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DAILY DOSE: Omicron bails out the American public; Bacteriophages may influence human cognition.

There appears to be some good news for the American public who have demonstrated that they’re ready to throw in the towel against Covid-19 regardless of how many lives can still potentially be lost. 

Per the Associated Press, “The omicron wave that assaulted the United States this winter also bolstered its defenses, leaving enough protection against the coronavirus that future spikes will likely require much less — if any — dramatic disruption to society. Millions of individual Americans’ immune systems now recognize the virus and are primed to fight it off if they encounter omicron, or even another variant. 

“About half of eligible Americans have received booster shots, there have been nearly 80 million confirmed infections overall and many more infections have never been reported. One influential model uses those factors and others to estimate that 73% of Americans are, for now, immune to omicron, the dominant variant, and that could rise to 80% by mid-March.”

This is obviously great news. Unfortunately, if the past two pandemic years has taught us anything, Sars-CoV-2 has an uncanny ability to throw curveballs when we’re all looking for sliders.

Nature sat down with five science communicators at the Falling Walls Science Summit to talk about their work and how they’re tackling local challenges to bridge the gap between science and society in Africa. Their suggestions demonstrate the creative ways they have tackled culturally relevant SciComm.

Speaking of culturally relevant, an article in Science highlighted a very common problem in science: a myopic, Western-centric frame of reference. In this case, microbiota research. According to the article, “There are many ethnic groups and geographical locations that are dramatically underrepresented,” says Rob Knight, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Diego, who was not part of the study. The distribution of samples “speaks to deep inequities in how research is funded and conducted.” A fuller picture of how different microbiomes impact health could aid the development of diagnostics and therapies for specific populations, says Knight, who is working to make microbiome sampling more equitable.

“Unlike the human genome, which only varies slightly among individuals, the human microbiome differs radically. Diet, exercise, socioeconomic status, antibiotic use, and even pollution can influence its makeup, with some studies suggesting geography is one of the strongest variables.”

And while we’re on the subject of microbiota, recent research seems to indicate that bacteriophages – viruses that infect bacteria – may play a role in executive function. Per The Scientist, “An abundance of research from recent years suggests that the bacterial composition of the gut microbiome has a notable effect on brain function and neurological health. However, a new study indicates that microbiome research has overlooked a key factor: the composition and prevalence of viruses. Specifically, research published in Cell Host & Microbe today (February 16) suggests that the presence of bacteriophages is correlated with performance on memory tests and executive functioning in mice and fruit flies.” They found a negative correlation between Microviridae levels and executive function, specifically the ability to learn and retain new information, but a positive correlation between Caudovirales—primarily Siphoviridae—and the same cognitive abilities.

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

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