The Daily Dose: First full model of a human embryo; AstraZeneca in the middle of another vaccine controversy.

For obvious reasons, studying human embryos using invasive techniques poses an ethical problem for scientists. Unfortunately, this has gotten in the way of understanding early embryo development as well as designing treatments. Scientists may have taken a big step towards rectifying that obstacle. Per Nature, “The emergence of techniques that use cells cultured in vitro to construct models of mammalian embryos therefore opens up exciting opportunities. Two papers in Nature now make key advances in this field, showing that human embryonic stem cells or cells reprogrammed from adult tissues can be induced to self-organize in a dish, forming structures that resemble early human embryos. This is the first integrated human embryo model containing cell types related to all the founding cell lineages of the fetus and its supporting tissues.”

The U.S. FDA has weighed in on the AstraZeneca controversy by reporting the results of its clinical trial of their COVID-19 vaccine. This comes in light of reports around the world of rare blood clotting events some claim are associated with the drug. Per Reuters, “AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine performed better than expected in a major late-stage trial, potentially paving the way for its emergency authorization in the United States and bolstering confidence in the shot after numerous setbacks in Europe.” This is a big vote of confidence for a beleaguered vaccine.

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The ugly head of medical nationalism is rearing its head in Europe. According to a report in Reuters, “Britain on Monday demanded the European Union allow the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines it has ordered as tensions over a possible export ban on EU-manufactured shots mounted and Brussels pointed an accusing finger at drugmaker AstraZeneca… After falling far behind post-Brexit Britain and the United States in rolling out vaccines, EU leaders are due to discuss a possible ban on vaccine exports to Britain at a summit on Thursday.”

As if it wasn’t hard enough getting the novel coronavirus under control, it has now been established that domestic animals have been infected by SARS-CoV-2 variants. According to Science, “The variants of SARS-CoV-2 that keep emerging aren’t just a human problem. Two reports released this week have found the first evidence that dogs and cats can become infected by B.1.1.7, a recent variant of the pandemic coronavirus that transmits more readily between people and also appears more lethal in them. The finds mark the first time one of the several major variants of concern has been seen outside of humans.” This finding significantly complicates the COVID-19 pandemic.

When most people think of sharks, the Great White comes to mind. By extension, visions of meat-eating machines gliding just under the ocean’s surface naturally pop up. Turns out, this carnivorous sharks haven’t always been the case. A report in Science documents an ancient shark whose eating habits were more like whales. “Modern sharks occupy marine ecosystems across the world but display little morphological diversity, being mostly streamlined predators. Vullo et al. describe a new species of shark from the late Cretaceous that shows that the lack of current variation is not due to limited morphological “exploration” in the past. Specifically, Aquilolamna milarcae displays many features similar to modern manta rays, notably long, slender fins and a mouth seemingly adapted to filter feeding, suggesting that it was planktivorous. This finding indicates both that elasmobranchs evolutionarily experimented with other forms and that the planktivorous ‘soarers’ emerged in this group at least 30 million years earlier than previously recognized.”

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

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