The Daily Dose: Latin American scientists risk decades’ worth of setbacks; Another twist in The Great Pox story

The scientific community around the world have experienced all sorts of upheaval thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic including disruptions in field research, shuttering of labs, and working from home. The Americas are experiencing a crisis that threatens to destroy decades of improvements. Per Science, “Across Latin America, researchers have raced to contribute their expertise to the worst public health crisis in a century and demonstrate that several decades of investment in research—including the capacity to run large clinical trials—has paid off… At the same time, the pandemic has created deep economic and financial problems for the region, which faces a projected 5.3% contraction in gross domestic product this year. The resulting cuts are hitting science hard and threatening hard-won gains.” The irony is that at a time when the world needs scientists the most they are being actively marginalized. That’s the world we live in.

The evidence regarding ancient hominin’s evolution toward bipedalism is fairly established. However, a recent paper suggests that although there is no doubt that bipedalism was achieved, there may have been more than one “event” that led to it. “We show evidence for habitual use of highly flexed hip postures, which could potentially indicate regular climbing in a South African hominin from Sterkfontein, which is either Paranthropus robustus or Homo. Second, we present evidence that Australopithecus africanus likely did not climb at the frequencies seen in extant nonhuman apes, and exhibits a modern, human-like pattern of loading at the hip joint.”

Infant mortality continues to be a major problem in developing countries. A recent study analyzed the effectiveness of employing a host of evidence-based solutions. They found that “Among 5343 eligible babies in these facilities, we assessed outcomes of 2938 newborn and fresh stillborn babies (1447 in the intervention and 1491 in the control group). 347 (23%) of 1491 infants in the control group were stillborn or died in the neonatal period compared with 221 (15%) of 1447 infants in the intervention group at 28 days (odds ratio 0·66, 95% CI 0·54–0·81). No harm or adverse effects were found.” The authors conclude that evidence-based practices and invests in health system strengthening significantly increase babies’ survival.

There’s been an ebb and flow between theories regarding how syphilis appeared on European shores. One version has the Great Pox being shuttled into the so-called Old World from the New World by none other than Christopher Columbus (or at least, one of his crew). The other theory suggests that a form of the disease had been endemic in Europe long before that. According to new research, “For centuries, historians, and archaeologists have debated the origin of the disease, with some blaming Christopher Columbus and his crew for bringing it back from the Americas. Now, using DNA of the pathogen extracted from the remains of nine Europeans, researchers have found evidence that the epidemic was homegrown: Diverse syphilis strains were circulating in Europe, perhaps decades before Columbus’s voyages.” To be fair, the notches for and against continue to mount. A few years back, there was supposedly clear genetic evidence that syphilis was brought over from the Americas.

Thanks for reading. Have a fantastic weekend. As always, let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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