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Daily briefing: Huge COVID trial finds ‘little or no effect’ for remdesivir

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In this video, OSIRIS-REx rehearses the approach it’ll take to Bennu’s surface. Here, the craft’s imager captures the sampling arm descending to within 40 metres of the asteroid over about a 14-minute period. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA mission will ‘fist bump’ an asteroid

NASA is about to grab its first-ever taste of an asteroid. On 20 October, some 334 million kilometres from Earth, the agency’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will approach a dark-coloured, diamond-shaped asteroid named Bennu, with the aim of touching its surface for a few seconds — long enough to vacuum up a collection of dust and pebbles. If successful, the spacecraft will then fly this carbon-rich rubble back to Earth, where scientists can examine it for clues to the history of the Solar System.

Nature | 6 min read

Grab and Go: Infographic demonstrating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's method for collecting samples from the asteroid Bennu.

Credit: NASA

Rewild to save most species and lock carbon

Restoring a third of the areas most degraded by humans and preserving remaining natural ecosystems would prevent 70% of projected extinctions of mammals, birds and amphibians. It would also sequester around 465 gigatonnes of CO2 — almost half of the total atmospheric CO2 increase since the Industrial Revolution. Researchers scoured detailed land-use and cover maps of the globe to pinpoint the places where rewilding would have most impact and be most cost-effective. “We were surprised by the magnitude of what we found – the huge difference that restoration can make,” says environmental scientist Bernardo Strassburg. Done properly, rewilding can even go hand in hand with increased agricultural productivity, says Strassburg.

The Guardian | 5 min read

Reference: Nature paper

Solidarity trial finds no joy in antiviral drugs

Interim results from the World Health Organization’s highly anticipated Solidarity trial appear to show that none of the four repurposed antiviral drugs tested have a meaningful effect in reducing COVID-19 deaths, the need for ventilators or the duration of hospitalization. The trial investigated remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, a lopinavir–ritonavir combo and interferon beta-1a. The randomized study was conducted in 405 hospitals across 30 countries and involved 11,266 people. “The unpromising overall findings from the regimens tested suffice to refute early hopes, based on smaller or non-randomized studies, that any will substantially reduce inpatient mortality, initiation of ventilation or hospitalization duration,” say the interim results.

There had been encouraging findings from other large clinical trials of remdesivir earlier in the year. The drug’s maker, Gilead, told the Financial Times that “the emerging data appear inconsistent with more robust evidence from multiple randomised, controlled studies validating the clinical benefit of [remdesivir]”.

The WHO’s findings mean that the cheap and widely available steroid dexamethasone is the only drug to have been convincingly shown to reduce deaths among people seriously ill with COVID-19.

CNBC | 5 min read & Financial Times | 5 min read (paywall)

Reference: Repurposed antiviral drugs for COVID-19 — interim WHO SOLIDARITY trial results (not peer reviewed)

Features & opinion

Doing science amid COVID-19

From Germany to India, researchers are grappling with how to run laboratories and lessons under extraordinary restrictions. Nature looks at how researchers and students in four countries are coping with returning to work amid the pandemic.

Nature | 9 min read

Our new five-part e-mail series, Back to the lab, is all about navigating your scientific career in this year like no other. It’s full of top tips, resources and advice carefully curated by me and Nature Careers editor Jack Leeming. Sign up here for free.

Pandemic of hunger, hints of hope

On #WorldFoodDay, we look at Africa, where the COVID-19 pandemic has piled on new challenges in countries that were already battling threats including climate change and invasive pests. Disrupted supply chains, planting seasons, incomes and remittances could lead to 130 million more people living with chronic hunger by the end of 2020 than had been expected, according to the United Nations. At the same time, researchers hope to make the most of opportunities to strengthen food systems and make them more resilient. “COVID-19 served as a catalyst for wider adoption of innovations in agriculture that were starting to take off before the pandemic,” says Kwaw Andam, a food-security specialist with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Nigeria.

Nature | 12 min read

This article is editorially independent and produced with financial support from Ceres2030: Sustainable Solutions to End Hunger.

She illuminated the vast value of nature

Georgina Mace, a pioneer of biodiversity accounting who overhauled the Red List of threatened species, died on 19 September, aged 67. Mace was one of the sharpest minds of her generation, who bridged disciplines and excelled in building consensus, writes her colleague Nathalie Pettorelli. Nine days before she died, Mace published a Nature paper on habitat conversion and biodiversity loss. “She’d nominate you for a post even when you didn’t think she had noticed your work; she’d make a witty remark in the middle of a heated discussion,” writes Pettorelli. “Her death leaves a void.”

Nature | 5 min read

Read an expert analysis of Mace’s recent paper by integrative ecologists Brett Bryan and Carla Archibald: A recipe to reverse the loss of nature (Nature News & Views | 6 min read)

Podcast: Superconductivity gets heated

Researchers have found a material that superconducts at room temperature, but only under pressures close to those at the centre of the Earth. Plus, where the evidence stands on mask wearing and the best way to restore ecosystems.

Nature Podcast | 40 min listen

Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify.

Where I work

Cristina Cuiabália stands on top of a water truck riding through the Pantanal wetlands

Cristina Cuiabália Neves is a biologist and manager at Sesc Pantanal in Mato Grosso, Brazil.Credit: Maria Magdalena Arréllaga for Nature

In this picture taken in August, biologist Cristina Cuiabália Neves rides on top of a fire-fighting tanker truck in Sesc Pantanal, a privately owned natural heritage reserve of 108,000 hectares in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil. “This year, in the first three months of the dry season, more than 50% of the land was damaged by flames, and the drier areas were burnt to the ground,” says Cuiabália Neves. “It was the worst scenario in 20 years.” (Nature | 3 min read)

Read more: ‘Apocalyptic’ fires are ravaging the world’s largest tropical wetland (Nature | 6 min read, from September)

This week, Leif Penguinson is basking on the stunning limestone rock formations of Tapiutan Island in the Philippines. Can you find the penguin? The answer will be in Monday’s e-mail, all thanks to Briefing photo editor and penguin wrangler Tom Houghton.

Good news: the potential collision of two huge pieces of space junk I warned you about yesterday did not happen.

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

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