If there’s one thing that’s become very clear during this pandemic, it’s the importance of good public health data. Without reliable information on a variety of measures, whether it’s test positivity percentages or hospitalization rates, a country or state’s response to an infectious pathogen is severely hampered.

Current data shows that the omicron variant of the coronavirus is dominating in the U.S., accounting for nearly all new cases. But how do public health authorities know that? Epidemiologists Alexander Sundermann and Lee Harrison from University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences explain how the U.S. genomic surveillance system works, how it compares with those in other countries, and why you won’t find out which variant you got if you test positive for SARS-CoV-2.

Last week we launched a series looking at the health and cultural impacts of sugar, a subject many of us may be more attuned to following the holiday season. In this story, nutrition scientist Lina Begdache from Binghamton University explains how processed sugar affects children’s development. Surveying the research, she warns that “too much sugar can actually be detrimental to the normal growth of the brain.”

Since 2009, the cost of producing power from wind or solar photovoltaics has dropped precipitously. But the U.S. has a very long way to go to meet the Biden administration’s goal of a carbon emissions-free grid by 2035. Researchers Charles F. Kutscher and Jeffrey Logan from the University of Colorado Boulder describe how to reinvent the grid for the 21st century.

In other research and science news this week:

If there’s a subject you’d like our team of science editors to investigate, please reply to this email.

Martin La Monica

Director of Editorial Projects and Newsletters

A positive COVID-19 test is the first step in the process. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

From delta to omicron, here’s how scientists know which coronavirus variants are circulating in the US

Alexander Sundermann, University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences; Lee Harrison, University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences

A nationwide genomic surveillance system analyzes positive COVID-19 tests to build a picture of which variants are spreading in the population.

A diet high in sugary foods can affect brain development in children. carlosgaw/iStock via Getty Images Plus

How does excess sugar affect the developing brain throughout childhood and adolescence? A neuroscientist who studies nutrition explains

Lina Begdache, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Kids often crave processed sugary foods. But research shows that consuming too many treats during childhood and adolescence may lead to behavioral and emotional problems.

Integrating solar panels with farming can provide partial shade for plants. Werner Slocum/NREL

A 21st-century reinvention of the electric grid is crucial for solving the climate change crisis

Charles F. Kutscher, University of Colorado Boulder; Jeffrey Logan, University of Colorado Boulder

Renewable energy is expanding at a record pace, but still not fast enough. Here are the key areas to watch for progress in bringing more wind and solar into the power grid in 2022.

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