DAILY DOSE: Covid-19 drug may be creating more variants; A deadly fungal infection is on the rise.

Just when things were looking up and the Covid-19 pandemic is levelling off, a new study indicates that one of the drugs used to treat infection may actually be hurting the cause. Per Nature,

A drug widely used to treat COVID-19 might be spurring the evolution of new SARS-CoV-2 variants.

The drug, molnupiravir, works by introducing a flurry of mutations to the viral genome; this helps to clear infections. But a study1 of more than 13 million SARS-CoV-2 sequences has uncovered sequences that bear molnupiravir’s fingerprints. The study’s authors say the results suggest that molnupiravir treatment has sparked the evolution of viral lineages carrying numerous mutations that, in at least some cases, have the capacity to spread to other individuals.

The study was posted on the medRxiv preprint server in January. It has not yet been peer reviewed.

“Whether this should be of concern — that is an open question,” says Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. Mutations to the SARS-CoV-2 genome can help the virus to evade immunity and become more transmissible, but most mutations are likely to harm it.

Really, the last thing the world needs are new variants running around. https://bit.ly/3RK8WZZ

Hard to treat and life-threatening fungal infections are rising in the U.S. The problem is particularly acute in healthcare settings. Per STAT,

Fungus-caused infections — real ones, not the ones sparking the zombie apocalypse on the popular show “The Last of Us” — pose a growing threat in the United States and around the world.

Mississippi has become the latest state to report residents infected with Candida auris, a highly contagious fungus that thrives in hospitals and nursing homes. It won’t be the last and, without dedicated effort, infections and deaths will continue to pile up.

The Mississippi Department of Public Health announced it has identified six people infected with C. auris. This pathogen can contaminate just about any surface imaginable, from intravenous lines and feeding tubes to bedsheets, doctors’ coats, and sinks. People who are elderly or immunocompromised are the most vulnerable to this pathogen, and it is often deadly: two of the six people infected in Mississippi have died.

While the fictionalized fungus in “The Last of Us” is terrifying, the real thing just about equals it, only without the melodrama. http://bit.ly/3lcQPPZ

It really doesn’t matter what segment of the animal kingdom you look, mothers are always making some sort of sacrifice for their kids. The latest example? The killer whale. Per the BBC,

A study of orcas in the North Pacific has revealed that mothers make a "lifelong sacrifice" for their sons.

Rearing a son significantly reduced a female killer whale's chance of reproducing in the future.

The energy they need to feed sons appears to compromise their health, leaving them less able to reproduce and raise other young.

"Mothers sacrifice their own food and their own energy," said Prof Darren Croft from the University of Exeter.

Orcas remain closely bonded to their families throughout their lives. But while young female offspring become independent in adulthood, males depend on their mothers - even demanding a share of the food that their matriarchs catch.

Prof Croft described it as a "new insight into the complex social lives and family lives of these amazing animals".

The decades-long study, published in the journal Current Biology, is part of an ongoing mission to understand killer whale family life.

Funny how you don’t hear much about fathers. It seems dead-beat-dads may be a phenomenon that spans the animal kingdom as well. http://bit.ly/3Yn1bvA

Scientists may have caught a glimpse of the universe’s earliest stars. According to the article in Quanta,

A group of astronomers poring over data from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has glimpsed light from ionized helium in a distant galaxy, which could indicate the presence of the universe’s very first generation of stars.

These long-sought, inaptly named “Population III” stars would have been ginormous balls of hydrogen and helium sculpted from the universe’s primordial gas. Theorists started imagining these first fireballs in the 1970s, hypothesizing that, after short lifetimes, they exploded as supernovas, forging heavier elements and spewing them into the cosmos. That star stuff later gave rise to Population II stars more abundant in heavy elements, then even richer Population I stars like our sun, as well as planets, asteroids, comets and eventually life itself.

“We exist, therefore we know there must have been a first generation of stars,” said Rebecca Bowler, an astronomer at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

Now Xin Wang, an astronomer at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and his colleagues think they’ve found them. “It’s really surreal,” Wang said. Confirmation is still needed; the team’s paper, posted on the preprint server arxiv.org on December 8, is awaiting peer review at Nature.

If those stars are, in fact, the first generation of stars, does this mean that we are close to seeing the beginning/end of our universe? Asking for a friend. https://bit.ly/3RL1RrS

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

IMAGE CREDIT: Screenshot.

ON SALE! Charles Darwin Signature T-shirt – “I think.” Two words that changed science and the world, scribbled tantalizingly in Darwin’s Transmutation Notebooks.

Success! You're on the list.

Algae provide clues about 600 million years of plant evolution.
The Earth's surface is covered by plants. They make up the majority …
Scientists detect and validate the longest-period exoplanet found with TESS.
Scientists from The University of New Mexico (UNM), and Massachusetts Institute of …

Leave a Reply