DAILY DOSE: DNA replication damaged in zero-gravity conditions; Thomas Edison was right about sleeping.


As if the chaotic withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan wasn’t shock enough to the country’s civil society, a crippling drought has been sapping life out of the country’s land. According to the Associated Press, “Afghanistan’s drought, its worst in decades, is now entering its second year, exacerbated by climate change. The dry spell has hit 25 of the country’s 34 provinces, and this year’s wheat harvest is estimated to be down 20% from the year before. Along with fighting, the drought has contributed to driving more than 700,000 people from their homes this year, and the onset of winter will only increase the potential for disaster.” On top of everything else, economic sanctions put in place by the United States makes the situation look very bleak. https://bit.ly/31KlE54


Anti-vaccine proponents tend to be opportunistic. They’ll jump on the slightest bit of negative news about vaccines and amplify it from a paper cut into a life-threatening gash. That’s why a little known United States government database, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), designed to track immunization side effects has been such a god-send to the movement. Per the Japan Times, “VAERS is a crucial monitoring system that helps both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration spot problems with vaccines early on. The rollout of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 shot was paused, for example, after just six cases of blood clots were reported to VAERS out of nearly 7 million doses administered… The existence of VAERS is little discussed by public-health figureheads. If you already know about the database, you may have learned about it via anti-vaccine propaganda, which falsely promotes it as evidence that vaccines have harmful effects.” Maybe the database needs to be restricted to only accept reports of side effects and make its contents accessible only by qualified individuals. https://bit.ly/3DExRFq


Slowly, but surely, scientists are learning about the ways space travel can potentially be harmful to human beings. A recent study highlighted the way zero-gravity damages the transcription process. Per the Frontiers Blog, “During parabolic flight to simulate weightless conditions in space, researchers show for the first time that a DNA polymerase enzyme derived from bacteria makes 10-140% more errors while copying DNA in microgravity. Combined with the known greater rate of DNA damage from space radiation, this inaccuracy of DNA replication is likely to pose a threat to the health of future astronauts on long missions.” DNA undergoes a higher rate of mutation – e.g. substitutions of single nucleotides, crosslinks, inversions, or deletions – due to damage from cosmic rays and solar particles. https://bit.ly/3oFWygM

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As the launch of the potentially transformational Webb Space Telescope nears, the excitement is palpable, especially among the astronomy community. An article in Nature provides some context regarding the multi-billion-dollar technology’s promise. According to the article, “If everything goes to plan, Webb will remake astronomy by peering at cosmic phenomena such as the most distant galaxies ever seen, the atmospheres of far-off planets and the hearts of star-forming regions swaddled in dust. Roughly 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, which has transformed our understanding of the cosmos over the past 31 years, Webb will reveal previously hidden aspects of the Universe.” The Webb is set to lift off from a launch pad in Kourou, French Guiana, on 22 December or later. The telescope is a partnership involving NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). https://go.nature.com/3DEnMZg


Scientists have been trying to seize the initiative when it comes to coral bleaching and they are turning to genetics and evolution for solutions. Per the Associated Press, “On a moonless summer night in Hawaii, krill, fish and crabs swirl through a beam of light as two researchers peer into the water above a vibrant reef. Minutes later, like clockwork, they see eggs and sperm from spawning coral drifting past their boat. They scoop up the fishy-smelling blobs and put them in test tubes. In this Darwinian experiment, the scientists are trying to speed up coral’s evolutionary clock to breed “super corals” that can better withstand the impacts of global warming. For the past five years, the researchers have been conducting experiments to prove their theories would work. Now, they’re getting ready to plant laboratory-raised corals in the ocean to see how they survive in Nature.” A solution to the global coral bleaching problem cannot come soon enough. https://bit.ly/3DEfsso


Sometimes, science confirms stories that are just strange enough to seem apocryphal. One of those is the way Thomas Edison solved problems he was stumped by. Per Science, “When Thomas Edison hit a wall with his inventions, he would nap in an armchair while holding a steel ball. As he started to fall asleep and his muscles relaxed, the ball would strike the floor, waking him with insights into his problems. Or so the story goes. Now, more than 100 years later, scientists have repeated the trick in a lab, revealing that the famous inventor was on to something. People following his recipe tripled their chances of solving a math problem. The trick was to wake up in the transition between sleep and wakefulness, just before deep sleep.” I’m going to focus on how to bring about world peace while simultaneously making my first billion. I’ll let you know how it goes. https://bit.ly/3Ixk1Zl

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

IMAGE CREDIT: Creative Commons

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