DAILY DOSE: Discovery makes natural origin of COVID-19 virus the most likely explanation; Fishing fleet threatens the Galapagos Islands.

While the origins of SARS-CoV-2 remain undetermined, researchers are inching ever closer to establishing that the virus most likely emerged naturally from bats and was not engineered in a laboratory. Per Nature, “Scientists have found three viruses in bats in Laos that are more similar to SARS-CoV-2 than any known viruses. Researchers say that parts of their genetic code bolster claims that the virus behind COVID-19 has a natural origin — but their discovery also raises fears that there are numerous coronaviruses with the potential to infect people… The results, which are not peer reviewed, have been posted on the preprint server Research Square1. Particularly concerning is that the new viruses contain receptor binding domains that are almost identical to that of SARS-CoV-2, and can therefore infect human cells. The receptor binding domain allows SARS-CoV-2 to attach to a receptor called ACE2 on the surface of human cells to enter them.” The team of international researchers  took saliva, faeces and urine samples from 645 bats in caves in northern Laos. They discovered viruses in horseshoe bats that are each more than 95% identical to SARS-CoV-2, which they named BANAL-52, BANAL-103 and BANAL-236. https://go.nature.com/2XGP7L4

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A team of reporters from the Associated Press and Univision investigated whether China’s maritime fishing fleet, the largest in the world consisting of thousands of massive ships, has engaged in illegal fishing in other country’s sovereign oceans and in environmentally protected areas. The answer is yes. Ships have even plundered fish and squid from the areas directly surrounding the Galapagos Islands, putting endangered species at risk. According to a conservationist quoted in the article, “‘China is chiefly responsible for the plunder of shark and tuna in Asia,’ says Hammarstedt, who organized the high seas campaign, called Operation Distant Water, after watching how illegal Chinese vessels ravaged poor fishing villages in West Africa. ‘With that track record, are we really supposed to believe they will manage this new fishery responsibly?’” Not mincing words, is he? https://bit.ly/3umvwMF

Developing gene therapy drugs is a high risk endeavor. Clinical trials involving these technologies seem more tenuous than their traditional counterparts. This says a lot since only about a third of potential drugs actually make it past clinical trials. The latest gene therapy failure revolved around dosing issues. Per FierceBiotech, “Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation has run into safety problems after escalating the dose in its pediatric gene therapy trial. Sixty percent of subjects in the small high-dose cohort suffered suspected unexpected serious adverse reactions (SUSARs) after being treated for a rare eye disease…. Three of the five pediatric patients who received the highest dose developed severe inflammation around one month after dosing. Investigators saw inflammation in both segments of the eye and needed to perform a second procedure to diagnose or treat the condition with medications delivered to the jellylike fluid inside the eye. A fourth patient developed significant inflammation but didn’t meet the SUSAR definition.” https://bit.ly/3lYzR4v

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AstraZeneca appears ot have bought its way into the mRNA vaccine business. Per Reuters, “AstraZeneca Plc (AZN.L) on Thursday struck a deal with the firm behind Imperial College London’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine to develop and sell drugs based on its self-amplifying RNA technology platform in other disease areas… AstraZeneca already produces an adenoviral vector COVID-19 vaccine, and emphasised the potential of the self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) technology in novel therapeutic programmes beyond the coronavirus pandemic.” The self-replicating RNA technology works similarly to the mRNA vaccines used by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. Considering how both vaccines have performed and the supposed versatility of mRNA drug development and production, the pharmaceutical company look back on the deal as money well spent. https://reut.rs/3lTkhap

A recent study indicates that humans may have reached the Americas much earlier than is currently believed. Per Science, “Between 23,000 and 21,000 years ago, people squished through the mud along a lakeshore in what is now New Mexico, alone and in small groups, leaving behind their footprints. Or at least that’s the conclusion of a new paper that Oregon State University, Corvallis, archaeologist Loren Davis calls ‘potentially groundbreaking.’ If the dates are right, the discovery would be the strongest evidence yet that people reached the Americas during the middle of the last ice age, thousands of years earlier than many archaeologists thought.” Estimations of anything having to do with ancient humans or hominins always seem to get revised earlier and earlier. https://bit.ly/3zGJZUx

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

IMAGE CREDIT: Mark Putney.

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