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First a Flame, Now Time

Alan Alda's own childhood experience provided the inspiration for a challenge he posed to scientists earlier this year: to describe a flame such that an 11-year-old child can understand what it is. Now, a new question drawn from more than 300 submissions asks scientists to describe what time is, the Associated Press reports. In addition to his acting work, Alda is a founder of Stony Brook University's Center for Communicating Science.

Such an exercise not only explains scientific concepts to kids and laypeople, but also helps scientists better communicate their work. "This contest probably gives people the impression that it's a teaching tool for kids," Alda says. "That's a happy by-product, but it really is a tool for scientists to take a complex question and explain it in a way the rest of us can understand."

The Scan

Possibly as Transmissible

Officials in the UK say the B.1.617.2 variant of SARS-CoV-2 may be as transmitted as easily as the B.1.1.7 variant that was identified in the UK, New Scientist reports.

Gene Therapy for SCID 'Encouraging'

The Associated Press reports that a gene therapy appears to be effective in treating severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome.

To Watch the Variants

Scientists told US lawmakers that SARS-CoV-2 variants need to be better monitored, the New York Times reports.

Nature Papers Present Nautilus Genome, Tool to Analyze Single-Cell Data, More

In Nature this week: nautilus genome gives peek into its evolution, computational tool to analyze single-cell ATAC-seq data, and more.