DAILY DOSE: Risky virology experiments under closer scrutiny; Massacre in Smithsonian National Zoo.


So-called “gain of function” experiments which have recently come to public and political attention thanks to lab leak Covid-19 origin stories are under closer scrutiny in the United States. Before anyone gets their feathers in a conspiracy theory twist, they have been a point of some debate since at least 2011 when scientists created a more infectious strain of avian influenza. The coronavirus pandemic has simply refocused the spot light. Per Nature, “Researchers and biosecurity specialists are calling on the US government to issue clearer guidance about experiments it might fund that would make pathogens more transmissible or deadly. They made these pleas on 27 April, during the first of a series of public listening sessions organized by the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB). The sessions are part of a months-long review, conducted by the NSABB, of US policies governing risky pathogen research.The board, which advises the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), was supposed to begin this review in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed it. Given that enhanced pathogens could accidentally cause disease outbreaks, the need for the review is now greater than ever, some researchers say.” Virologists around the world are probably getting pretty defensive over their territory at this point. It’s been a rough two-plus years for them, to be fair. https://go.nature.com/37cM4PO


After over two and a half years of chastising people for equating Covid-19 with the run-of-the-mill flu, you’ll forgive me if I’m not jumping to the front of the line in order to declare that Covid-19 is evolving into a seasonal disease like the flu. Per STAT, “‘Based on everything we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, the underlying population susceptibility seems to be the primary driver of spread,” said Emily Gurley, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. ‘I think that’s more important than changes in the virus itself.’ That means that even as SARS-CoV-2 has evolved to be more contagious, it is encountering a small and ever-shrinking proportion of the population whose bodies have never seen some version of it before. Most people, through prior infection, vaccination, or a combination of the two now have immune systems capable of fending off the deadliest outcomes of contracting SARS-CoV-2. And that’s starting to look a lot like what happened when pandemic flu transitioned to seasonal flu.” It’s not that I don’t believe the science. I’m just wary of providing an opportunity for people who were in error previously to suddenly say, “See I told you,” when in fact, they did not. https://bit.ly/3saTwlR


A good amount of pro-China defenders criticized Shanghai during the past weeks, essentially blaming them for their major outbreak, citing the fact that they deviated from Beijing’s strict Zero-Covid-19 strategy by waiting too long to lock down. Other cities, they claimed followed the playbook and avoided long lockdowns, something not entirely true. Fast-forward to the past week and lo-and-behold Beijing dragging its feet as much as possible, trying to avoid a city-wide lock down. Rather, they’ve implemented a patchy series of closures and quarantines, similar to Shanghai. Per the Associated Press, “Beijing on Wednesday closed around 10% of the stations in its vast subway system as an additional measure against the spread of coronavirus. The subway authority in a brief message said only that the measure to shut 40 mostly downtown stations was being taken as part of epidemic control measures. No date for resumption of service was given. Beijing has been on high alert for the spread of COVID-19, with restaurants and bars limited to takeout only, gyms closed and classes suspended indefinitely. Major tourist sites in the city, including the Forbidden City and the Beijing Zoo, have closed their indoor exhibition halls and are operating at only partial capacity.” https://bit.ly/3KIyx03


Disaster has struck the Smithsonian National Zoo. Per Smithsonian Magazine, “A wild fox snuck into the outdoor flamingo habitat at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute on Sunday night and killed 25 of its American flamingos—about a third of the 74-bird flock, per a zoo statement. A Northern pintail duck was also found dead, and three additional flamingos were injured. ‘This is a heartbreaking loss for us and everyone who cares about our animals,’ Brandie Smith, director of the zoo, says in the statement. ‘The barrier we used passed inspection and is used by other accredited zoos across the country. Our focus now is on the well-being of the remaining flock and fortifying our habitats.’” Those poor flamingos had nowhere to go and no chance. https://bit.ly/3vW088A


Olympus has announced the winners of its annual imaging awards. According to the contest’s website: “The global winning image was taken by Jan Martinek (Czech Republic). Arabidopsis thaliana flower with pollen tubes growing through the pistil. The flower tissues were chemically cleared to become transparent, while the pollen tubes were stained with aniline blue (yellow fluorescence) in order to be seen.” (pictured below) https://bit.ly/3KLKT7E

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


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