DAILY DOSE: Microbes may have lived below Martian surface; William Shatner stared into space and only saw Death.

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IT’S THE BEST-SELLING SHOW.

Life on Mars. Yay or nay? Evidence may be accumulating that the former may have been reasonably possible. A recent study suggests that microbial life may have thrived below the planet’s surface. Per the Associated Press,

Ancient Mars may have had an environment capable of harboring an underground world teeming with microscopic organisms, French scientists reported Monday.

But if they existed, these simple life forms would have altered the atmosphere so profoundly that they triggered a Martian Ice Age and snuffed themselves out, the researchers concluded.

The findings provide a bleak view of the ways of the cosmos. Life — even simple life like microbes — “might actually commonly cause its own demise,” said the study’s lead author, Boris Sauterey, now a post-doctoral researcher at Sorbonne University.

The results “are a bit gloomy, but I think they are also very stimulating,” he said in an email. “They challenge us to rethink the way a biosphere and its planet interact.”

An organism whose existence alters planetary conditions so much that it eventually causes their demise… That possibility sounds vaguely familiar. https://bit.ly/3Eyhi21


TIRED DEBATE.

We’ve dedicated significant cyber-real estate here in the Daily Dose to the disagreement related to the origins of Sars-CoV-2. Here’s a little more, compliments of the journal Science. (Why stop now, right?)

The acrimonious debate over the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic flared up again this week with a report from an expert panel concluding that SARS-CoV-2 likely spread naturally in a zoonotic jump from an animal to humans—without help from a lab.

“Our paper recognizes that there are different possible origins, but the evidence towards zoonosis is overwhelming,” says co-author Danielle Anderson, a virologist at the University of Melbourne. The report, which includes an analysis that found the peer-reviewed literature overwhelmingly supports the zoonotic hypotheses, appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on 10 October.

The panel’s own history reflects the intensity of the debate. Originally convened as a task force of the Lancet COVID-19 Commission, a wide-reaching effort to derive lessons from the pandemic, it was disbanded by Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs, the commission’s chair. Sachs alleged that several members had conflicts of interest that would bias them against the lab-origin hypothesis.

Does this latest installment of information settle the matter conclusively? Nope. https://bit.ly/3yyBHQK


COVID VACCINATION FOR KIDS NOT A SLAM DUNK.

Vaccinating children against Covid-19 has met with tepid enthusiasm globally. Some places have high uptake while others have very low levels. A feature article in Nature examines this phenomenon and why many parents have opted against it.

Where vaccines are available, take-up in children has varied widely. Close to 90% of those aged 3–17 are fully immunized in Chile, compared with 28% of kids aged 5–11 in New Zealand and 3% of the same age group in the Netherlands (see ‘Patchy uptake’).

It’s been terrible,” says Yvonne Maldonado, a paediatrician and infectious-disease specialist at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, and the younger the kids, the lower the rates. One reason for the slow uptake could be the delay in getting vaccines to kids. Many parents probably wondered why they needed to vaccinate their children who had already been infected and recovered, says Fiona Russell, a paediatrician and infectious-diseases epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

News that Omicron was milder than previous variants also quickly spread, and hospitals weren’t as overrun as with earlier variants, owing to mass adult vaccination and access to better treatments. In some countries, such as Israel, the vaccination campaign for those aged 5–11 launched at a time when “the disease was no longer considered such a threat by the public”, says Balicer.

This is a complex issue, obviously. There are a number of reasons why parents have opted to forgo vaccination. https://go.nature.com/3Ey9Vrl 


DEATH.

Space may have been the final frontier. But for William Shatner, his trip to lower Earth orbit was more like a funeral. Per The Guardian,

William Shatner expected he would achieve the “ultimate catharsis” after his historic flight into space. Instead, the voyage left him filled with grief, an “overwhelming sadness” and a newfound appreciation for the beauty of Earth, the Star Trek actor has said….

"I love the mystery of the universe. I love all the questions that have come to us over thousands of years of exploration and hypotheses … but when I looked in the opposite direction, into space, there was no mystery, no majestic awe to behold … all I saw was death,” Shatner wrote…

But a year after touching down back to Earth, Shatner wrote in the excerpt: “I discovered that the beauty isn’t out there, it’s down here, with all of us. Leaving that behind made my connection to our tiny planet even more profound.

“It was among the strongest feelings of grief I have ever encountered. The contrast between the vicious coldness of space and the warm nurturing of Earth below filled me with overwhelming sadness.”

Those are some profound statements. Truly. https://bit.ly/3EzfHt4

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


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