HAND-WRINGING IN INDIA.
India was gearing up to land a spacecraft near the moon’s south pole, a region believed to contain significant reserves of frozen water and valuable elements. The anticipated lunar landing had the nation’s space scientists in Bengaluru on edge as this was India’s second attempt in four years, striving to match achievements by the U.S., Soviet Union, and China. The attempt coincidentally coincided with Russia’s Luna-25 mission to the same region, which failed due to an uncontrolled orbit. Russia’s Roscosmos attributed this failure to a decades-long hiatus in lunar research since their last mission in 1976.
The entire nation keenly awaited the landing of India’s Chandrayaan-3, which launched on July 14 from Sriharikota, aiming for the moon’s far side. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) highlighted the mission’s significance, emphasizing the boost it would give to Indian scientific progress. Successful landing would bolster national pride, inspire curiosity, and enhance the nation’s scientific environment. Chandrayaan-3’s objective was to gather data on lunar soil and rocks.
India’s prior attempt in 2019 faced setbacks, with the lander crashing due to a software glitch. Globally, various nations and companies vie for successful lunar landings. Amidst these endeavors, India seeks to showcase its technological capabilities on the world stage. (Associated Press)
The U.S. is aiming to efficiently restrict the use of a new global fund for climate disaster losses and damages set to be adopted at this year’s U.N. climate conference. Last year’s COP27 saw poorer countries demand separate funding for loss and damage due to climate impacts, like the severe flooding in Pakistan. U.S. State Department officials suggest the Loss and Damage fund should be concentrated on the most vulnerable nations and not overlap with other existing financial aids. The U.S. initially preferred a two-year gap to study funding deficiencies before initializing a fund but agreed to COP27’s decision for quicker action. The U.S. proposed the fund prioritize long-term events like sea level rise and desertification. Historically, the U.S. and the EU avoided discussions on loss and damage fearing legal accountability for past emissions. However, both now approve funding given it isn’t about liability. Biniaz from the State Department contested claims that developed nations have a legal responsibility to contribute. Proposals for fund sources include taxes on industries, philanthropic gifts, and other initiatives. Determining which countries qualify as “most vulnerable” remains a challenge, as some believe middle-income countries severely affected by climate should also be eligible. (Reuters)
Pacific leaders have expressed disappointment over Australia’s approach to the climate crisis, criticizing the nation for pursuing gas and coal projects which exacerbate climate impacts. Australia’s actions have been in stark contrast to the concerns of Pacific nations, who feel the brunt of rising sea levels, food insecurity, and other consequences of climate change. Pacific Elders, a vocal group in the region, recommends that Pacific leaders withhold support for Australia’s bid to host a COP until there’s evidence of concrete action against fossil fuels. During a UN climate meeting in Fiji, Bowen highlighted Australia’s transition to renewable energy, moving from 35% to 82% in seven years. He acknowledged Australia’s role in aiding countries to transition to renewable energy through green hydrogen exports. Notably, Pacific leaders, including influential figures like the former president of Kiribati, have called for sincere climate actions, emphasizing the need to address fossil fuel exports. (Sydney Morning Herald)
CHINESE LIFE EXPECTANCY.
To aid in planning social and health services, a study aimed to predict future life expectancy for mainland China and its provinces. Utilizing the methodology of the Global Burden of Disease Study and examining data from 1990 to 2019, 21 life expectancy forecasting models were amalgamated. The results predict a life expectancy of 81.3 years in mainland China by 2035 (with a 95% credible interval of 79.2-85.0 years). It’s highly probable that the set national goals of 79 years in 2030 and over 80 years in 2035 will be achieved. By 2035, women in Beijing are likely to have the highest life expectancy, with an 81% chance of reaching 90 years. Men in Shanghai are forecasted to lead in life expectancy with a likelihood of over 83 years. Increases in life expectancy mainly originate from older individuals, except in specific provinces. Planning for health and social services needs to consider these trends. (The Lancet Public Health)
NOT SO FAST.
Pfizer’s Lyme disease vaccine, under the phase 3 VLA15 program, has encountered difficulties, causing changes to its participant recruitment numbers. Originally, the trial aimed to enroll 18,000 people living in Lyme disease endemic areas. However, following disagreements with contract research organization, Care Access—owned by Reify Health—related to breaches of Good Clinical Practice, Pfizer decided to reduce the number of participants. This dispute resulted in Pfizer severing ties with Care Access. Annaliesa Anderson, Pfizer’s vaccine R&D chief, stated that by focusing only on high-risk regions, the number of participants would significantly decrease. Though the exact number is unspecified, the target was briefly adjusted to 6,400 in July. Due to these complications, Pfizer and its partner Valneva predict a delay in the trial by at least a year, pushing the anticipated approval submission for VLA15 to 2026. Pfizer had acquired the vaccine from Valneva for $130 million in 2020. Another phase 3 trial focuses on the vaccine’s safety in children aged 5-17. Despite the challenges with the Lyme disease vaccine, Pfizer recently celebrated the FDA’s approval of the RSV vaccine Abrysvo for pregnant individuals and older adults. (Fierce Biotech)
HELP IS ON THE WAY.
Novo Nordisk has enlisted Thermo Fisher as an additional contract manufacturer for its widely-used weight-loss medication, Wegovy. The drug is filled into injection pens at Thermo Fisher’s facility in Greenville, North Carolina. While Novo Nordisk’s CFO, Karsten Munk Knudsen, mentioned in May that a second contract manufacturer in the U.S. had been secured, the company’s identity was undisclosed until now. Novo Nordisk is urgently increasing the drug’s production due to rising demand in the U.S. and previous production challenges in a Brussels-based factory operated by their initial contract manufacturer, Catalent. Wegovy, introduced in the U.S. in June 2021, is a pioneering drug in a new category of potent weight-loss medications, resulting in an average 15% weight loss with dietary and exercise adjustments. There have been reported issues at Catalent’s Brussels facility, including breaches of U.S. sterile-safety standards and missed quality checks. Knudsen has hinted at the involvement of a third production site later this year. The exact production quantities remain undisclosed. (Reuters)
The Human Brain Project (HBP), a colossal research initiative funded by the European Union, is concluding after a decade of work involving around 500 scientists and an investment of €600 million. Its ambitious objective was to comprehend the human brain by simulating it on a computer. Throughout its tenure, HBP scientists published numerous papers, generated intricate 3D maps of over 200 brain regions, created brain implants to address blindness, and used supercomputers to model brain functions and advance treatments for various brain disorders. However, the project faced criticism for its inability to simulate the entire human brain and for frequent changes in direction, causing its scientific results to appear fragmented. An outcome of HBP’s work is EBRAINS, a virtual platform offering tools and imaging data for scientists globally. Although the funding for this platform remains uncertain, many in Europe are disappointed to see their version of a large-scale brain research project winding down, especially as other global brain projects continue. Launched in 2013, HBP initially promised €1 billion in funding but received €607 million. It experienced several leadership controversies and management changes but has left behind significant scientific achievements. The future of European neuroscience will likely depend on lessons learned from HBP’s challenges and achievements. (Nature)
COVID CHANGE IN BEHAVIOR.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the widespread lockdowns led to reduced human activity in cities, offering researchers a unique chance to study urban animals’ reactions to these changes. This period, termed ‘anthropause’, allowed insights into how urban behaviors influence animal behavior. Researchers specifically studied the fear response in urban birds, measuring their flight initiation distance before, during, and after the anthropause. Interestingly, while the dark-eyed juncos did not exhibit changed fear levels during the reduced human activity, they became significantly less fearful once human activity resumed. This unexpected outcome, observed by monitoring individual bird behaviors over time, revealed that the fear response in these birds is influenced by adaptability and not just by habituation. The pandemic has underscored the intricate ways in which human presence and activities shape essential behavioral traits in urban wildlife. (Proceedings of the Royal Society B)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.