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DAILY DOSE: Behind the scenes in an internet addiction camp in China; The Joe Biden deep fake is the scariest thing around.

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TARGETING THE IMMUNE SYSTEM INSTEAD OF VIRUSES.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted novel approaches to vaccine development, particularly the mRNA technology used in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. New approaches are being developed all the time. A recent paper published in Science demonstrated how the host immune system could be tweaked to attack Sars-CoV-2. According to the authors,

Multiple coronaviruses have emerged independently in the past 20 years that cause lethal human diseases. Although vaccine development targeting these viruses has been accelerated substantially, there remain patients requiring treatment who cannot be vaccinated or who experience breakthrough infections. Understanding the common host factors necessary for the life cycles of coronaviruses may reveal conserved therapeutic targets. Here, we used the known substrate specificities of mammalian protein kinases to deconvolute the sequence of phosphorylation events mediated by three host protein kinase families (SRPK, GSK-3, and CK1) that coordinately phosphorylate a cluster of serine and threonine residues in the viral N protein, which is required for viral replication. We also showed that loss or inhibition of SRPK1/2, which we propose initiates the N protein phosphorylation cascade, compromised the viral replication cycle. Because these phosphorylation sites are highly conserved across coronaviruses, inhibitors of these protein kinases not only may have therapeutic potential against COVID-19 but also may be broadly useful against coronavirus-mediated diseases.

It’s fascinating how far science has come from the first vaccines that only targeted the virus. https://bit.ly/3SD3ruM


IT’S A THIN LINE…

Internet addiction camps are a real thing in China. A new documentary aims to show the world the conditions in the camps. Per Sixth Tone,

You wake from a long dream, and find yourself in an unfamiliar dormitory. The room is dimly lit, and contains nothing but four iron-framed beds, a desk, and a few stools. The only window is frosted over: You can’t see anything outside except for the barbed wire wrapped around the frame.

On the wall, a poster details a daily schedule. Inmates are to wake up at 5:30 a.m., and go to bed at 9:30 p.m. Apart from meals and personal hygiene, the entire day is consumed by three activities: rehab, military training, and psychological evaluation.

Then, you spot a diary lying on the desk. You pick it up, and begin flicking through the pages.

You read that your parents sent you here on Aug. 30. They told you that you needed to see a psychiatrist, and promised you’d be able to return home after a consultation. But in reality, you’ve been locked up here indefinitely. Only the psychiatrist can decide when you’ll be released.

These are the opening scenes of “Diagnosia,” an award-winning new virtual reality film by Zhang Mengtai and Lemon Guo that offers a terrifying glimpse inside a Chinese internet addiction clinic.

There’s a thin line between tough love and abusiveness. https://bit.ly/3f5lpZa


THE ABORTION GREY AREA.

Very few things in the abortion debate are cut and dry. For such an important topic, the discourse allows very little space for nuance. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, though. An article in the Associated Press explores the reasons the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling hits working-class families the hardest.

A Texas mother of a toddler, scraping by on her husband’s income, was desperate to return to work but struggling to afford child care. A young Florida warehouse worker had barely left behind a turbulent past of homelessness and abuse only to be mired in debt.

When both women learned they were pregnant, they came to the agonizing conclusion they couldn’t go through with it.

“When you try to discuss the alternatives, you find the problems. If we could do this, where is the baby going to stay?” said Alyssa Burns, the warehouse worker who makes $16 an hour and was sharing two-bedroom apartment with her boyfriend and another couple when she found out she was pregnant last year. “We both work full-time jobs. My mom works. We can’t afford child care.”

There are wide-ranging reasons why women may seek to terminate their pregnancies but for those struggling to make ends meet, finances are inevitably part of the calculation. Now many of them will be thrust into a circumstance they can’t afford as abortion bans and restrictions take hold in half the country after the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling guaranteeing abortion rights.

Three-quarters of women who seek abortions were low-income, meaning they had a family income below or up to double the federal poverty level, according to a 2014 study by the Guttmacher Institute, a science-based research group that supports abortion rights. More than half already had children and many worked in physically demanding roles with fewer labor protections and less flexibility than higher-wage jobs.

These are complex issues that deserve to be addressed in detail and with sensitivity. https://bit.ly/3W6t5ek


DEEP FAKE MISERY.

If there’s one thing that indicates that the future may turn out as dystopian as the doomsday narratives so popular pop these days, it’s the development of deep fakes. They are basically begging to be misused for nefarious purposes. Making matters worse, even without deep fakes, people will believe whatever they want so the existence of deep fakes will just add fuel to their rationalizations. An op-ed in The Guardian explains why a recent deep fake spoof – President Joe Biden singing Baby Shark – is so disturbing.

Biden, I probably don’t need to tell you, did not actually sing Baby Shark. The video was made using deepfake technology, which is essentially hi-tech Photoshop for moving images. As deepfake technology grows more accessible and more sophisticated, it is being used in increasingly nefarious ways. Deepfake porn, for example, is already a big problem: one study found that between 90% and 95% of online deepfake videos are nonconsensual porn; about 90% of those are nonconsensual porn of women. Deepfake political videos are also a fast-growing issue. There are worries about how they might be used to spread misinformation and influence elections.

This particular video, by the way, wasn’t meant to be nefarious misinformation. As its creator told the Associated Press, it was simply a joke. This is something anyone in possession of half a brain cell could have gleaned by watching the video: it’s full of deliberate signs that there is something fishy afoot, including a logo in the corner that looks like that of the satirical site the Onion (the creator is not affiliated with the Onion). Alas, jokes can quickly take on a life of their own online; misinformation isn’t any less harmful just because it was originally intended as a joke. The video of Biden singing Baby Shark is funny, but the future of deepfake technology is deeply unamusing.

Truth. https://bit.ly/3gDMiDX


FRESH WATER ABUSE.

Access to potable water is a problem the world over. In some parts of the world, the problem is worsened by water pollution. Per The Wire India,

Since the Indian government split Jammu and Kashmir state in 2019, the local government has been non-responsive and instances of corruption have been on the rise. The local water bodies have also been deteriorating, thanks to illegal riverbed mining and the government’s refusal to use funds under the Swachh Bharat Mission to clean them.

One such instance pertains to the Doodh Ganga river, which is a major tributary of the Jhelum. More than five lakh people in Srinagar’s uptown area and some areas of district Budgam get their drinking water from the Doodh Ganga supply plant in Kralpora, on the outskirts of Srinagar. However, municipal liquid waste – from homes as well as government pumping stations located on its banks – is dumped into its water without being treated.

A week ago, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to deposit Rs 35 crore as penalty after it determined that local authorities had failed to treat the liquid waste entering the river. The NGT’s order also noted the lack of good governance and determination within the government.

Some form of accountability is always a good start. https://bit.ly/3TFYK4S


LESS BURGERS=HAPPIER CLIMATE.

In the latest study that offers ways to save the world from climate change, scientists claim reducing the number of hamburgers you eat. Once again from The Guardian,

Meat consumption should be reduced to the equivalent of about two burgers a week in the developed world, and public transport expanded about six times faster than its current rate, if the world is to avoid the worst ravages of the climate crisis, research has suggested.

Rates of deforestation must also be rapidly reduced, and phasing out coal must happen about six times faster than is currently being managed. Heavy industries such as cement and steel are not moving fast enough in cutting their emissions, and the rapid growth of renewable energy and electric vehicle adoption must be maintained.

The State of Climate Action 2022 report examined global progress on 40 indicators that would be key to halving global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, in line with the goal of limiting temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

But what if they’re sliders? https://bit.ly/3Fj4bCv

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


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