune hyperresponsiveness referred to as a ‘cytokine storm’ have been associated with poor clinical outcome. Despite the large numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths, information on the phenotype and kinetics of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells is limited. Here, we studied 10 COVID-19 patients who required admission to an intensive care unit and detected SARS-CoV-2-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in 10 out of 10 and 8 out of 10 patients, respectively. We also detected low levels of SARS-CoV-2-reactive T cells in 2 out of 10 healthy controls not previously exposed to SARS-CoV-2, which is indicative of cross-reactivity due to past infection with ‘common cold’ coronaviruses. The strongest T-cell responses were directed to the spike (S) surface glycoprotein, and SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells predominantly produced effector and Th1 cytokines, although Th2 and Th17 cytokines were also detected. Furthermore, we studied T-cell kinetics and showed that SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells are present relatively early and increase over time. Collectively, these data shed light on the potential variations in T-cell responses as a function of disease severity, an issue that is key to understanding the potential role of immunopathology in the disease, and also inform vaccine design and evaluation.


We investigated whether dogs remember their spontaneous past actions relying on episodic-like memory. Dogs were trained to repeat a small set of actions upon request. Then we tested them on their ability to repeat other actions produced by themselves, including actions performed spontaneously in everyday situations. Dogs repeated their own actions after delays ranging from a few seconds to 1 hour, with their performance showing a decay typical of episodic memory. The combined evidence of representing own actions and using episodic-like memory to recall them suggests a far more complex representation of a key feature of the self than previously attributed to dogs. Our method is applicable to various species, paving the way for comparative investigations on the evolution and complexity of self-representation.


On the 21st of February 2020 a resident of the municipality of Vo', a small town near Padua, died of pneumonia due to SARS-CoV-2 infection1. This was the first COVID-19 death detected in Italy since the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei province2. In response, the regional authorities imposed the lockdown of the whole municipality for 14 days3. We collected information on the demography, clinical presentation, hospitalization, contact network and presence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in nasopharyngeal swabs for 85.9% and 71.5% of the population of Vo' at two consecutive time points. On the first survey, which was conducted around the time the town lockdown started, we found a prevalence of infection of 2.6% (95% confidence interval (CI) 2.1-3.3%). On the second survey, which was conducted at the end of the lockdown, we found a prevalence of 1.2% (95% Confidence Interval (CI) 0.8-1.8%). Notably, 42.5% (95% CI 31.5-54.6%) of the confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections detected across the two surveys were asymptomatic (i.e. did not have symptoms at the time of swab testing and did not develop symptoms afterwards). The mean serial interval was 7.2 days (95% CI 5.9-9.6). We found no statistically significant difference in the viral load of symptomatic versus asymptomatic infections (p-values 0.62 and 0.74 for E and RdRp genes, respectively, Exact Wilcoxon-Mann-Whitney test). This study sheds new light on the frequency of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection, their infectivity (as measured by the viral load) and provides new insights into its transmission dynamics and the efficacy of the implemented control measures.