The Daily Dose: Sony just joined the international space race; Probiotics may help rheumatic conditions

It’s full speed ahead for in the international space race, this time with an added, commercial twist. Per the Japan Times, “Sony Corp. said Wednesday that it will develop a satellite jointly with the University of Tokyo and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA… The Japanese company will develop a camera for use in a satellite that can be controlled remotely from Earth in real time.” Among other things, Sony will use the images collected with its space camera in its mammoth entertainment business.

As I grow older, the perennial search for the fountain of youth makes increasing sense to me. The wrinkles and sags and skin splotches appear overnight (at least that’s how it seems). Researchers in Korea are turning to roundworms in the search for a biochemical way to turn back the ravages of Mother Nature and Father Time. According to reports, “KAIST researchers have been able to dial up and down creatures’ lifespans by altering the activity of proteins found in roundworm cells that tell them to convert sugar into energy when their cellular energy is running low. Humans also have these proteins, offering up the intriguing possibilities for developing longevity-promoting drugs.” Sign me up for clinical testing.

The Philippines’ COVID-19 situation is moving in the wrong direction, joining a growing list of countries with worsening pandemic conditions. The island nation moves past Indonesia with the most cases in Southeast Asia. “A recent surge in cases of the virus in and around the capital Manila has pushed authorities to reimpose a lockdown affecting around a quarter of the country’s 107 million people. The Philippines recorded 3,561 new infections on Thursday, taking its total confirmed cases to 119,460. That is higher than Indonesia’s 118,753 cases.” A little over 2,000 people have died from the coronavirus in the country. The government recently relaxed nationwide lockdown restrictions only to return to them in many parts of the country, including its cramped and densely populated capital, Manila.

In general, the Asia-Pacific region is experiencing a significant uptick in COVID-19 infections. Once an example of how to do things correctly, governments have been lulled into a state of complacency, something SARS-COV-2 never fails to punish. Australia’s recent outbreak is a perfect example. They’re not alone though. Per Science, “Many other countries and cities have seen dispiriting rises in cases after months of relative calm. Hong Kong had 12 straight days with new cases topping 100 in July, after a tiny trickle in May and June. Vietnam went for 3 months without reporting any domestic transmission until an unexplained case appeared in the central port city of Danang on 24 July. The region has reported more than 200 cases in the past week—all the way from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south—as well as the first eight deaths. The government is putting hot spots under quarantine.”

A new international nuclear weapons agreement is set to come into effect next year. Many questions continue to remain unanswered and concerns continue to linger. Unfortunately, it’s not an all-hands-on-deck situation. As expected, nuclear powers aren’t on-board. An opinion piece in Nature suggests scientists need to be given a greater and more prominent position in policy making. According to the article, “The big question is to what extent the TPNW will make a difference to the actions of nuclear states. None has signed, but they will all be affected, in part because the treaty prohibits companies and individuals from signatory countries from assisting in weapons development. And because the TPNW is an intergovernmental agreement, nuclear-weapons countries will need to send delegates to its meetings, whether or not they agree with it.” With the nationalism, xenophobia, and authoritarianism on the rise across the globe, the situation does not look promising.

An article in Science News looks back on the invention of the atomic bomb from a purely scientific point of view. In particular, the article highlights how harnessing atomic energy was anything but a foregone conclusion among researchers. “the path from basic science to the bomb was not straightforward. There was no clear clue to how subatomic energy could be tapped for any significant use, military or otherwise. Writing in Science News Bulletin (the original Science News precursor) in 1921, physicist Robert Millikan noted that a gram of radium, in the process of disintegrating into lead, emits 300,000 times as much energy as burning a gram of coal. That wasn’t scary, Millikan said, because there wasn’t even enough radium in the world to make very much popcorn.” It’s worth the read whether you’re concerned about nuclear weapons or not. It’s important to know where we’ve been if we hope to imagine where we can go.

A link between gut microbiota and the onset of rheumatic conditions has been suggested in the past. A recent survey, in the form of an opinion piece in Frontiers in Nutrition, takes a look at a number of studies that support that notion. The authors conclude, “There is, in fact, a range of beneficial effects exerted by these healthy microorganisms with regard to inflammation and immunity which provides a rationale for probiotic supplementation in these conditions.” Rheumatic diseases include rheumatoid arthritis (RA), spondyloarthritis (SpA), crystal-induced arthritis (CIA) and connective tissue autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and systemic sclerosis (SSc).

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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