Eighteen bodies, believed to be migrants, were discovered in a northern Greek village following wildfires that intensified due to a heatwave in southern Europe. This heatwave led to red alerts being declared across the region. In addition to Greece, wildfires have also erupted in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, fueled by temperatures soaring to 40°C (104°F) or higher. These extreme conditions, associated with climate change, led to emergencies like the evacuation of hospital patients in the Greek town of Alexandroupolis, where makeshift provisions had to be arranged. Nurse Nikos Gioktsidis likened the situation to a war zone. Spain faced challenges on Tenerife island, where a wildfire affected 15,000 hectares, leading to mass evacuations. Portugal and Italy also faced fire emergencies, with over 100 municipalities in Portugal at maximum risk and a fire in Italy leading to 700 evacuations. As a response to the heat, Italy issued emergency red alerts in 16 major cities. In France, four regions received the highest heat alert, and climbers were advised against ascending Mont Blanc due to unsafe conditions. Grape-pickers were also advised to work during cooler hours to avoid the intense heat. (Reuters)
BIG TECH, BIG CHANGES.
Big Tech companies in Europe, including Google, Facebook, and TikTok, are gearing up to adapt to the European Union’s new Digital Services Act (DSA). This legislation is part of the EU’s latest tech-focused regulations aimed at ensuring user safety online by curbing the spread of harmful or illegal content. Companies with 45 million or more users are under strict regulation, facing fines for non-compliance potentially reaching billions. Some notable platforms, such as eBay, Airbnb, Netflix, and PornHub, are currently not on the EU’s list, but this could change. The act focuses on ensuring that tech giants implement processes to reduce potential harm caused by algorithm-driven recommendations. European Commission will inspect algorithms and functionalities like digital advertising and livestreaming systems to ensure they don’t inadvertently promote harmful content. Platforms must identify and evaluate systemic risks, with audits to be independently conducted to ascertain compliance. Despite originating in Europe, these changes could influence global operations. For instance, Wikipedia and Snapchat are both implementing certain policies and systems worldwide in response to the DSA. Experts believe that due to the global nature of digital networks and content, there’ll be a widespread effect of these regulations. (Associated Press)
COVID-19 LONG TERM EFFECTS.
Three-and-a-half years after the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, researchers have found an increased risk of various health conditions in COVID-19 patients, even years after the initial infection. A study, using U.S. veterans’ health records, showed that the public health impact of COVID-19 exceeds that of cancer or heart disease by over 50%. Despite these findings, critics highlight potential issues with the study, including the sample’s demographic composition and statistical methodology. In the research, post-COVID patients exhibited higher rates of conditions like heart failure, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. The long-term risks remained even two years post-infection. When translated into disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), COVID-19 had a higher value than cancer and heart disease. Critics argue that these numbers might be inflated due to the specifics of the study group. Despite the debate over specifics, there’s a consensus on the significant long-term effects of COVID-19, underscoring the need for ongoing research and support for affected individuals. (Science)
COVID-19 VACCINATION EFFECTIVENESS IN CHILDREN.
By June 2023, over 2 million COVID-19 cases were reported among U.S. children aged 6 months to 4 years, resulting in over 20,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths. In 2022, monovalent mRNA vaccines (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) were authorized for children in this age group based on preliminary efficacy data. A subsequent VISION network analysis, covering eight states, evaluated vaccine effectiveness (VE) against COVID-19-related emergency department or urgent care encounters among these children. The results showed that a complete primary mRNA COVID-19 vaccination protected young children from severe encounters, with an 80% effectiveness rate for those who took the bivalent vaccine ≥14 days earlier. However, protection seemed to decline over time, similar to observations in older populations. An individual dose of either Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech offered little protection. The waning effectiveness, changes in SARS-CoV-2 variants, and the limited uptake of vaccines among young children emphasize the need for updated vaccines and comprehensive vaccination strategies. (MMWR)
Terrestrial vertebrates, including birds, have various symbiotic relationships with insects and arachnids, such as parasitism or mutualism. However, identifying these relationships in the fossil record has mainly been based on indirect evidence, with direct associations between arthropods and dinosaurs being rare. This study provides evidence suggesting that beetle larvae fed on feathers of an unidentified theropod host, either avian or nonavian, 105 million years ago. This conclusion is based on a remarkable amber collection containing larval molts closely connected with feathery remains, discovered in Spanish amber deposits from El Soplao, San Just, and Peñacerrada I. Analysis of these samples indicates that the larvae belong to the Dermestidae family, akin to present-day beetles known to inhabit bird and mammal nests. This reveals that a similar symbiotic relationship between beetles and birds existed during the Early Cretaceous, as seen in today’s ecosystems. (PNAS)
FIRST TIME, LONG TIME.
Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the moon due to an engine malfunction, Roscosmos Director General Yury Borisov announced. Intending to land on the moon’s south pole, a region believed to have significant reserves of frozen water and precious elements, the spacecraft’s engines failed to shut down correctly during its “pre-landing orbit.” Instead of operating for the intended 84 seconds, the engines ran for 127 seconds, leading to the crash. Communication with Luna-25 was lost on Saturday afternoon, causing it to enter an uncontrolled lunar orbit and subsequently collide with the moon’s surface. This mission marked Russia’s first lunar attempt since 1976. Borisov attributed the mission’s failure to the near 50-year hiatus in Russia’s lunar program. Despite the setback, he emphasized the importance of continuing lunar exploration for Russia. The Luna-25 and an Indian spacecraft were both targeting a landing on the moon’s south pole, a region previously attempted by India in 2019, which also ended in a crash. Launched on Aug. 10 from the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a central project for President Vladimir Putin, Luna-25 represented Russia’s aspirations to reaffirm its space prowess. Following the crash, Roscosmos highlighted the strategic significance of lunar missions, not only technologically but also in terms of defense. Economic sanctions on Russia, a consequence of its conflict with Ukraine, have impeded its access to Western space technology. (Associated Press)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: NASA.