The Daily Dose: Ingenuity takes flight on Mars; India’s Prime Minister under fire for questionable COVID-19 decisions.

History has been made on Mars. According to the Associated Press, “NASA’s experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin air above the dusty red surface of Mars on Monday, achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet. The triumph was hailed as a Wright brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter even carried a bit of wing fabric from the Wright Flyer that made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. It was a brief hop — just 39 seconds and 10 feet (3 meters) — but accomplished all the major milestones.” Potentially, this opens up the use of drones on the planet as sources of scientific data and also a means of reconnaissance when dealing with hazardous geography.

After doing so well in lowering the number of new infections a few months ago, COVID-19 is battering India again, only worse this time. In this context, the country’s leadership has recently made some questionable decisions. According to Al-Jazeera, “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced a backlash on social media over his response to surging coronavirus cases, with users criticising his decision to address tens of thousands of people at state election rallies and letting Hindu devotees congregate for a festival.” India is currently recording more new cases of coronavirus than any other country. This week India is expected to rise above the high tide of the epidemic seen in the United States, when daily new cases peaked at nearly 300,000 in early January.

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The recent creation of hybrid primate-human embryos has rankled many bioethicists. While the experiement has been praised by some, others have been critical of the researchers. According to Nature, “Combining human cells with closely related primate embryos prompts questions about the status and identity of the resulting hybrids. ‘Some people may see that you’re creating morally ambiguous entities there,’ says Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He says this team was thorough in following existing guidelines. ‘I think they did quite a bit of due care to be mindful of regulations and ethical issues.’” As with the CRISPR-babies controversy in China, it’s already too late to go back.

A recent study in Science reports finding a treasure trove of Neandertal DNA in the soild of a cave where the ancient hominin used to dwell. For the first time, researchers have a copy of Neandertal nuclear DNA. The paper establishes that “dirt from Estatuas has yielded molecular treasure: the first nuclear DNA from an ancient human to be gleaned from sediments. Earlier studies reported shorter, more abundant human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from cave floors, but nuclear DNA, previously available only from bones and teeth, can be far more informative. ‘Now, it seems that it is possible to extract nuclear DNA from dirt, and we have a lot of dirt in archaeological sites,’ says archaeologist Marie Soressi of Leiden University.” The way the nuclear DNA was extracted from soil is a potential game-changer for the study of ancient hominins.

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

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