THe Daily Dose: Japan throws down the Martian space race gauntlet; Human and Neandertal mouths shared common bacteria.

The Martian space race is heating up with Japan throwing down the gauntlet. According to a report in the Associated Press, the island nation plans on pipping the United States, Europe, China, and Russia by bringing soil samples back from Mars by 2029. Per the AP, “Japan’s space agency plans to bring soil samples back from the Mars region ahead of the U.S. and Chinese missions now operating on Mars, in hopes of finding clues to the planet’s origin and traces of possible life. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, plans to launch an explorer in 2024 to land on the Martian moon Phobos to collect 10 grams (0.35 ounce) of soil and bring it back to Earth in 2029. The rapid return trip would put Japan ahead of the United States and China in bringing back samples from the Martian region despite starting later, project manager Yasuhiro Kawakatsu said in an online news conference Thursday.”

If it hasn’t become obvious to everyone, there’s a of of uncertainty revolving around what the future holds for the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s nice to be optimistic and irrational optimism appears to be the M.O. of politicians around the world. That stance belies the stark reality of the Delta-variant driven surge in infections currently sweeping across the globe. So what does the future hold? According to Science, “Experience with other viruses gives evolutionary biologists some clues about where SARS-CoV-2 may be headed. The courses of past outbreaks show the coronavirus could well become even more infectious than Delta is now, Read says: ‘I think there’s every expectation that this virus will continue to adapt to humans and will get better and better at us.’ Far from making people less sick, it could also evolve to become even deadlier, as some previous viruses including the 1918 flu have. And although COVID-19 vaccines have held up well so far, history shows the virus could evolve further to elude their protective effect—although a recent study in another coronavirus suggests that could take many years, which would leave more time to adapt vaccines to the changing threat.” One of the bad things about the world’s current vaccination status is that not enough people have been vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, but enough vaccine has been dispensed to increase the selection pressure on the coronavirus. This increases the possibility of a deadlier, vaccine-resistant strain to evolve. And that would be bad. Really really bad.

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Climate change is making a country increasingly vulnerable to running out of water. Per Al-Jazeera, “As an island, Taiwan is dependent on the annual typhoon season to bring enough rainwater to meet its domestic and industrial needs, but it was forced to scramble after a typhoon failed to hit last year for the first time in decades, worsened by limited rainfall. Domestic water use was rationed while thousands of trucks transported water to supply its lucrative semiconductor industry, angering farmers because much of that water had been earmarked for them. While Taiwan’s reservoirs were eventually refilled after heavy rain – so much so that it led to flooding in the south – experts have said the island’s recent troubles are just a taste of what is to come with climate change.” As if Taiwan doesn’t have enough problems as it is.

Did you know that the crazy behavior of quantum mechanics even translates to larger molecules? Neither did I. Apparently, they do. Per Quanta Magazine, “Researchers have been steadily increasing the size at which superpositions and related quantum effects can still be observed — from particles to small molecules, then bigger molecules, and now, they hope, nanoscale lumps of matter. No one knows how far in principle this expansion of quantumness can continue. Is there — as some think — a size limit at which it simply vanishes, perhaps because quantum behavior is incompatible with gravity (which is negligible for atoms and molecules)? Or is there no fundamental limit to how big quantumness can be?” So does this make teleportation more likely?

There’s already been encyclopedias worth of information written about our gut microbiomes. However, there’s another part of the human body that is simply teeming with bacteria: the oral cavity. A team of researchers wanted to investigate the evolution of the bacteria that call our mouths home. Per Science, “Reconstructing oral metagenomes from up to 100 thousand years ago, we show that the microbial profiles of both Neanderthals and modern humans are highly similar, sharing functional adaptations in nutrient metabolism. These include an apparent Homo-specific acquisition of salivary amylase-binding capability by oral streptococci, suggesting microbial coadaptation with host diet. We additionally find evidence of shared genetic diversity in the oral bacteria of Neanderthal and Upper Paleolithic modern humans that is not observed in later modern human populations. Differences in the oral microbiomes of African hominids provide insights into human evolution, the ancestral state of the human microbiome, and a temporal framework for understanding microbial health and disease.” While there were commonalities between humans and other primates, there were also considerable differences.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend. Let’s be careful out there.

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