Top Stories of 2021

It was the second year of the pandemic, and our most popular coverage ranged from virus variants to the Olympics—and World War III

After 2020, a year when the emerging pandemic dominated most conversations, Tufts Now saw broader coverage in 2021, with stories, videos, and podcasts that showcased the vast range of topics and experts that make a university community so vibrant.

We cover everything related to the wider Tufts community—faculty, students, alumni, and staff—and our writers and multimedia producers were busy highlighting many aspects of the university experience. This curated list of some of the most popular stories of 2021 contains a little for almost everyone.

Photo: NIAIDPhoto: NIAID
How Viruses Mutate and Create New Variants

Coronavirus variants were one of the hottest topics in the second half of 2021, which made this conversation with Marta Gaglia, an associate professor of molecular biology and microbiology at the School of Medicine, particularly relevant. Apparently it’s going to be relevant for quite some time to come. How viruses mutate largely has to do with how they make copies of themselves and their genetic material, Gaglia said in this wide-ranging discussion. 

Photo: Alonso NicholsPhoto: Alonso Nichols
Tufts Undergraduate Applications Rise by 35 Percent

Always a popular story—the latest news about undergraduate applications drew a big audience with the huge rise in prospective students. More than 31,190 first-year applicants vied for a place in the Class of 2025; the applicant pool was also the most diverse on record. The story on the admitted class was also quite popular, as was the profile of the Class of 2025 at matriculation.

Photo: ShutterstockPhoto: Shutterstock
Are Face Masks Helping People with Allergies?

It was probably inevitable that someone would ask this question for our Ask the Expert series. John Leung, an assistant professor at the School of Medicine and an allergist and gastroenterologist at Tufts Medical Center, says that for some people suffering from allergies, mask wearing definitely helps—though not so much if you’re allergic to your new dog.

Photo: Courtesy of Gaurika SinghPhoto: Courtesy of Gaurika Singh
Incoming Tufts Student Competing in the Olympics

Gaurika Singh, A25, hadn’t even arrived on campus as a first-year student in late July, but she was already a star Jumbo. This summer, she was in Tokyo, representing Nepal in the Olympics as a member of her country’s swimming team. In fact, she led her team, carrying the Nepali flag, at the opening ceremony. She had trained for the games for the previous five years. “I just need to focus on getting the smaller things right, such as eating well, keeping hydrated, and going to bed on time,” she said before the competition began.

Could This Cause World War III?

Former Fletcher School dean James Stavridis, F83, F84—a one-time NATO commander—joined forces with novelist and former Marine Elliot Ackerman, A03, F03, to write a speculative fiction tale set in 2034, about a conflict in the Pacific with the Chinese military that quickly escalates. The two authors spoke about their collaborative writing process, and what they think it takes to start—and stop—such a potentially momentous conflict. The book caught the public’s interest; it quickly became a bestseller.

Photo: Alonso NicholsPhoto: Alonso Nichols
Plotting the End of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease affects people across the country, but hopefully it’s met its match. The Tufts Lyme Disease Initiative seeks to eradicate the bacterial disease spread by ticks by 2030. Linden Hu, the Paul and Elaine Chervinsky Professor of Immunology at the School of Medicine, and Sam Telford, an epidemiology professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, detail the work that remains to be done to deal a knockout punch to the infectious disease.

Photo: Courtesy of Suzanne CunninghamPhoto: Courtesy of Suzanne Cunningham
Mending the Hearts of a Beloved Dog Breed

Suzanne Cunningham, a veterinary cardiologist and associate professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, loves boxer dogs, but they’ve been breaking her heart since she was a child. They are prone to a type of heart disease called arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, which humans can get, too. The disease can go undetected in people and dogs without symptoms, leading to abnormal heart rhythms, enlargement of the heart, and even death. Now she and others are working on finding biomarkers for the disease, which could lead to earlier detection and diagnosis.

Photo: Alonso NicholsPhoto: Alonso Nichols
Dayna Cunningham Is the New Dean of Tisch College of Civic Life

Founder and executive director of the Community Innovators Lab at MIT and a civil rights attorney who has devoted her career to promoting civic participation, building community partnerships, and advocating for underrepresented communities, Dayna Cunningham was named the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. “To lead an institution focused on training the next generation to support and partner with communities in their shared civic work is an extraordinary opportunity,” she said.

Photo: iStockPhoto: iStock
What’s Causing Rising Prices for Gas, Food, Cars, Toys, and More?

Michael Klein, the William L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs at The Fletcher School and executive editor of the nonpartisan online publication EconoFact, dissects the issues, talking about supply chain problems, how the pandemic plays a role, and how raising interest rates to curb inflation could affect the economic recovery. “What really matters is what happens with COVID, and not just in the United States, but worldwide,” he says. “That’s because we’re sourcing from so many countries, but it’s also because the pandemic isn’t solved anywhere until it’s solved everywhere.”

Photo: Jessie EllisPhoto: Jessie Ellis
Sourdough: The Science Behind a Pandemic Staple

Way back in the early dark days of spring 2020, when so many of us were under lockdown, baking with sourdough became a culinary coping mechanism. So we turned to Benjamin Wolfe, a biologist who studies microbial ecology and evolution in his lab at Tufts, and his colleagues for a deeper explanation of all things sourdough. “While most breads require yeast, all you need for sourdough is flour and water,” says Wolfe. “Microbes are already present in flour, and they begin to multiply when water is added.” We also give you nine tips to make sourdough.  

Taylor McNeil can be reached at

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