The Daily Dose: Mystery of nitrogen fixation is solved; French argue bookstores are essential.

Some uncertainties have fuzzy endings that don’t provide closure. Others have very definitive conclusions. The mystery regarding whether nitrogen fixation occurs in extreme cold environments like the Arctic has lingered for a long time. There have been some hints that it may,but nothing definitive. That is until now. Japanese scientists have discovered that nitrogen fixation takes place in Arctic waters very close to ice sheets. That’s not all. Per The Scientist, “For Shiozaki, the finding that nitrogen fixation occurs at the bottom of the globe is notable, but he is more struck by who’s doing the fixing. ‘The most surprising thing is that the cyanobacterium UCYN-A was the major diazotroph,’ he says, as that microbe has previously been found in tropical and subtropical waters, as well as the Arctic Ocean. ‘This means that UCYN-A [is distributed] all over the world, from tropics to polar regions.’” Microbes that are able to live in both temperate oceans and in polar regions “are very, very rare,” she says.

It’s sort of a good news/bad news type of morning for in the COVID-19 drug development arena. Let’s start with the good… Reuters is reporting some encouraging news regarding one of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the United States. “Moderna said it expects two-month safety data, as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in the second half of November, after which it will file for an emergency use authorization.” Considering the recent spate of not-so-encouraging news coming from the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca trials, this is welcome news.

Now for the bad news… Scientists are not feeling very happy about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to approve Gilead’s COVID-19 treatment remdesivir as well as the European Union’s decision to lock massive deal for the drug. Per Science, “But both decisions baffled scientists who have closely watched the clinical trials of remdesivir unfold over the past 6 months—and who have many questions about remdesivir’s worth. At best, one large, well-designed study found remdesivir modestly reduced the time to recover from COVID-19 in hospitalized patients with severe illness. A few smaller studies found no impact of treatment on the disease whatsoever. Then, on 15 October—in this month’s decidedly unfavorable news for Gilead— the fourth and largest controlled study delivered what some believed was a coup de grâce: The World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Solidarity trial showed that remdesivir does not reduce mortality or the time COVID-19 patients take to recover.”

A fascinating, if not somewhat disturbing, article in Nature explores whether artificially grown brain cells and larger brain organoids are capable of creating sentient organisms. One example cited in the article recounts a researcher’s work with lab grown brain cells. “In August 2019, Muotri’s group published a paper in Cell Stem Cell reporting the creation of human brain organoids that produced coordinated waves of activity, resembling those seen in premature babies. The waves continued for months before the team shut the experiment down.” There are many more examples of the creation of organized brain waves from scratch.

A crash landing of a European lander on a comet has yielded surprising results, considering the crash landing was initially considered a failure. According to Nature, “The imprint has allowed the researchers to measure the strength of ice beneath the comet’s surface — and they discovered that it is exceptionally soft. “It’s softer than the lightest snow, the froth on your cappuccino or even the bubbles in your bubble bath,” says Laurence O’Rourke, an ESA scientist at the European Space Astronomy Centre in Madrid, who led a search to locate the wayward lander, which was found in 2016.” Talk about making lemonade.

The COVID-19 continues to highlight interesting facts about different cultures around the world. The recently declared French lockdown has prompted bibliophiles to make a surprising demand. Per The Guardian, “French authors, booksellers and publishers are imploring the French government to allow bookshops to stay open because reading is “essential”, as the country enters a national four-week lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus.” We wholly and unequivocally support this notion.

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