The Daily Dose: Is fact-finding in China an illusion when it comes to COVID-19?

Sign up for Scientific Inquirer’s Steady State Newsletter for the week’s top stories, exclusive interviews, and weekly giveaways. Plenty of value added but without the tax.

The World Health Organization has sent an advance team to China to do preliminary work for an investigation to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2. As per Reuters, “The two WHO experts, specialists in animal health and epidemiology, will work with Chinese scientists to determine the scope and itinerary of the investigation, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said, declining to name them.” The initial zoonotic jump was initially believed to have occurred at a wet market in Wuhan. Unfortunately, all evidence at the location was destroyed when Chinese officials decided to conduct a thorough cleaning and decontamination before international researchers could visit. Perhaps, local scientists were allowed to collect data, though there hasn’t been any indication that it occurred. It definitely complicates determining the virus’s origin.

Science never ceases to shake up established narratives (often dated Eurocentric ones) about global exploration and contact between ancient indigenous populations. The meeting between Polynesians and Native Americans from what is today South America has always been a point of interest. Now, thanks to modern genetic research, a clearer picture has begun to emerge. As per Science, “By about 1200 C.E., Polynesians were masters of oceanic exploration, roaming 7000 kilometers across the Pacific Ocean in outrigger canoes. Guided by subtle changes of wind and waves, the paths of migrating birds, bursts of light from bioluminescent plankton, and the position of the stars, they reached and settled islands from New Zealand to Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, the closest Polynesian island to South America… So it’s natural to wonder: Did these world-class explorers make it the last 3800 kilometers to South America? A genomic study of more than 800 modern Polynesians and Native Americans suggests they did.” The whole Europeans-did-it-first narrative of long distance exploration continues to be revised.

Shortages of COVID-19 testing kits and necessary reagents are forcing the scientific community to think outside of the box and devise ingenuitive ways of assessing how prevalent infection is in the community. A mathematical strategy called pooling is already being implemented by countries such as China, Germany, and the United States. It is more common than you might think. As per Nature, “There are many ways to conduct group testing, and scientists in several countries are experimenting with the best method for doing this during a pandemic. Their ideas largely come from a field of mathematics known as group testing, which has been widely used — from detecting faulty Christmas-tree lights to estimating the prevalence of HIV in a population.” The method can also be a work-around for public health officials in countries where politics has hampered testing (lookin’ at you America).

There is increasing evidence that the bacteria in our guts — microbiota — play significant role in our bodies. One line of thinking postulates that there may be a direct link between microorganisms and the brain, by way of the central nervous system. A recent study sheds light on microbiota-brain connections. According to the paper in Nature, “We find that the gut microbiome modulates gut-extrinsic sympathetic neurons: microbiota depletion leads to increased expression of the neuronal transcription factor cFos, and colonization of germ-free mice with bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids suppresses cFos expression in the gut sympathetic ganglia.” In other words, the connection is there. Amazing stuff.


IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

Words matter. Images matter. The Scientific Inquirer needs your support. Help us pay our contributors for their hard work. Visit our Patreon page and discover ways that you can make a difference.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: