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DAILY DOSE: Inching toward the fusion energy Holy Grail; Malaria can be eradicated in SE Asia, official.


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Harnessing fusion energy is as close to the Holy Grail in sustainability as it gets. Thus far, it has proven to be an elusive target for scientists. That said, scientists are inching closer to realizing the fusion energy dream. Per CBS News,

The U.S. Department of Energy said Sunday it would announce a "major scientific breakthrough" this week, after media reported a federal laboratory had recently achieved a major milestone in nuclear fusion research. The Financial Times reported Sunday that scientists in the California-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) had achieved a "net energy gain" from an experimental fusion reactor.

That would represent the first time that researchers have successfully produced more energy in a fusion reaction - the same type that powers the Sun - than was consumed during the process, a potentially major step in the pursuit of zero-carbon power…

The fusion reaction that produced a 120% net energy gain occurred in the past two weeks, the FT said, citing three people with knowledge of the preliminary results.

Keeping in mind the fusion energy “milestones” in the past, it may be best to not to get hopes up too much.

Strep A has been on a tear, particularly in the United Kingdom. At this point, scientists can only guess as to why this year has been so deadly. Per Nature,

As the days lengthen and temperatures rise each spring, British paediatricians know what to expect: an increase in group A streptococcal infections that should tail off by the summer. But an off-season outbreak of the bacterial infections this year has jumbled expectations, made scores of people ill and killed 13 children under the age of 15 in England since September.

“To my knowledge, we’ve never seen a peak like this at this time of year, at least not for decades,” says microbiologist Shiranee Sriskandan at Imperial College London.

One theory is that lack of exposure to group A Streptococcus (strep A) during lockdowns at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic means that young children lack immunity against the bacteria. But it is too early to say for certain if this is behind the strep A surge, says molecular microbiologist Claire Turner at the University of Sheffield, UK.

“There are a lot of things that seem to be a bit strange happening after the lockdowns,” she says “But it’s hard to say whether that’s causing the surge right now, especially given that we have had surges prior to the pandemic.

The implications of Covid-19 lockdowns continue to unravel.

A dry run for NASA astronauts’ return to the moon has concluded and has passed with flying colors. Per the Associated Press,

NASA’s Orion capsule made a blisteringly fast return from the moon Sunday, parachuting into the Pacific off Mexico to conclude a test flight that should clear the way for astronauts on the next lunar flyby.

The incoming capsule hit the atmosphere at Mach 32, or 32 times the speed of sound, and endured reentry temperatures of 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) before splashing down west of Baja California near Guadalupe Island. A Navy ship quickly moved in to recover the spacecraft and its silent occupants — three test dummies rigged with vibration sensors and radiation monitors.

NASA hailed the descent and splashdown as close to perfect, as congratulations poured in from Washington..

“I’m overwhelmed,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said from Mission Control in Houston. “This is an extraordinary day ... It’s historic because we are now going back into space — deep space — with a new generation.”

Exciting times indeed.

Public health officials in South East Asia believe that malaria can be eradicated in the region. Per Channel News Asia,

Africa is often in the spotlight for carrying most of the global burden of malaria, but the chief of an alliance that focuses on the Asia Pacific said more can be done to eliminate the mosquito-borne disease in this region.

There were about 12,000 deaths from the disease in the Asia Pacific last year, according to a recent report released by the World Health Organization (WHO), noted Dr Sarthak Das, chief executive of the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance.

That translates into three deaths every two hours, Dr Das told CNA’s Asia Now on Friday (Dec 9), days after the release of this year’s world malaria report.

But with a 70 per cent drop in malaria deaths in the past 20 years and given the elimination of the disease in countries like China and Sri Lanka, there is hope for the region to be rid of it, he said.

The final 30% will probably be the hardest.

A new study indicates that ancient Denisovan DNA may have played a beneficial role in ancient human’s adaptation, especially in and around Australasia. Per Science,

When modern humans first migrated from Africa to the tropical islands of the southwest Pacific, they encountered unfamiliar people and new pathogens. But their immune systems may have picked up some survival tricks when they mated with the locals—the mysterious Denisovans who gave them immune gene variants that might have protected the newcomers’ offspring from local diseases. Some of these variants still persist in the genomes of people living in Papua New Guinea today, according to a new study.

Researchers have known for a decade that living people in Papua New Guinea and other parts of Melanesia, a subregion of the southwest Pacific Ocean, inherited up to 5% of their DNA from Denisovans, ancient humans closely related to Neanderthals who arrived in Asia about 200,000 years ago. Scientists assume those variants benefited people in the past—perhaps by helping the modern humans better ward off local diseases—but they have wondered how that DNA might still be altering how people look, act, and feel today. It’s been difficult to detect the function of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in Melanesians, however, because scientists have analyzed so little genetic data from living humans in Papua New Guinea and other parts of Melanesia.

It’s really interesting to find out how much of our DNA is actually not our DNA.

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


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