DAILY DOSE: Controversy over the new Covid-19 origins paper (zzzzzzzzzz); When doomsday arrives, this seed vault will be our only hope.


Join us in The Bullpen, where the members of the Scientific Inquirer community get to shape the site’s editorial decision making. We’ll be discussing people and companies to profile on the site. On Wednesday, December 14 at 5:30pm EST, join us on Discord and let’s build the best Scientific Inquirer possible.

That unofficial official paper we mentioned yesterday is causing a small bit of controversy. Surprise, surprise, it falls under the oh-so-predictable zoonotic vs lab-leak origins categories. Per Science,

Last week, journalists rushed to report on previously undisclosed genetic evidence that mammals sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China—possibly raccoon dogs—might have sparked the COVID-19 pandemic. But to the chagrin of the researchers who conveyed their findings confidentially to a World Health Organization (WHO) advisory group on 14 March, the news broke before they had finished analyzing the data, which consist of RNA and DNA sequences collected at the market in early 2020. Yesterday, however, they posted their complete 22-page report on Zenodo, an open repository of scientific research.

To the report’s authors, 19 evolutionary biologists from six countries, the data support the theory that SARS-CoV-2-susceptible mammals were in the right place at the right time to have passed the virus to humans, triggering the pandemic. And they and others, including WHO's director-general, have blasted China for not sharing the Wuhan market data sooner. 

But critics, many of whom suspect SARS-CoV-2 may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, say the new sequences offer no great insight beyond the fact that the seafood market also sold mammals. It is “just preposterous” to suggest this is evidence that animals were actually infected with SARS-CoV-2 and transmitted it to humans, computational biologist Erik van Nimwegen says. In a 2021 letter in Science, he and 17 other scientists—including two who issued the new report—called for a “balanced consideration” of the lab-leak hypothesis.

Expect this to go on for just about forever since it appears unlikely a smoking gun will ever emerge. https://bit.ly/3lwhesC

China’s first mRNA Covid-19 vaccine hit the domestic market. By all counts, citizens weren’t particularly bothered. Per Reuters,

China has approved its first domestically developed mRNA vaccine against COVID-19, CSPC Pharmaceutical Group Ltd (1093.HK) said on Wednesday, a major achievement in a country that has declined to use Western COVID shots to support domestic research.

China, whose home-grown vaccines are seen as less effective than the Moderna (MRNA.O) and Pfizer (PFE.N)-BioNTech (22UAy.DE) mRNA shots, has been racing to develop vaccines using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology since early 2020.

The long-awaited approval comes as infections have fallen sharply across China since it suddenly dropped its strict "zero-COVID" curbs in December, making the sales outlook for the newly approved vaccine moderate.

But it would give China an additional option to tackle future outbreaks and a base for development against newly emerging variants.

The news of China's first successful mRNA vaccine did not generate much buzz in domestic social media on Wednesday, as the country has returned to normal and its borders have re-opened.

The thing with mRNA vaccines was actually the underlying technology and not the end product. Does this mean that China has figured out its own platform? http://bit.ly/3Z8ZEJ4

Anyone who has had to be on the lookout for hidden allergens such as peanuts or shellfish will appreciate this. There is concern that a hidden source that may potentially trigger peanut allergies may be the legume-based proteins in faux-meat. Per the Frontiers In Blog,

Many people keen to reduce their meat consumption are turning to substitutes made of legumes packed with protein, vitamins, and fiber. But allergies to legumes like soy or peanuts are both common and dangerous. Are patients allergic to particular legumes at risk from meat-free proteins made of legumes even if they contain different legumes? Dr Mark Smits and a team of scientists at University Medical Center Utrecht set out to investigate.

“Both protein consumption and the world’s population are increasing which leads to an urgent demand for sustainable protein sources,” said Dr Thuy-My Le, senior author of the study published in Frontiers in Allergy. “An increase in the consumption of legumes may increase the number of allergies to these foods. Furthermore, these new legumes may elicit allergic complaints in already legume-allergic patients. Therefore, we investigated how often sensitization and allergy to different legumes occurs in these patients.”

Smits and colleagues recruited legume-allergic patients from the Allergology Clinic at the University Medical Center Utrecht and split them into six groups according to allergies: peanuts, soybeans, green peas, lupines, lentils, and beans. All patients had allergies validated by an oral food challenge or a positive IgE test combined with a history of reactions. Each different group was tested for IgE antibodies against the other legumes.

“We showed that a large number of patients produced antibodies against more than one legume,” said Dr Kitty Verhoeckx, second author of the study. “However, clinical data showed that only a small part of these patients had actual symptoms.”

Somehow, that’s not entirely comforting. http://bit.ly/3JyEu1b

In the frigid Norwegian Arctic, a gray wedge-shaped building protrudes from a mountain. Snow blows across the small metal bridge that leads to its entrance, above which a pattern of steel, mirrors and prisms reflect a ghostly green light. Large letters on the building’s side hint at the precious collection that’s held within, declaring that here is the entrance to the “Svalbard Global Seed Vault.”

Only a handful of people are allowed inside the vault, and its five metal doors are only opened a few times each year for new entries of seeds. But now, in honor of its 15th anniversary, you can catch a rare glimpse of the vault’s interior through a virtual tour.

“From here in Svalbard, the world looks different. This seed vault represents hope, unity and security,” says Stefan Schmitz, executive director of the Crop Trust, a co-manager of the vault, in a press release. “In a world where the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, natural catastrophes and conflicts increasingly destabilize our food systems, it has never been more important to prioritize safeguarding these tiny seeds that hold so much potential to adapt our future food to such global threats.”

The contents of this doomsday vault are effectively backup storage for a global network of more than 1,700 smaller vaults called gene banks. Countries deposit copies of the seeds they hold in their own banks, and the Svalbard facility keeps them safe. This year, new seed deposits of wild strawberries, wheat, maize and rice have joined the ranks of other preserved plants. An organization from North Macedonia deposited seeds from an ajvarka red pepper variety used to make a popular traditional relish.

Question: When doomsday does arrive, how are survivors supposed to treck it up to the Arctic? A friend wants to know. http://bit.ly/3yXmQPH

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

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.

AI outperformed standard risk model for predicting breast cancer
In a large study of thousands of mammograms, artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms …
A lung injury therapy derived from adult skin cells
Therapeutic nanocarriers engineered from adult skin cells can curb inflammation and tissue …

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: