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Catherine Dulac at Harvard University.

Catherine Dulac at Harvard University.

Catherine Dulac showed that the protein galanin role is expressed in mouse neurons which acted as an ‘switch’ for parental behaviour.Credit: Rick Friedman/Corbis/Getty

Discoverer of neural circuits for parenting wins US$3-million prize

Discovering the “on-and-off switch” for good parenting in male and female mouse brains has earned Catherine Dulac (pictured) one of this year’s US$3-million Breakthrough prizes — the most lucrative awards in science and mathematics. Dulac, a molecular biologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and her team provided the first evidence that male and female mouse brains have the same neural circuitry associated with parenting, which is just triggered differently in each sex. “It went against the dogma that for decades said that male and female brains are organized differently,” says biologist Lauren O’Connell at Stanford University, California.

Three other $3-million life-sciences awards were also announced. David Baker at the University of Washington in Seattle won for developing the Rosetta software to design synthetic proteins for therapeutics. Dennis Lo at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shatin was recognized for discovering that fetal DNA is present in maternal blood — a finding that led to the development of safer non-invasive prenatal tests for disorders such as Down’s syndrome.

And Richard J. Youle at the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, won for uncovering the role of two proteins in Parkinson’s disease.

The Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics went to Martin Hairer at Imperial College London for his work on stochastic partial differential equations, which describe how complex systems evolve when random influences have to be taken into account.

The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics went to Eric Adelberger, Jens Gundlach and Blayne Heckel, all at the University of Washington, for their pendulum experiments showing that Isaac Newton’s law of gravity still holds, even down to scales of just 52 micrometres. And a special award in fundamental physics recognized the life’s work of Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas at Austin, one of the developers of the framework unifying the electromagnetic force with the weak nuclear force.

More than 100 journals have vanished

Scholarly journals are supposed to provide a lasting record of science. But over the past two decades, 176 open-access journals — and many of the papers published in them — have disappeared from the Internet, according to an analysis published on 27 August (M. Laakso et al. Preprint at; 2020).

A team led by Mikael Laakso, an information scientist at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, manually collected lists of journals from databases such as the Directory of Open Access Journals and the Keepers Registry, to track down titles that had disappeared between 2000 and 2019 without being enrolled in digital preservation services. Journals were considered “vanished” if less than 50% of their content was still freely available online.

More than half of the 176 vanished journals they identified were in the social sciences and humanities, although life sciences, health sciences and physical sciences and mathematics were also represented. Eighty-eight of the journals were affiliated with a scholarly society or research institution.

The analysis also identified 900 journals that are still online but seem to have stopped publishing papers, so might vanish in the near future.

A child wearing black talks to a person in full protective gear, in a hospital corridor decorated with cartoon characte

A child wearing black talks to a person in full protective gear, in a hospital corridor decorated with cartoon characte

A child with COVID-19 in a hospital in Timisoara, Romania.Credit: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty

Kids hit hard by COVID-19 have unique immune profile

Most children infected with the new coronavirus show few signs of illness, if any. But a few children are struck by a severe form of COVID-19 that can cause multiple organ failure and even death. Now, scientists have begun to tease out the biology of this rare and devastating condition, called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.

Doctors have diagnosed hundreds of cases of MIS-C, which shares some similarities with the childhood illness Kawasaki’s disease. To understand MIS-C’s biological profile, Petter Brodin at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and his colleagues looked at 13 children with MIS-C, 28 children with Kawasaki’s disease and 41 with mild COVID‑19 (C. R. Consiglio et al. Cell; 2020). The researchers found that compared with children with Kawasaki’s disease, those with MIS-C have lower levels of an immune chemical called IL-17A, which has been implicated in inflammation and autoimmune disorders.

Unlike all the other children studied, children with MIS-C had no antibodies to two coronaviruses that cause the common cold. This deficit might be implicated in the origins of their condition, the authors say.

Nature 585, 329 (2020)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-02597-7

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