The Daily Dose: Toxic hard metals found in many common baby foods sold in groceries.

There’s some disturbing news coming out of the baby food department. According to a recent investigation there are toxic levels of heavy metals to be found in several popular brands. Per Reuters, “U.S. congressional investigators found “dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals” in certain baby foods that could cause neurological damage, a House Oversight subcommittee said in a report released on Thursday. The panel examined baby foods made by Nurture Inc, Hain Celestial Group Inc, Beech-Nut Nutrition and Gerber, a unit of Nestle, it said, adding that it was ‘greatly concerned’ that Walmart Inc, Campbell Soup Co and Sprout Organic Foods refused to cooperate with the investigation.” And corporations wonder why the public has such a negative view of them despite their efforts to present themselves as responsible players.

The knock-on effects of a year with minimal national leadership in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic continue to hamper current efforts today. Sequencing SARS-CoV-2 variants is a perfect example. Per the Associated Press, “Despite its world-class medical system and its vaunted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. fell behind in the race to detect dangerous coronavirus mutations. And it’s only now beginning to catch up. The problem has not been a shortage of technology or expertise. Rather, scientists say, it’s an absence of national leadership and coordination, plus a lack of funding and supplies for overburdened laboratories trying to juggle diagnostic testing with the hunt for genetic changes.” The time it takes to get America where it ought to be will costs lives, pure and simple.

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Researchers have posted huge numbers of SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences online since January 2020. The most popular data-sharing platform, called GISAID, now hosts more than 450,000 viral genomes. The major drawback of the platform is that their data is not publicly available, a fact that gets in the way of research. Scientists have made their thoughts known. “In a letter released on 29 January, [Rolf] Apweiler and others call for researchers to post their genome data in one of a triad of databases that don’t place any restrictions on data redistribution: the US GenBank, the EBI’s European Nucleotide Archive (ENA) and the DNA Data Bank of Japan, which are collectively known as the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration (INSDC).” Either that or GISAID need to make their SARS-CoV-2 data publicly available.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey entailed what might be one of the most monotonous jobs in astronomy: plugging optical fibers into hundreds of holes in aluminum plates. The holes matched the exact positions of stars, galaxies, or other bright objects in the telescopes’ view. Now, nobody needs worry about being tasked punished by being responsible for the job. Per Science, “after 20 years, the SDSS is going robotic. For the project’s upcoming fifth set of surveys, known as the SDSS-V, plug plates are being replaced by 500 tiny robot arms, each holding fiber tips that patrol a small area of the telescope’s focal plane. They can be reconfigured for a new sky map in 2 minutes. Other sky surveys are also adopting the speedy robots. They will not only save valuable observation time, but also allow the surveys to keep up with Europe’s Gaia satellite, the upcoming Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, and other efforts that produce huge catalogs of objects needing spectroscopic study. ‘It’s driven by the science of enormous imaging surveys,’ says astronomer Richard Ellis of University College London.” While robots and AI may be the apocalypse in waiting, for the time being, they’re allowing a few astronomers to breath a sigh of relief.

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

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