DAILY DOSE: Svante Paabo wins Nobel Prize; Indian government may take exception to Nobel Committee’s choice.

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NOBEL PRIZE IN MEDICINE.

It’s that time of the year again. The parade of Nobel Prize winners has started and expect this week’s news to be dominated by announcements. The first notable name is ancient DNA pioneer Svante Paabo from the Max Planck Institute. Per the Associated Press,

Swedish scientist Svante Paabo won this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine Monday for his discoveries on human evolution that provided key insights into our immune system and what makes us unique compared with our extinct cousins, the award’s panel said.

Paabo has spearheaded the development of new techniques that allowed researchers to compare the genome of modern humans and that of other hominins — the Neanderthals and Denisovans.

“Svante Paabo’s groundbreaking discoveries have provided important new knowledge regarding our evolutionary history,” said Anna Wedell, chair of the Nobel Committee.

Paabo’s work has been so ubiquitous in recent years that this isn’t too shocking or controversial… That is unless you are an Indian politician. (Read on for more.) https://bit.ly/3LZZxKI


NOT SO THRILLED.

Members of one of India’s major political parties – the one currently in power – may be slightly bemused by Svante Paabo receiving the Nobel. For years, they’ve disputed many of the findings established by Paabo’s ancient DNA techniques. Per The Wire India,

The timing of the prize is also slightly amusing because of the inescapable comparisons it draws to India – whose government has vehemently disputed palaeogenomic as well as archaeological evidence that the Vedic people migrated to India, and which recently abolished a panoply for national scientific prizes and indicated its favour for a homegrown version of the Nobels...

While the Indian government as well as independent scientists have undertaken archaeological and palaeontological studies around the country for many decades, their discoveries assumed greater significance the moment the government began to openly dispute the provenance of ancient Indians.

It is important for the Hindutva nationalist project that the originators of the Vedas, simply called the Vedic people, first emerged in modern-day India and emigrated to other parts of the world. But recent genomic studies – especially two that were published in 2019 – have found evidence for the opposite: that these individuals migrated to India from Eastern Europe during the late Harappan period.

Another study published in 2020, based on studying chemical residues in artefacts, reported that the Harappan diet included pig and buffalo meat – further defying attempts by nationalists in government to assimilate the Harappan civilisation into their revisionist narratives.

Will the politics-driven science scourge ever end?? https://bit.ly/3roolTi


DOES POLITICS MATTER WHEN IT COMES TO SCIENCE FUNDING?

Speaking of politics and science, Nature examined whether the election of a far-right coalition in Italy will help or hurt science funding. Long story short, the jury is still out but there are signs that might be worrying depending if you are the worrying type. According to the article,

Last week’s general election in Italy resulted in a clear victory for the right-wing coalition, setting up far-right leader Giorgia Meloni to become the first female prime minister of a country where leading political figures have overwhelmingly been male.

But researchers have little hope that the new government will boost Italy’s underfunded research system. And some worry that issues such as climate change won’t get the attention they deserve.

“I don’t have high hopes for the foreseeable future,” says Federico Ronchetti, a physicist at the National Institute for Nuclear Physics in Frascati, who in 2020 launched a petition calling for Italy’s public investment in research to double.

Again, it’s too soon to tell, but the right-wing coalition has yet to name a leader of the Ministry of University and Research — Italy’s key research funding agency. https://go.nature.com/3fDIAJU


THE POWER OF MICROBOTS.

At this point, when we think about robots, large, slightly lumbering  humanoids or more agile headless robodogs come to mind. A largely overlooked area of robotics overlooked by the popular press are tiny pill-capsule sized microbots that are revolutionizing the way drugs are delivered. Per Science Robotics,

Oral drug delivery of proteins is limited by the degradative environment of the gastrointestinal tract and poor absorption, requiring parenteral administration of these drugs. Luminal mucus represents the initial steric and dynamic barrier to absorption. To overcome this barrier, we report the development of the RoboCap, an orally ingestible, robotic drug delivery capsule that locally clears the mucus layer, enhances luminal mixing, and topically deposits the drug payload in the small intestine to enhance drug absorption. RoboCap’s mucus-clearing and churning movements are facilitated by an internal motor and by surface features that interact with small intestinal plicae circulares, villi, and mucus. Vancomycin (1.4 kilodaltons of glycopeptide) and insulin (5.8 kilodaltons of peptide) delivery mediated by RoboCap resulted in enhanced bioavailability 20- to 40-fold greater in ex vivo and in vivo swine models when compared with standard oral delivery (P < 0.05). Further, insulin delivery via the RoboCap resulted in therapeutic hypoglycemia, supporting its potential to facilitate oral delivery of drugs that are normally precluded by absorption limitations.

The implications of this is tremendous. https://bit.ly/3M5nGzQ


RYUGU’S ORIGIN STORY.

Asteroids have been getting a lot of attention lately. First we’re ramming into them. Now, some asteroid bits that had been returned to Earth is shedding light on its origins. From another paper in Science,

Samples of the carbonaceous asteroid Ryugu were brought to Earth by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft. We analyzed seventeen Ryugu samples measuring 1-8 mm. CO2-bearing water inclusions are present within a pyrrhotite crystal, indicating that Ryugu’s parent asteroid formed in the outer Solar System. The samples contain low abundances of materials that formed at high temperatures, such as chondrules and Ca, Al-rich inclusions. The samples are rich in phyllosilicates and carbonates, which formed by aqueous alteration reactions at low temperature, high pH, and water/rock ratios < 1 (by mass). Less altered fragments contain olivine, pyroxene, amorphous silicates, calcite, and phosphide. Numerical simulations, based on the mineralogical and physical properties of the samples, indicate Ryugu’s parent body formed ~ 2 million years after the beginning of Solar System formation.

That’s some amazing stuff. Seriously. https://bit.ly/3Svj5sU

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

IMAGE CREDIT: Ill. Niklas Elmehed © Nobel Prize Outreach.


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