The Daily Dose: New coronavirus variant in NYC; Dodgy publishing practices in journals.

At least one new variant specific to New York City may be in circulation according to the New York TImes. “Researchers have been scrutinizing the genetic material of the virus to see how it might be changing. They examine genetic sequences of virus taken from a small proportion of infected people to chart the emergence of new versions… The Caltech researchers discovered the rise in B.1.526 by scanning for mutations in hundreds of thousands of viral genetic sequences in a database called GISAID. ‘There was a pattern that was recurring, and a group of isolates concentrated in the New York region that I hadn’t seen,’ said Anthony West, a computational biologist at Caltech.” It’s worth noting that the papers are pre-pre-print, meaning they haven’t even been uploaded to pre-print servers. Needless to say, they also aren’t peer reviewed yet. That doesn’t mean they are faulty. Just that they haven’t been confirmed either.

New evidence seems to indicate that an ancient ancestors of Homo sapiens swing from branches after all. Per The Scientist, “In previous work, researchers deduced that Ardipithecus moved through the trees over the tops of branches, but didn’t swing from them, meaning that the last common ancestor of chimps and people probably moved in this way as well. But a new analysis of the hand of Ardipithecus, published in Science Advances, indicates that the hominin was likely capable of swinging beneath the branches of trees, as chimps do today.” Not entirely surprising but important nonetheless.

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In the face of new SARS-COV-2 variants, some of which appear to be less susceptible to current vaccines, vaccine companies are having to make adjustments on the fly. Per STAT News, “While Moderna and Pfizer, along with its partner BioNTech, have announced plans to test vaccines specifically targeted at variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, they are also planning to test the idea of simply giving people three doses instead of two of their vaccines that have already been authorized. Experts say it’s at least conceivable it could work.” It’s been likened to flooding a battlefield with troops. With any luck, the overwhelming show of force will neutralize the threat and also minimize the possibility of new variants cropping up since fewer should escape, at least in theory.

There’s something fishy in the scientific publishing world. An investigation into Didier Raoult and his discredited studies regarding hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, it’s been discovered that he had benefited from nepotistic practices at the journal that published his work. According to a report in Science, “… some researchers had another concern: Raoult’s astonishingly prolific publication in the journal New Microbes and New Infections, where some of Raoult’s collaborators serve as associate editors and editor-in-chief. Since the journal’s creation in 2013, Raoult’s name appeared on one-third of its 728 papers. Florian Naudet, a metascientist at the University of Rennes, wondered how common the pattern was. He and his colleagues teamed up with University of Oxford psychologist Dorothy Bishop, who had developed a method to identify prolific authorship, to explore its extent in the biomedical research literature.” As it turns out, the practice is much more widespread than believed. The revelation muddies the water for many journals and the papers they publish.

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

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