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Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


Speech droplets generated by asymptomatic carriers of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are increasingly considered to be a likely mode of disease transmission. Highly sensitive laser light scattering observations have revealed that loud speech can emit thousands of oral fluid droplets per second. In a closed, stagnant air environment, they disappear from the window of view with time constants in the range of 8 to 14 min, which corresponds to droplet nuclei of ca. 4 μm diameter, or 12- to 21-μm droplets prior to dehydration. These observations confirm that there is a substantial probability that normal speaking causes airborne virus transmission in confined environments.


We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies. Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System-biosphere, climate, and societies-and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.


Despite efforts to recruit and retain more women, a stark gender disparity persists within academic science. Abundant research has demonstrated gender bias in many demographic groups, but has yet to experimentally investigate whether science faculty exhibit a bias against female students that could contribute to the gender disparity in academic science. In a randomized double-blind study (n = 127), science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student-who was randomly assigned either a male or female name-for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student. Mediation analyses indicated that the female student was less likely to be hired because she was viewed as less competent. We also assessed faculty participants' preexisting subtle bias against women using a standard instrument and found that preexisting subtle bias against women played a moderating role, such that subtle bias against women was associated with less support for the female student, but was unrelated to reactions to the male student. These results suggest that interventions addressing faculty gender bias might advance the goal of increasing the participation of women in science.

Concepts: Scientific method, Female, Gender, University, Gender role, Experiment, Woman, Bias


A census of the biomass on Earth is key for understanding the structure and dynamics of the biosphere. However, a global, quantitative view of how the biomass of different taxa compare with one another is still lacking. Here, we assemble the overall biomass composition of the biosphere, establishing a census of the ≈550 gigatons of carbon (Gt C) of biomass distributed among all of the kingdoms of life. We find that the kingdoms of life concentrate at different locations on the planet; plants (≈450 Gt C, the dominant kingdom) are primarily terrestrial, whereas animals (≈2 Gt C) are mainly marine, and bacteria (≈70 Gt C) and archaea (≈7 Gt C) are predominantly located in deep subsurface environments. We show that terrestrial biomass is about two orders of magnitude higher than marine biomass and estimate a total of ≈6 Gt C of marine biota, doubling the previous estimated quantity. Our analysis reveals that the global marine biomass pyramid contains more consumers than producers, thus increasing the scope of previous observations on inverse food pyramids. Finally, we highlight that the mass of humans is an order of magnitude higher than that of all wild mammals combined and report the historical impact of humanity on the global biomass of prominent taxa, including mammals, fish, and plants.


In a phylogenetic network analysis of 160 complete human severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2) genomes, we find three central variants distinguished by amino acid changes, which we have named A, B, and C, with A being the ancestral type according to the bat outgroup coronavirus. The A and C types are found in significant proportions outside East Asia, that is, in Europeans and Americans. In contrast, the B type is the most common type in East Asia, and its ancestral genome appears not to have spread outside East Asia without first mutating into derived B types, pointing to founder effects or immunological or environmental resistance against this type outside Asia. The network faithfully traces routes of infections for documented coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases, indicating that phylogenetic networks can likewise be successfully used to help trace undocumented COVID-19 infection sources, which can then be quarantined to prevent recurrent spread of the disease worldwide.


Since the emergence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), unprecedented movement restrictions and social distancing measures have been implemented worldwide. The socioeconomic repercussions have fueled calls to lift these measures. In the absence of population-wide restrictions, isolation of infected individuals is key to curtailing transmission. However, the effectiveness of symptom-based isolation in preventing a resurgence depends on the extent of presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission. We evaluate the contribution of presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission based on recent individual-level data regarding infectiousness prior to symptom onset and the asymptomatic proportion among all infections. We found that the majority of incidences may be attributable to silent transmission from a combination of the presymptomatic stage and asymptomatic infections. Consequently, even if all symptomatic cases are isolated, a vast outbreak may nonetheless unfold. We further quantified the effect of isolating silent infections in addition to symptomatic cases, finding that over one-third of silent infections must be isolated to suppress a future outbreak below 1% of the population. Our results indicate that symptom-based isolation must be supplemented by rapid contact tracing and testing that identifies asymptomatic and presymptomatic cases, in order to safely lift current restrictions and minimize the risk of resurgence.


This paper documents a marked increase in the all-cause mortality of middle-aged white non-Hispanic men and women in the United States between 1999 and 2013. This change reversed decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States; no other rich country saw a similar turnaround. The midlife mortality reversal was confined to white non-Hispanics; black non-Hispanics and Hispanics at midlife, and those aged 65 and above in every racial and ethnic group, continued to see mortality rates fall. This increase for whites was largely accounted for by increasing death rates from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis. Although all education groups saw increases in mortality from suicide and poisonings, and an overall increase in external cause mortality, those with less education saw the most marked increases. Rising midlife mortality rates of white non-Hispanics were paralleled by increases in midlife morbidity. Self-reported declines in health, mental health, and ability to conduct activities of daily living, and increases in chronic pain and inability to work, as well as clinically measured deteriorations in liver function, all point to growing distress in this population. We comment on potential economic causes and consequences of this deterioration.

Concepts: Death, Mortality rate, United States, United Kingdom, Race, White American, White people, 21st century


The science around the use of masks by the public to impede COVID-19 transmission is advancing rapidly. In this narrative review, we develop an analytical framework to examine mask usage, synthesizing the relevant literature to inform multiple areas: population impact, transmission characteristics, source control, wearer protection, sociological considerations, and implementation considerations. A primary route of transmission of COVID-19 is via respiratory particles, and it is known to be transmissible from presymptomatic, paucisymptomatic, and asymptomatic individuals. Reducing disease spread requires two things: limiting contacts of infected individuals via physical distancing and other measures and reducing the transmission probability per contact. The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected respiratory particles in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at reducing spread of the virus when compliance is high. Given the current shortages of medical masks, we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask wearing, as an effective form of source control, in conjunction with existing hygiene, distancing, and contact tracing strategies. Because many respiratory particles become smaller due to evaporation, we recommend increasing focus on a previously overlooked aspect of mask usage: mask wearing by infectious people (“source control”) with benefits at the population level, rather than only mask wearing by susceptible people, such as health care workers, with focus on individual outcomes. We recommend that public officials and governments strongly encourage the use of widespread face masks in public, including the use of appropriate regulation.


The population extinction pulse we describe here shows, from a quantitative viewpoint, that Earth’s sixth mass extinction is more severe than perceived when looking exclusively at species extinctions. Therefore, humanity needs to address anthropogenic population extirpation and decimation immediately. That conclusion is based on analyses of the numbers and degrees of range contraction (indicative of population shrinkage and/or population extinctions according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature) using a sample of 27,600 vertebrate species, and on a more detailed analysis documenting the population extinctions between 1900 and 2015 in 177 mammal species. We find that the rate of population loss in terrestrial vertebrates is extremely high-even in “species of low concern.” In our sample, comprising nearly half of known vertebrate species, 32% (8,851/27,600) are decreasing; that is, they have decreased in population size and range. In the 177 mammals for which we have detailed data, all have lost 30% or more of their geographic ranges and more than 40% of the species have experienced severe population declines (>80% range shrinkage). Our data indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations, which will have negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization. We describe this as a “biological annihilation” to highlight the current magnitude of Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Mammal, Extinction, Dinosaur, Extinction event, Timeline of extinctions


Little is known about the amount and infectiousness of influenza virus shed into exhaled breath. This contributes to uncertainty about the importance of airborne influenza transmission. We screened 355 symptomatic volunteers with acute respiratory illness and report 142 cases with confirmed influenza infection who provided 218 paired nasopharyngeal (NP) and 30-minute breath samples (coarse >5-µm and fine ≤5-µm fractions) on days 1-3 after symptom onset. We assessed viral RNA copy number for all samples and cultured NP swabs and fine aerosols. We recovered infectious virus from 52 (39%) of the fine aerosols and 150 (89%) of the NP swabs with valid cultures. The geometric mean RNA copy numbers were 3.8 × 104/30-minutes fine-, 1.2 × 104/30-minutes coarse-aerosol sample, and 8.2 × 108 per NP swab. Fine- and coarse-aerosol viral RNA were positively associated with body mass index and number of coughs and negatively associated with increasing days since symptom onset in adjusted models. Fine-aerosol viral RNA was also positively associated with having influenza vaccination for both the current and prior season. NP swab viral RNA was positively associated with upper respiratory symptoms and negatively associated with age but was not significantly associated with fine- or coarse-aerosol viral RNA or their predictors. Sneezing was rare, and sneezing and coughing were not necessary for infectious aerosol generation. Our observations suggest that influenza infection in the upper and lower airways are compartmentalized and independent.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Infectious disease, Copy number variation, Virus, Influenza, Body mass index, Transmission and infection of H5N1