The Daily Dose: More evidence the novel coronavirus passed through pangolins; Giving Native Americans their due (finally)

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Unless you’ve been quarantining under a rock on a deserted island, you’ll be aware of an ongoing— and often heated— debate regarding the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Without going into the bad-faith arguments put forward by parties with political motivations, let’s just say there’s a question whether the coronavirus originated in nature. A new study published in Nature goes some way to answering that question. “In this study, one coronavirus isolated from a Malayan pangolin showed 100%, 98.6%, 97.8% and 90.7% amino acid identity with SARS-CoV-2 in the E, M, N and S genes, respectively. In particular, the receptor-binding domain within the S protein of the Pangolin-CoV is virtually identical to that of SARS-CoV-2, with one noncritical amino acid difference. Results of comparative genomic analysis suggest that SARS-CoV-2 might have originated from the recombination of a Pangolin-CoV-like virus with a Bat-CoV-RaTG13-like virus.” It’s actual evidence. That counts for more than a lot.

Herd immunity. A vaccine by Christmas. They’re all pipe dreams without some form of testing among humans, the most controversial of which is controlled human infection studies in which volunteers are infected on purpose. Shah et al. carefully explored the underlying ethics of infecting people without a vaccine of effective therapy on hand. “The high social value of such CHIs has generally been assumed. Based on our framework, we agree on the ethical conditions for conducting SARS-CoV-2 CHIs (see the table). We differ on whether the social value of such CHIs is sufficient to justify the risks at present, given uncertainty about both in a rapidly evolving situation; yet we see none of our disagreements as insurmountable.”

There’s a lot about the immune system that remains a mystery. One unknown is how killer T-cells employ perforin, a molecule that helps open a target cell up, and granzymes, an enzyme that induces the targeted cell to self-destruct. A study by Dustin et al. reports how these “protein bombs” function. “Their results, reported today in Science, suggest the cells package the molecules into containers the team calls supramolecular attack particles, or SMAPs. By analyzing the payloads of these bombs, the scientists discovered that SMAPs contain not just perforin and granzymes, but also more than 280 other kinds of proteins.”

There’s a lot left to be desired when it comes to dating significant events in Native American history from their point of view. Most current estimates are done by using the presence of Western goods, which researchers have a firm date on. Everyone knows the current system is inadequate. According to Discover, “That’s why the Dating Iroquoia Project exists. Made up of researchers here at Cornell University, the University of Georgia and the New York State Museum, we’ve used radiocarbon dating and statistical modeling to date organic materials directly associated with Iroquoian sites in New York’s Mohawk Valley and Ontario in Canada.” It’s a long time overdue but obviously welcome.

Thanks for reading and, as always, let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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