The Daily Dose: COVID-19 and America’s science illiteracy problem; Petri dish brain cells

Not everyone experiences the benefits of large datasets equally. At the forefront were technology companies, ad agencies, and other commercial industries. It’s only beginning to truly trickle down to the health and life sciences. Companies are wasting no time catering to the trend. Per STAT News, “Big datasets like those All of Us is building — which include health records, imaging data, and one day, fully sequenced genomes — are a gold mine of insights about medicine. They’re also growing far more common as scientists analyze unprecedented amounts of biological data, from the microbes in our guts and proteins our cells express to the pixels in our MRIs and the mess of information in our medical records.” https://bit.ly/3bvoEDj


The World Health Organization announced that the members of the G7 have committed to committing significant funds to global health, especially COVID-19 related matters. Per the WHO, “Commitments made at today’s Virtual G7 leaders meeting hosted by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and at the Munich Security Conference later in the day, signaled significant progress in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic with an important underscoring of the need for global equity in access to test, treatments, and vaccines… Leaders recognised that no country can be safe until every country is safe and collectively committed over US $4.3 billion to the ACT Accelerator partnership to develop and distribute effective tests, treatments, and vaccines around the world.” Committing and pledging are great starts. The billion dollar question is always: how much are they really gonna pony up? https://bit.ly/3btsBZo


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The people in the know are only now starting to figure out that America’s failed and fractured COVID-19 response was, in a large part, due to the population’s appalling level of basic science literacy. In fact, most people are pretty much science illiterate. Mind you, deferring to scientists during a pandemic is not a sign of scientific literacy. It’s just a sign of a rational mind. An article in Scientific American discusses the problem. “In America, science literacy, and therefore scientific thinking, is suboptimal. In a Pew Research Center survey from 2019, only 52 percent of Americans were able to correctly identify a scientific hypothesis about a computer slowing down, and 60 percent were able to recognize that adding a control group is the best way of determining whether an ear infection medication is effective. These findings represent a failure of science education in our nation and they underscore why our response to COVID-19 has been so dismal.” The article goes on to assert (unnecessarily) that lack of science literacy may also predispose Americans to forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s, proving that the scientific community just can’t get out of its own way when trying to address the public. https://bit.ly/2NNaw07


Think brain cells grown in petri dishes are just a bunch of brain cells in a Petri dish? Think again. Turns out, they begin to mimic actual brain networks even at post-natal stages. “The researchers exposed human stem cells to a specific set of growth-promoting nutrients to create spherical organoids containing neurons and other cell types found in the outer layers of the brain. They periodically removed cells to sequence their RNA, which indicates which genes are active in making proteins. Then they compared this gene expression with a database of RNA from cells of human brains of different ages. They noticed that when an organoid reached 250 to 300 days old—roughly 9 months—its gene expression shifted to more closely resemble that of cells from human brains soon after birth. The cells’ patterns of methylation—chemical tags that can affix to DNA and influence gene activity—also corresponded to increasingly mature human brain cells as the organoids aged, the team reports today in Nature Neuroscience.” This is exciting news but also a little bit creepy. https://bit.ly/3dAYy4A


It’s hard to imagine a world where speculation about how and what killed the dinosaurs wasn’t one Science’s favorite parlor games. The latest installation of The Who-Dunnit involves where the killer space rock originated. Per space.com, “The chunk of space rock that killed the nonavian dinosaurs may have been a piece of a comet that Jupiter’s gravity kicked onto a collision course with Earth. A new study suggests that the dinosaur-killing object was not an asteroid from between Jupiter and Mars, as is often hypothesized. Instead, the study authors argue, the impactor was a piece of a comet from the Oort cloud, a mass of icy bodies that surrounds the outer edges of the solar system.” Duly noted. https://bit.ly/2NMH5LQ

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


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