The Daily Dose: Researchers try to address the known-unknown of COVID-19

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Spain’s death toll soars above 1,000. Saudi Arabia forced to take on more debt to finance coronavirus fight. Jordan imposes a curfew. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan urges lifting of Iran sanctions. There’s a lot going on and situations are changing hourly. As usual.

Last night, governor of the state of California issued a statewide lockdown. All non-essential travel will be forbidden. As per the Guardian, “California has extended its shelter-in-place order to cover the entire state, the governor announced on Thursday, in a dramatic escalation of efforts to battle the coronavirus outbreak. The order, which will go into force on Thursday evening, requires the state’s nearly 40 million residents to remain indoors and limit outdoor movement to what is ‘absolutely essential’.” This is a necessary move but cause for concern. California has the fifth largest economy in the world when compared with nations. It ranks just behind India in terms of GDP. A complete shutdown will have serious economic consequences.

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials worried about stealth infections spread by asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic people. It remains an unknown. As per Nature, “As coronavirus outbreaks surge worldwide, research teams are racing to understand a crucial epidemiological puzzle — what proportion of infected people have mild or no symptoms and might be passing the virus on to others. Some of the first detailed estimates of these covert cases suggest that they could represent some 60% of all infections.” It is a genuine problem since epidemic models predict successive waves of infection spread out over time. Identifying these infections will be key to halting future outbreaks.

The COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted how important proper diagnostics (or any diagnostics in America’s case) play a central role in fighting disease outbreaks. Now, scientists are trying to move beyond RNA-based techniques to confirm infections. “Labs and companies around the world have raced to develop antibody tests, and a few have been used in small studies and received commercial approval, including several from China. But so far, large-scale data from such tests—for example showing what fraction of people in the hard-hit city of Wuhan, China, might now be immune—is still lacking or at least not public. Scientists hope that will soon change as more tests become available.”

Recent research suggests that the evolution of different cell types should be considered. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “Researchers in Detlev Arendt’s laboratory at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, used single-cell RNA sequencing technology to separate out individual sponge cells and analyze their gene expression. The team described the molecular features of a family of cells that express digestive enzymes inside the water canals… They also found that another family of cells had hallmarks of immune cells (i.e. the ability to eat cellular debris and microbes), and one of these also had the features of a neuron (i.e., the ability to send out chemical signals into a gap between cells).”

Climate scientists have long known of a significant event roughly 56 million years ago that caused significant global warming. Recent research suggests that the source of heat was a major release of lava from the ocean floor. As per Quanta Magazine, “Evidence indicates that suspiciously close in time to all that igneous activity, the planet warmed by 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit). In this ancient warming event, known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, land suffered intense downpours, while ocean acidification and heat drove many marine species extinct. Many land animals went extinct as well and were replaced by dwarf species. The Arctic had alligators, giant tortoises, and vegetation typical of Florida today, and sea levels were around 300 feet higher than now.” Sounds unpleasant, to say the least.

Have a great weekend and let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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