Next-gen bed nets get go-ahead

A new type of malaria-fighting bed net received a major endorsement from the World Health Organization (WHO) last week. The net combines two chemicals to more effectively kill the mosquitoes that transmit the parasite behind malaria, a disease that killed an estimated 619,000 people in 2022, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Insecticide-treated bed nets have helped drive malaria rates down dramatically. But in recent years, resistance to the insecticide used to treat nets, pyrethroid, has been spreading.

That has contributed to the rebound of malaria in many places. The new nets are treated with pyrethroid and a second chemical called chlorfenapyr. It is a relatively new insecticide that targets the insects’ muscles, preventing them from moving. The new nets are more expensive, but two large studies found the extra killing power seems to pay off, reducing the incidence of malaria in children by nearly half compared with pyrethroid-only nets. That prompted WHO on 14 March to strongly recommend their use in regions where pyrethroid resistance has spread.

Polio cases tied to new vaccine

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) reported last week that seven African children, six in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and one in Burundi, were recently paralyzed by strains of poliovirus derived from a new version of the Albert Sabin© live oral polio vaccine. These are the first cases linked to the vaccine, novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2), which has been genetically tweaked to avoid just this problem. Vaccine-derived strains can arise in places where vaccination rates are low and the weakened vaccine virus can keep spreading person to person and revert to its paralytic form. Since nOPV2 was rolled out 2 years ago, GPEI has administered almost 600 million doses in response to outbreaks in 28 countries. Experts say these reversions, though disappointing, seem to be extremely rare, and the vaccine appears much more genetically stable than its predecessor. The new cases, they add, underscore the need to boost vaccine coverage in order to head off such reversions in the first place.

Planting trees for papers

The Company of Biologists, a nonprofit publisher, has a new, green plan to acknowledge the contributions of authors and peer reviewers: Over 2 years starting from January, it will plant a tree for each peer review and each paper it publishes. The idea came from Steven Kelly, a plant biologist at the University of Oxford and editor-in-chief of Biology Open, one of the organization’s five journals. The publisher will use £80,000 of its endowment to plant a new forest intended for environmental education. Approximately 3750 new trees will be planted on a former mining site outside Nottingham, England. The funds will also support restoration of 12 hectares at an ancient forest called Great Knott Wood. About 260 papers so far appear as trees in a virtual forest online. The publisher will begin to acknowledge trees planted for peer reviews next month.

Biden OKs COVID-19 data release

U.S. intelligence agencies must declassify information related to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic within 90 days, according to a bill signed into law on 20 March by President Joe Biden. Both chambers of Congress passed the declassification bill with strong bipartisan support. WIV has received intense scrutiny thanks to its long history of working with bat coronaviruses, including a distant cousin of SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the pandemic. Some suspect WIV accidentally released the virus, perhaps after engineering a strain from bats to be more infectious in humans. U.S. intelligence agencies have delivered conflicting assessments on that possibility, but released little of the data behind their conclusions. The law asks for details about WIV researchers who allegedly became sick with a respiratory illness in the fall of 2019, before a COVID-19 outbreak clearly surfaced in Wuhan in December.

South Korea, Japan reup science ties

In 2019, a long-running dispute over compensation claims for World War II–era forced labor ruptured ties between Japan and South Korea. Now, the two countries appear to be on the cusp of resuming cooperation on science and technology projects. In a sign of thawing relations, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol last week met Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for the two countries’ first top-level summit in a decade. Just before the meeting, Park Yun Kyu, vice minister of South Korea’s science ministry, announced Seoul is “considering expanding cooperation [with Japan in] artificial intelligence, 5G and 6G wireless networks, space satellites, and quantum technologies.” Park said working-level talks will set the stage for a later ministerial meeting, though he did not set a schedule.

Health hints in Beethoven’s hair

Composer Ludwig van Beethoven had troubled health, including hearing loss, gastrointestinal problems, and liver disease. He asked that scientists study his body after he died in hopes of finding the causes of his illnesses. Now, researchers investigating his genome have made good on his request. They tracked down locks of the composer’s hair and analyzed its DNA. They failed to find any genetic cause for Beethoven’s hearing loss or gastrointestinal issues, but they learned his genes put him at a heightened risk of liver cirrhosis. Fragments of hepatitis B DNA also lurked in his hair, suggesting he had been infected with the virus late in life. That infection combined with Beethoven’s heavy drinking, researchers report in Current Biologymay explain his death due to liver disease.

How ‘Oumuamua hit the gas

In 2017, the bizarre object called ’Oumuamua whizzed into the Solar System, moving so fast it could only have hailed from interstellar space. When it whipped around the Sun, it sped up slightly. But it lacked the icy tail of a typical comet, so that acceleration could not be explained by the release of gas from that water ice. This week in Nature, researchers put forth a model they say finally solves the mystery: As ’Oumuamua journeyed through interstellar space, cosmic radiation converted much of its water ice into frozen molecular hydrogen. The Sun’s rays then released that gas, giving the comet an energetic boost that caused it to accelerate.