Sea otters are the smallest marine mammals and have a big appetite, eating about 20% of their body mass per day. But neither that nor their extremely dense fur fully explains how these creatures manage to stay warm in chilly waters. Researchers led by a team at Texas A&M conducted a study to solve this mystery and explain the fascinating biochemistry behind their findings.

The latest data from this week shows that a booster of Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 appears to offer significant protection from the omicron variant of the coronavirus. But if this variant or another changes enough, mRNA vaccines could be updated to better target a particular variant. University of Washington microbiologist Deborah Fuller, who studies DNA and mRNA vaccines, explains how.

Hopes for the potential of biofuels, or liquid fuels made from plants, were high in the mid- to late 2000s in the wake of federal legislation to greatly expand domestic biofuel production and wean the country from imported oil. With gasoline prices rising, there’s now pressure from the biofuel industry to require even more biofuel use. John DeCicco from the University of Michigan takes the opposite view. He explains how current policies have boosted profits for American corn farmers but failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or spur the development of more environmentally sound fuels.

Also in this week’s science and research news:

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Sea otters are born with a supercharged metabolism. Adria Photography/Moment via Getty Images

Sea otters demonstrate that there is more to muscle than just movement – it can also bring the heat

Traver Wright, Texas A&M University; Melinda Sheffield-Moore, Texas A&M University; Randall Davis, Texas A&M University

New research finds that ‘leaky mitochondria’ help keep sea otters warm.

Some vaccines use mRNA to make copies of the triangular red spike proteins to induce immunity. Juan Gaertner/Science Photo Library via Getty Images

How can scientists update coronavirus vaccines for omicron? A microbiologist answers 5 questions about how Moderna and Pfizer could rapidly adjust mRNA vaccines

Deborah Fuller, University of Washington

The new omicron variant of coronavirus has a number of mutations that may require manufacturers to update vaccines. The unique attributes of mRNA vaccines make updating them fast and easy.

Surplus corn piled outside a farmer’s co-op storage facility in Paoli, Colorado. Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The US biofuel mandate helps farmers, but does little for energy security and harms the environment

John DeCicco, University of Michigan

The US has required motor fuels to contain 10% biofuels since 2005. As this program nears a key milestone in 2022, farm advocates want to expand it while critics want to pare it back or repeal it.

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