Top stories: Bungled coronavirus testing, disarming ‘atomic bomb’ cells, and jet stream blocking


The United States badly bungled coronavirus testing—but things may soon improve

Speed is critical in the response to COVID-19. So why has the United States been so slow in its attempt to develop reliable diagnostic tests and use them widely? One answer is that a test kit designed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and rolled out to state and local labs late last month contained a faulty reagent. The problems have led many to doubt the accuracy of confirmed tallies of the disease. But the situation may soon improve, as the Food and Drug Administration comes up with a workaround for the faulty CDC kit.

New drugs aim to disarm the immune system’s ‘atomic bomb’ cells

Neutrophils make up some 70% of the white cells in blood, with billions spawned every day by stem cells nestled in the bone marrow. The cells patrol the bloodstream and wage war on pathogens, and their defensive role is so vital that people who lose their neutrophils in the course of cancer treatment can die from infections. But their scorched-earth tactics are tough on the body. “They are the classic double-edged sword,” says immunologist Michael Fessler of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Now, armed with a burst of new findings about the cells, scientists are starting to seek ways to selectively disarm them.

Why does the weather stall? New theories explain enigmatic ‘blocks’ in the jet stream

In the summer of 2003, it seemed as if Earth’s weather system had broken down. For weeks, a huge mass of air stalled over Europe, suppressing cloud formation and leaving day after day of brilliantly clear skies—and a record-breaking heat wave that led to 70,000 deaths. Then, as abruptly as it set in, the “block” was gone. New research is starting to explain why such blocks appear and disappear—and how climate change may make them more frequent in the future.

New sense discovered in dog noses: the ability to detect heat

Dogs’ noses just got a bit more amazing. Not only are they up to 100 million times more sensitive than ours, they can sense weak thermal radiation—the body heat of mammalian prey, a new study reveals. The find helps explain how canines with impaired sight, hearing, or smell can still hunt successfully.

Tablet thought to have guarded tombs after Jesus’s death may not be what it seems

A marble tablet warning grave robbers away from tombs soon after the disappearance of Jesus’s body may not be what it seems. That’s the conclusion of a new chemical analysis of the marble, which finds that the object was quarried in Greece, not the Middle East. Instead, the famous “Nazareth inscription” was likely created to guard the grave of a Greek tyrant who died a few decades before Christ.