The researchers that comprised the WHO-sponsored exploratory team tasked with exploring the early days of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China have penned a commentary piece in the journal, Nature. In it, they address their critics and chart a path moving forward. According to the article, “Our group was convened by the World Health Organization (WHO) in October 2020. We have been the designated independent international members of a joint WHO–China team tasked with understanding the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Our report was published this March1. It was meant to be the first step in a process that has stalled. Here we summarize the scientific process so far, and call for action to fast-track the follow-up scientific work required to identify how COVID-19 emerged, which we set out in this article. The window of opportunity for conducting this crucial inquiry is closing fast: any delay will render some of the studies biologically impossible. Understanding the origins of a devastating pandemic is a global priority, grounded in science.” The statement does little to put to rest the observation that with limited data to go on, the researchers essentially adopted the age-old honor system when it came to questioning their Chinese counterparts. Making matters worse, the authors stress that time is running out for Phase 2, knowing full well that Beijing has expressed that the idea is a non-starter. Could you be any more toothless? (In Chandler Bing’s voice) https://go.nature.com/3sQBWCX
An article by the ever-insightful Helen Branswell over at STAT takes an honest look at how amazing the COVID-19 vaccines have been while also doing a deep dive into their shortcomings as exposed by the Delta variant. According to Branswell, “When Covid-19 vaccines were reported last fall to be roughly 95% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 infections, the world rejoiced — and even veteran scientists were blown away. Very few vaccines are that protective. Those made to fend off viruses like SARS-CoV-2 — viruses that invade the nose and throat, like flu — typically aren’t at the high end of the efficacy scale. That was the good news. Now, however, our soaring expectations for Covid-19 vaccines are in the process of sinking back to earth.” That is an apt way of putting it. https://bit.ly/3zoO4NY
Florida school districts continue to ignore the governor’s mandate mandating no mask mandates being allowed. Per the Associated Press, “Just over half of Florida’s 2.8 million public school students now face mandates to wear masks in classrooms as a courtroom battle continues over efforts by Gov. Ron DeSantis to leave such decisions up to parents. A majority of school board members in Orange County told the superintendent on Tuesday to require most students to wear masks, and agreed with her recommendation to keep the mandate through Oct. 30.” He won’t back down and expect him to quadruple down. DeSantis wants to run for president down the line and probably views this as proof of his conservative credentials. https://bit.ly/3kydm66
Move over exoplanets, there are new types of celestial bodies believed capable of supporting life, at least as we know it. According to space.com, “In the new study, researchers identify one such class of alien worlds — ‘Hycean’ planets, which are up to 2.5 times larger than Earth and feature huge oceans of liquid water beneath hydrogen-rich atmospheres. Hycean planets appear to be incredibly abundant throughout the Milky Way galaxy, and they could host microbial life similar to the ‘extremophiles’ that thrive in some of Earth’s harshest environments, study team members said.” Hycean worlds are similar to rocky “super-Earths” and gassy “mini-Neptunes,” two of the most common types of exoplanets. Hycean planets are distinct, with densities between the two. https://bit.ly/3ymXo3r
Researchers have discovered an ancient skeleton in Asia that may belong to a mysterious species of humans. Per Nature, “The 7,000-year-old skeleton of a teenage hunter-gatherer from Sulawesi in Indonesia could be the first remains found from a mysterious, ancient culture known as the Toaleans, researchers report this week in Nature. The largely complete fossil of a roughly 18-year-old Stone Age woman was found in 2015 buried in a fetal position in a limestone cave on Sulawesi. The island is part of a region known as Wallacea, which forms the central islands of the Indonesian archipelago. DNA extracted from the skull suggests the woman shared ancestry with New Guineans and Aboriginal Australians, as well with an extinct species of ancient human.” The fact that scientists were able to extract any DNA from the remains is impressive. The hot and humid conditions in Southeast Asia normally cause organic material to degrade quickly. https://go.nature.com/3gCwU7X
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.