New Scientist Australian Edition 16-Oct-21

New Scientist covers the latest developments in science and technology that will impact your world. New Scientist employs and commissions the best writers in their fields from all over the world. Our editorial team provide cutting-edge news, award-winning features and reports, written in concise and clear language that puts discoveries and advances in the context of everyday life today and in the future.

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in this issue

2 min
elsewhere on new scientist

Virtual event The anatomy of friendship Friendship is both crucial to our well-being and extremely complicated: the demands it makes on the brain are so great that the number of friends we can have at any one time is limited to around 150. In this talk, Robin Dunbar will explain how our brains create friendships for us. Join us on 21 October at 6pm BST (1pm EDT). Online Covid-19 daily update Stay on top of all the most crucial developments in the pandemic with our briefing, updated at 12pm BST every weekday. We round up the latest coronavirus news, and give links to exclusive features and interviews. Podcast Weekly We begin with the news that, after 37 years of development, the first malaria vaccine has been approved. Then, Swedish author Andreas Malm argues that the climate movement needs…

2 min
an injection of hope

AMID the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, there has at least been one piece of undeniably good news: the success of mRNA vaccines. The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were developed in record time and they have proved extremely effective. They are saving many lives, but this is just the start of something huge. Using the same approach could help us develop better vaccines for many diseases, including conditions for which we have no inoculation at present. And when the next pandemic comes, we should be able to get more of the world’s population vaccinated faster than we are managing this time. Even more exciting is the potential of mRNA medicine to reach way beyond vaccines. mRNA technology is a way of getting our bodies to make any desired protein, the large, complex molecules…

3 min
sydney lockdown ends

RESIDENTS of Sydney in Australia can once more dine out and go shopping, now that more than 70 per cent of people aged 16 and over have been vaccinated. “I think it’s the right time to start opening up,” says Angela Webster at the University of Sydney. “We’re already starting to see the effects of vaccination with case numbers falling quite steeply.” Sydney was locked down on 26 June to limit the spread of the delta variant, meaning people could only leave home for essential reasons like buying food. The rules were gradually tightened, limiting people’s travel to 5 kilometres and introducing curfews in some areas, but delta’s contagiousness meant that new daily cases continued to soar, peaking at 1599 on 10 September across New South Wales. Other parts of New…

4 min
uk response was ‘serious’ error

THE UK government was wrong to wait so long to implement a lockdown in England at the start of the covid-19 pandemic and made a “serious early error” by adopting a “fatalistic approach” to how much it could slow the spread of the coronavirus, UK members of parliament (MPs) say in a report published this week. Other failings highlighted include the “serious mistake” of stopping community testing in March 2020, an “often chaotic” test-and-trace system and “many thousands” of deaths that could have been avoided if people who had tested positive hadn’t been sent from hospitals to care homes. The UK was also too narrowly prepared for a flu-like pandemic, according to the joint report by the 22 MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee and the Science and Technology Committee.…

2 min
spies may be gathering encrypted data to crack with future quantum computer

INTELLIGENCE agencies may be intercepting encrypted messages and storing them in the hope that they can eventually develop a practical quantum computer to crack them, a security researcher who has worked with the UK government has warned. Although dozens of research groups are currently trying to build a practical quantum computer, none has yet publicly succeeded. Such a machine could quickly find the prime factors that serve as the multiplicative building blocks of a number – for example, 3 and 7 are the prime factors of 21. This seemingly innocuous ability would fundamentally break encryption based on the difficulty of finding prime factors of large numbers, putting email, banking and cryptocurrencies at risk. Researchers are already working on algorithms designed to keep data secure if this happens. But Andersen Cheng at cybersecurity firm…

1 min
breadfruit could be food of the future as climate warms

PLANTING more breadfruit trees could help make food supplies more stable as the planet warms, with climate models suggesting they will grow well across the tropics for many decades to come. There is an especially big opportunity in tropical Africa, where large areas are suitable for growing breadfruit trees and will remain so until at least the end of the century. Breadfruit is a bit like a potato that grows on a tree, says Lucy Yang at Northwestern University in Illinois. The starchy fruits can be cooked in many ways and also turned into a flour. “They are highly productive and extremely nutritious,” she says. “In addition, once a tree is established it is quite resilient.” Yang and Daniel Horton, also at Northwestern, worked with Nyree Zerega at Chicago Botanic Garden to look…