The Daily Dose: The tragedy within the tragedy within the tragedy of COVID-19

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The tragedy within the tragedy that has been the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly been the decimation of the elderly population in long-term care facilities. However, even within that bleak story, there’s further tragedy. Residents of color have died at a greater rate than their Caucasian counterparts. As per the New York Times, “Nursing homes where those groups make up a significant portion of the residents — no matter their location, no matter their size, no matter their government rating — have been twice as likely to get hit by the coronavirus as those where the population is overwhelmingly white.” It’s a trend that is reflected in broader society and is reflective of long-standing inequities.

Continuing the racial inequality discussion… Commentary in Nature points out that disparities among different racial groups extends to the environment as well. Specifically, people of color are more likely to be exposed to harmful pollutants, even compared to white populations that earn significantly less. (This minimizes the pure poverty argument, though by no means negates it.) In turn, they are more susceptible to pathogens like SARS-CoV-2. According to Harriett Washington, “It’s true that pathogens are democratic by nature. It’s also true that marginalized minority ethnic groups have increased exposure to environmental pollution and reduced access to health care. All this creates physical and social vulnerabilities that leave people of colour less able to resist and survive infections such as the coronavirus.”

Biofilm formation by bacteria remains poorly understood phenomenon. One thing that has been established is that it plays a role in the development of antibiotic resistance by providing shelter from the drugs and also a safe place to swap resistance genes. For the most part, biofilms have been considered immobile, sessile to be exact. However, recent research has shown that they may be capable of limited mobility. A new study published in Science documents the role of flagella in biofilms. As per the authors, “The extracellular matrix (ECM) protein TasA was required for the expression of flagellar genes. In addition to its structural role as an adhesive fiber for cell attachment, TasA acted as a developmental signal stimulating a subset of biofilm cells to revert to a motile phenotype. Transcriptomic analysis revealed that TasA stimulated the expression of a specific subset of genes whose products promote motility and repress ECM production.”

In the 1970s, Russian archaeologists excavated a site called Ust-Kyakhta sandwiched between the southern banks of Lake Baikal and the Mongolian border in south-central Russia. The findings included a fragment of a human tooth. Almost a half century later, researchers decided to analyze it. Their findings sheds significant light on the relationship between ancient Eurasian populations and today’s Native American population. According to the lead researcher, “The man lived 4500 kilometers from Beringia and nearly 3200 kilometers from a woman in northeastern Siberia who shared about two-thirds of her genome with living Native Americans. This suggests the source population from which Native Americans emerged occupied a vast region of northeastern Eurasia.”
If you have the time to read the original Cell paper:

A recent article asks whether there is a race to contact extraterrestrial life forms. It’s presented as China vs.  the rest of the world. “Researchers using China’s new Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), the largest single-dish scope in the world, are piecing together a technological strategy to carry out a major and sweeping search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI)… What if China someday announces that this hunt has been successful? How would such a claim be verified, and what might the consequences be? And could an unofficial international SETI race already be underway?” The insinuation is that China would like to be the first make contact in the hopes of forming a dominant interstellar alliance. It smacks of needless alarmism and makes us more than a little uncomfortable. Unless, of course, that has been the objective of SETI all along.

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